IGF 2019 WS #180 Splinternet: What Happens if "Network Sovereignty" Prevails

Organizer 1: Daniel OMaley, Center for International Media Assistance
Organizer 2: Sarah Moulton, National Democratic Institute
Organizer 3: Morgan Frost, Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE)

Speaker 1: Nathalie Marechal, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 2: Ephraim Percy Kenyanito, Civil Society, African Group
Speaker 3: Walid Al-Saqaf, Technical Community, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 4: Mishi Choudhary, Private Sector, Asia-Pacific Group

Policy Question(s): 

Where around the globe is "network sovereignty" growing in popularity and overtaking the multi-stakeholder model of internet governance? And why?

What will be the consequences to a global, unified internet if the ideology of "network sovereignty" increases in popularity among nation-states? How will this change the nature of what citizens are able to access online and how they are able to communicate with each other? What will the impact be on freedom of expression and freedom of assembly?

How might "network sovereignty" policies impact long-term social and economic development worldwide? What are the implications for circulation of news and information? Is "network sovereignty" beneficial or detrimental in terms of private sector innovation?

If "network sovereignty" is not compatible with a multistakeholder model of interest governance, what is the role of civil society, technical communities, and multilateral organizations to make sure that our current form of internet governance is maintained?

Relevance to Theme: The policies and laws associated with a so-called "network sovereignty" are most pronounced in regard to data governance, which is why data localization is one of the hallmarks of network sovereignty. By mandating the localization of user data, governments are able to ensure that they have easier access to such content. This enables monitoring and surveillance that otherwise would be much more difficult to enact. A truly open and interoperable internet will inherently govern data in a slightly different way. Thus, the central tension between "network sovereignty" and a multi-stakeholder governed internet revolves around data governance.

Relevance to Internet Governance: Whether the internet continues to be one, global, inter-operable network is a fundamental issue of relevance to internet governance. This issue is of particular concern right now as cyber-security concerns and other national sovereignty concerns revolving around controlling the online information space have increased popularity of "network sovereignty" governance models in some countries.


Round Table - U-shape - 60 Min

Description: Recently a number of countries have endorsed an internet governance model based on the concept of “network sovereignty.” This model holds that governments should have total control of the internet within their borders. This includes being able to monitor the flow of information, control the type of content that is accessible, and having access to data of users within their jurisdictions. Network sovereignty’s biggest backers, often non-democratic regimes, contend that these capabilities are necessary for law enforcement and social cohesion. However, the network sovereignty model of governance stands in stark contrast to the UN IGF’s vision of a multistakeholder-governed internet that includes joint decision-making by civil society, government, the private sector, and the technical community. Human rights advocates believe that it endangers the rights of citizens by enabling government censorship and surveillance, and ultimately impinges human rights and a pluralistic governance of the internet.

The tension between network sovereignty and multistakeholder model of internet governance is playing out most strongly in many countries. This round table will take stock of where and why network sovereignty rationales are growing. It will also examine the concrete impacts that network sovereignty laws and policies will have on civil society, journalists, and the private sector. The speakers include individuals from Africa, South Asia, North America, and the Middle East representing different stakeholder groups including, civil society and the technical community. This session will also encourage participants to strategize how digital rights advocates can work together to preserve the open, democratic and multistakeholder model of the internet.

Expected Outcomes: The goal of this workshop is to take stock of where around the globe "network sovereignty" is growing in popularity and overtaking the multi-stakeholder model of internet governance, and why. Examples and accounts will come from speakers and participants - both onsite and online. A secondary goal of this workshop is to strategize how digital rights advocates can push back against efforts to weaken mutlstakeholder internet governance.

Onsite Moderator: 

Daniel OMaley, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

Online Moderator: 

Morgan Frost, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)


Sarah Moulton, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

Discussion Facilitation: 

This session is meant to be highly interactive and take advantage of the overwhelming expertise of IGF participants - both onsite and online. The onsite moderator will begin the round table by allowing each of the invited speakers to introduce themselves and talk about their perspective of the issue for no more than 3-5 minutes. The moderator will then ask one follow-up question for the entire panel. After this initial discussion, the floor will be opened to questions from audience members - both onsite and online. The goal is to generate a lively discussion in which a variety of perspectives are aired.

Online Participation: 

This session will have a dedicated online moderator who will make sure that all comments and questions submitted online are shared with the audience onsite. This online participation tool is particularly important for this session as one of our goals it to have a set of perspectives that are geographically diverse. Many of the individuals and groups concerned with news media sustainability in the digital age will not necessarily be able to travel to Berlin for the IGF, so we will prioritize their participation via the online platform.

Proposed Additional Tools: Workshop organizers will highly promote this session on social media (Twitter and Facebook). We will encourage people to use the official online participation tool as this makes it easier to track comments and questions.


GOAL 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions