February 25, 2021

Governing the Internet

3 min read

OF all Malaysians above the age of 15 in 2018,81.2% were identified as regular online users.

Every year, that percentage increases and the Internet becomes increasingly embedded in our everyday lives. It is now difficult to identify any segments of our lives that remain completely unaffected by the Internet.

As users become more sensitive to the nuances of online life, issues of Internet infrastructure and policy have garnered more attention and discourse. We then see issues such as cybersecurity, data privacy rights, freedom of expression and the digital divide emerging as topics for mainstream policy discourse.

It is here that the term “Internet governance” comes into play. A UN-created term, Internet governance is used to refer to the design and application of rules, norms, policies and practices meant to shape the evolution and usage of the Internet.

The goal of Internet governance is simple; it aims to foster the creation of online environments that are conducive to the well-being of their users.

However, the actual complexity of Internet governance lies in the diversity of perspectives through which it can be approached.

You can choose to discuss the technical infrastructure of the Internet and turn your attention towards matters of data encryption, domain name systems (DNS) and root servers. You can also choose to go beyond these infrastructural issues and contemplate the cultural, socio-political, legal and economic implications of Internet usage. The scope of Internet governance is broad enough for everyone to be able to find at least one topic of personal interest.

For those who are interested in the state of Internet governance in Malaysia, you may want to recall the government’s RM21.6bil National Fiberisation and Connectivity Plan as outlined in Budget 2020. The plan aims to enhance digital connectivity for the well-being of the people through the development and deployment of digital infrastructure.

If successful, the plan would strengthen the Malaysian digital community. But should we let

this project limit the scope for potential action in Malaysian Internet governance?

Governance of the Internet should not be restricted to the government. Decision-making processes on the institutional design of the Internet are too complex to be centralised on any single actor.

The diversity of perspectives with which to approach the topic creates the need for insights from a variety of stakeholders, including civil society.

A governance architecture that benefits everyone is not possible without horizontal communication and coordination among the actors. Given the highly unique ways in which each and every one of us interacts with the Internet, every stakeholder is capable of bringing valuable insight to Internet policy.

If you are a young person, it is your perspective in particular that needs to be given more weight in the discussions. In all likelihood, you spent a large portion of your childhood or young adulthood being socialised by the Internet. You have a greater stake in this. You are in a better position compared to older persons to give meaningful social context to the workings of the Internet, contexts that are essential in the design of productive Internet governance.

The digital realm already constitutes an intrinsic layer of your life, so who better to understand and translate the cultural and socio-political nuances of the Internet than you?

The Youth Internet Governance Forum Malaysia (yIGF) 2019 being held on Nov 15 and 16 will offer a significant opportunity for youths to engage with other stakeholders in discussing Internet governance. The first of its kind in Malaysia, it will be a no-barrier-to-entry, youth-oriented forum that seeks to channel a plurality of perspectives on Internet governance. Its establishment also marks Malaysia’s first step towards joining the global Internet governance forum movement. Hopefully, this will be the first step out of many.

There are many ways one can choose to interpret the Internet. It can be a liberalising force for some but a tool of repression for others. Whichever way the Internet manifests itself depends very strongly on the quality of its governance.

XINDEE TAN

Petaling Jaya

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