Regulation, Governance and the Internet: the Quest for a Global Ethic?

Jamal Shahin


The issues raised by the Internet reinforce (some say drive) the present trends towards globalisation of economic, political and social systems. It is thus necessary to examine the impact of the Internet on the role of state in this complex, changing era. The pervasiveness of the Internet in everyday life, as well as its global nature makes the analysis of its relationship with the state very difficult to determine, but this paper will attempt to focus upon the concept of governance and regulation in the information age.

This paper will attempt to mark out some of the crucial borders between cyberspace and ‘state’ space. It will provide the means to reveal the complexities of the relationship between the two. The issue of education and access to the Information Infrastructure/ Information Society are being dealt with at state level (with, in most cases, market support), but the issue of content regulation and legislation of the Global Internet is one that states are finding increasingly problematic, as the Internet becomes ‘more’ global. This paper will highlight the paradoxical nature of the state’s role in the information age. This paradox is unlikely to disappear if states do not agree upon a common regulatory framework for both infrastructure and content issues.

It is important to try to define the impact of the Internet upon the individual, and the individual’s relationship with the state. Due to the fact that the Internet has the potential to become all pervasive, affecting every aspect of our lives, this is all the more difficult. However, the task can be made easier if we examine the nature of the Internet from the two perspectives of infrastructure and content, which will attempt to bring together two very divergent attitudes in concepts, or paradigms, towards the role of the Internet in the information age. These two very different issues, when separated, provide us with new questions to answer. Should infrastructure and content be treated similarly? How does one regulate content when delivered from a global soap-box? Is infrastructure something that has no ethical considerations (e.g. the DNS issue), or should the technical development of the Internet be a global concern?

The main hypothesis in this paper questions the role of the state, and state-based institutions in providing an adequate regulatory framework for the Internet. The Internet is a global phenomenon, which disregards territorial geography, but the state is important in creating the Information Societies which seem to ultimately disrespect the state’s authority and legitimacy. Does this mean the end of the sovereign territorial state? And if so, what will replace it? Can we hope for a ‘global state’, which will be able to regulate the Internet and not stifle its growth? Can the state be removed from a world that has relied upon the state to act as the ultimate authority in a particular space? If regulation and governance must be global, does this require the development of a global ethic that goes further than agreement that “crimes against humanity” are unethical? Is there a global ethic that could discuss issues of content and infrastructure for the global Internet?

The Internet would seem to require a different paradigm of governance and a different model of regulation. This could be “self-governance”, but this has its own ethical concerns. The paper will attempt to examine how the lack of a global ethic will restrict the Internet from developing into the truly global mechanism. It will try to provoke discussion into creating this ethic, or to try to find ways around the issue of global regulation and governance.