The sixteenth meeting of the United Nations Internet Governance Forum (IGF) was held in Katowice, Poland, and online, from 6 to 10 December 2021. Hosted by the Government of Poland under the overarching theme 'Internet United', the IGF brought together participants from different stakeholder groups and some of the most prominent figures in global deliberations about Internet governance.
Internet Governance is one of four focal policy fields addressed at the Centre for Global Cooperation Research. Each year since 2018 the Centre has hosted several fellows with specialism in this issue area, who work in a research group together with our managing director Sigrid Quack and co-director Jan Aart Scholte.
Earlier this year the group published its first book in the Routledge Global Cooperation Series. Power and Authority in Internet Governance: Return of the State? is edited by Blayne Haggart and Natasha Tusikov, fellows at the Centre in 2018-2019, together with Jan Aart Scholte. The volume investigates the hotly contested role of the state in today's digital society, inter alia picking up on debates over ‘digital sovereignty’. The book includes case studies of this issue from both democratic and authoritarian countries across four continents.
The book was discussed in a dedicated session at this year’s IGF on 8 December. The moderator was Manal Ismail, Chair of the Government Advisory Committee (GAC) at the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). Contributing authors in the panel included Olga Cavalli, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Argentina, Ting Luo, Manchester Metropolitan University, and Niels ten Oever, University of Amsterdam. Anita Gurumurthy from IT for Change, India was an incisive and inspiring lead commentator.
The discussion highlighted several themes. First, The binary of authoritarian versus liberal-democratic states is too simplistic an account of the role of the state in Internet governance. Second, all states, including the Chinese state, have a fragmented governance of digital affairs. Third, we need to think beyond the multilateralism-versus-multistakeholderism framing in order to discover alternative more democratic future possibilities in Internet governance.