Internet Governance

The digital world has garnered a reputation as a largely unregulated realm, a modern lawless “wild west” frontier where an anything goes mentality has taken hold. Certainly, it can seem that way at times.

But before you saddle-up and grab your cowboy hat, you may want to stop and familiarize yourself with the more than 75 sections of the United States Code that may (apparently) be applied to illegal activity by digital outlaws.

There are two broad governance issues raised by the Internet. One deals with how the Internet itself, a technologically complex global communication network, can be managed so it can continue to grow.

There are several organizations, many of which are gathered under the umbrella of the Internet Society, which oversee the complicated task of balancing competing interests in the evolution of new technical standards (see Table). The tasks of Internet governance in this regard are:

  1. Domain names: the rules guiding the creation and administration of top-level domain names (TLDs), such as “.com” or “.org”, and country-specific TLDs, like “.au” (Australia);
  2. Internet Protocol (IP) addresses: the allocation of unique IP numbers so that each machine connected to the network has its own numerical address;
  3. Root nameservers: Management of the 13 root nameservers that resolve domain names into IP numbers and enable information to flow across the network;
  4. Standardization: encouraging the adoption of technical standards to preserve interoperability across the network as technologies evolve.

The second major issue is how to legally govern activity conducted on the Internet. This task remains the responsibility of the government of each nation around the world that is connected to the Internet.

The regulatory agenda covers a wide range of activities: the regulation of business transactions and securities trading; consumer protection (including the protection of minors); fairness in advertising; the protection of intellectual property; various forms of taxation on the sale of goods and services; prohibitions on gambling, the trafficking of alcohol and other controlled substances across borders; regulations on the safety of food and prescription drugs; the protection of free speech and controls on the distribution of indecent materials.

These are just some of the areas in which the government has had a historical role.

The global nature of the web greatly complicates effective governance. Transactions on the Internet can crisscross state and national borders without easy detection. Any legal regime that may be desired to govern web activity must deal with issues of compliance and enforcement in order to be implemented effectively.

That also means there is a greater need for cooperation between various branches of government and law enforcement in and between countries.

OrganizationGovernance Responsibilities
Internet Engineering
Task Force – IETF
The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) is the protocol engineering and development arm of the Internet formally established by the IAB in 1986.
Internet Architecture
Board – IAB
The Internet Architecture Board (IAB) is responsible for defining the overall architecture of the Internet, providing guidance and broad direction to the IETF. The IAB also serves as the technology advisory group to the Internet Society, and oversees a number of critical activities in support of the Internet.
Internet Engineering
Steering Group – IESG
The Internet Engineering Steering Group (IESG) is responsible for technical management of IETF activities and the Internet standards process. As part of the ISOC, it administers the process according to the rules and procedures which have been ratified by the ISOC Trustees. The IESG is directly responsible for the actions associated with entry into and movement along the Internet “standards track,” including final approval of specifications as Internet Standards.
Internet Society – ISOCThe Internet Society (ISOC) is a nonprofit, non-governmental, international, professional membership organization that focuses on standards, education, and policy issues.
Internet Corporation for
Assigned Names and
Numbers – ICANN
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is the nonprofit corporation that was formed to assume responsibility for the IP address space allocation, protocol parameter assignment, domain name system management, and root server system management functions.
Internet Research
Task Force – IRTF
The purpose of the Internet Research Task Force (IRTF) is to promote research of importance to the evolution of the future Internet by creating focused, long-term and small Research Groups working on topics related to Internet protocols, applications, architecture and technology.
World Wide Web
Consortium – W3C
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) was created in 1994 to develop common protocols that promote the Web’s evolution and ensure its interoperability. W3C is composed of hundreds of member organizations from around the world.