Legitimacy in Internet Governance

  • Weber R
  • Grosz M
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The Internet was originally developed and managed by the relatively small community of its technical constructors as well as the providers and users of Internet services. It was based on private self-regulation in a bottom-up manner, taking special account of the technical issues raised by this new network system. With the development of the Internet to a vast commercial network, enhanced coordination mechanisms and a predictable legal framework have become necessary. Various international organizations, involved with Internet issues have emerged. Particularly with the growing influence that some Internet organizations feature, questions on their legitimacy arise, with the debates on ICANN as a conspicuous example. Legitimacy can be described as the aspect of governance that validates institutional decisions as emanating from a right process. What constitutes right process is described in a societys adjectival constitution or rules of order, or is pedigreed by tradition and historic custom (FRANCK 1999, 1). In the Western hemisphere, legitimacy is generally linked to democracy and democratic processes, which address the role of people in governance. Indeed, the lack of an adequate democratic and legitimized background of ICANN was repeatedly brought forward during the discussions of Internet governance on the international stage. However, democracy has emerged as a governance concept for sovereign states. The question arises, whether such a traditional perception is appropriate for international fora, or if legitimacy based on democratic entitlement alone is overestimated in this field. The multi-stakeholder approach, which has been opted for since the Geneva Declaration of Principles and the Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG), has to be particularly considered. The inclusion of all stakeholders concerned with the Internet provides for a new form of representation on the international level; the model of co-regulation is a rather recent approach in governance doctrine. In theory, this cooperation allows for participation and dialogue between all the relevant actors, and seems appropriate in the specific area of the Internet, generally open to everyone and accessible from everywhere, crossing national borders. Since the application of unitary nation states governance mechanisms in the field of international governance approaches generally appear to be questionable, new approaches seem desirable. Valuable inputs can be derived from A New World Order by ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER, in which she refers to government networks, which are set out as relatively loose, cooperative arrangements across borders between and among like agencies that seek to respond to global issues (SLAUGHTER, 14) and that enable co-ordination between different states governments. Due to the fact that national governments cannot effectively address all problems in a networked world they should delegate their responsibilities and sovereign powers to a limited number of supranational government officials (SLAUGHTER, 263). This approach addresses a new form of authority and legitimacy. Based on the perception that democratic elections of state governments cannot be adopted one-toone to the appointment of multi-stakeholder representatives for the governance of the Internet, the process for enabling public participation and legitimate representation through elections needs to be analyzed. Net-based votes and elections seem to offer a solution, which benefits from the special nature of the Internet. However, legitimate Internet governance would have to include all of the worlds population, which appears to be an ambitious perspective in light of the complex attempts to bridge the digital divide. Furthermore, the issue would have to be tackled that the initial status of the different stakeholders involved differ to a large extent and that developing countries in particular, do not have the same technical know-how or infrastructures which would provide for equal opportunities. When addressing the organizational aspects of Internet organizations in the context of legitimacy, the question on the division of powers within such fora would need consideration. Acknowledgement of specific architectural key principles for the Internet would be helpful on this note, offering self-constraints for the policy-making of the governing institutions. Such a constitutional approach could help enhance legitimacy. Moreover, the improvement of transparency would be of particular significance for legitimizing processes and mechanisms in the field of Internet governance.




Weber, R. H., & Grosz, M. (2008). Legitimacy in Internet Governance. In 1st International Giganet Workshop. Paris,France.

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