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The UN Agrees to Keep Internet Open and Free For the Next 10 Years

After a week of high-level meetings, UN members came to a consensus decision on how to deploy the internet around the world in a fair and open way.

by Kari Paul
Dec 19 2015, 10:00pm

The United Nations Secretariat. Image: John Gillespie/Flickr.

The UN wants the control of the internet to remain safe out of the hands of international governments––at least for the next decade.

In a ten-year review of internet policies laid out at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in 2005, UN representatives from more than 190 countries came to a decision internet freedom advocates are calling "successful," declaring control of the internet should remain in the private sector.

The consensus came after days of debate and input from a variety of government representatives and non-governmental stakeholders, including internet freedom non-profit the Internet Society (ISOC). The UN released a resolution document as the outcome of the meeting, which covered four main areas: internet accessibility, human rights and free speech, internet governance, and internet security.

The document is not legally binding, but sets the tone for internet governance for the next decade until another meeting is held. In it, they expressed commitment to a multi-stakeholder model of internet governance and a renewal of the Tunis Agenda, a consensus made in 2005 that called for lightweight internet governance and the creation of the Internet Governance forum, an annual multi-stakeholder meeting on internet policy.

Constance Bommelaer, senior director of global internet policy at ISOC told Motherboard by phone these discussions are particularly important because they serve as framework in emerging economies as they become more connected.

"As the internet has come to affect all the layers of our life, we must decide, how do we build an informational society, and what are the founding principles we want to organize this society on?" she said.

She added that the meeting came at an integral time for internet governance as some governments have made moves to crack down on internet freedom in an effort to thwart terrorism following the recent attacks in Paris. Some governments have proposed internet borders and state-centric policies in their wake, something ISOC would like to create stricter measures against.

"We know that if you want to have benefits to come out of the internet we need to keep it as a global space, and we should avoid any development that would fragment it," she said. "We would have liked to have seen more explicit text recognizing this at the forum.

Also at the meeting was a recognition of the major role that yearly meeting the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) plays, and that human rights online must be protected as they are offline.

"We reaffirm our common desire and commitment to the World Summit on the Information Society vision to build a people-centred, inclusive and development-oriented information society, where everyone can create, access, utilize and share information and knowledge, enabling individuals, communities and peoples to achieve their full potential in promoting their sustainable development and improving their quality of life," the final decision reads.

Bommelaer said despite the positive outcome of the forum, she expects the proposals of censorship and other points of tension to re emerge in coming years.

"We need the global internet community to stay alert and remain mobilized to address the challenges ahead," she said.