Making sense of our connected world


Making sense of our connected world

Internet in Danger | HIIG

Digital decade: The internet’s future is at stake

16 January 2020

To ensure the Internet survives the next decade, we need to start asking the right questions, argue Matthias C. Kettemann, Wolfgang Kleinwächter and Max Senges.  It’s not only personal liberties and societal cohesion that are threatened by Internet-related phenomena, the Internet itself is in danger from states that rely on online censorship, companies that monetize user data without proper safeguards and individuals who let the mask of humanity slip when they go online.

So the Internet is in danger. But we can save it. 

For that to work, we need to ask ourselves hard questions: 

How can we ensure a shared reality, shared facts as foundations for decision-making, that are accepted as true across all cultures? 

How can we build digital architectures and ecosystem that allow each of us to form their own identity and realize their potential? 

How can we distill shared global values and a common finality that are worth fighting for, now that many of us live just one click? 

How can we ensure that our economies evolve in the age of globalization and digitization, so that its creates value for everyone? 

These questions invoke truth, dignity, society’s finality and development. We do not have all the answers as to how to ensure that these values are promoted and implemented effectively in times of digitality. 

But we know that these are the right questions to ask. 

As the world’s largest Internet conference, the Internet Governance Forum in Berlin, is drawing nearer, the importance of these questions and of Internet’s integrity
– its security, stability, robustness, resilience and functionality – is widely recognized.  A recent report by the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level-Panel has confirmed the Internet’s centrality to national and international financial, energy, transport and communications flows, to national defense and international security, to human rights and human dignity. 

It can be different. 

Ensuring peace and security, development and human rights in times of digitality therefore always means: governing the Internet with a view to its impact on these key goals of the international information society. But how can we realize the Internet’s potential as a tool for international security, for development and for exercising human rights? How can we evolve sustainable digital governance and governance of digital sustainability? 

Here’s our idea. 

Ensuring the integrity of the Internet as a public good through responsible stewardship by relevant stakeholders leading to multipronged Internet governance approaches. 

Complementary sectoral approaches to introducing common commitments, norms and principles, targeted at a more nuanced Internet governance approach, have been pursued by companies, including Siemens (Charter of Trust) and Microsoft (Tech Accord), and by technical institutions W3C (Contract for the Web) and states, recently through the Paris Call or Christchurch Call. The Paris Call, especially, was a rallying point for many international actors, including states, to realize the need for a commitment to safeguarding the core of the Internet through norms. Building on these approaches and valuing the normative acculturation they engender, we aim to provide a comprehensive framework of loosely coupled solutions that interact normatively, and are mutually reinforcing and interdependent. 

We call for a “New Deal” on Internet Governance for the 2020s to be comprised of four loosely coupled, interdependent and mutually reinforcing governance frameworks – on peace, economy, rights, and AI – to be bootstrapped at and facilitated by the Internet Governance Forum (IGF):

First, a Digital Peace Plan including norms
for good behaviour of state and non-state actors in cyberspace and confidence-building measures to counter (neo)nationalist policies that endanger the stability and functionality of the global Internet and its infrastructure, and encompass (1) human rights-based approaches to national security (including military aspects and confidence-building measures), (2) the fight against cybercrime and (3) technical security and network resilience; 

Second, a Digital Sustainability Agenda to promote human rights-sensitive (digital) economies based on market-driven innovation with data flowing freely in trusted environments, in which sustainable economic growth and decent work are ensured, where the next billion Internet users are brought online; and generally, to drive forward the realization of the UN Sustainable Development Goals; 

Third, a Digital Human Rights Agenda providing norms and policies to respect, protect and implement human rights on the Internet, based on existing norms, targeted at all relevant stakeholders, in their respective roles; and 

Fourth, a Framework for Future-Proofing AI Norms including guidelines on increasing accountability for the use of AI. 

Four plans for four layers

We are calling for four key governance frameworks that are tied together by their common goal of ensuring a human-being focused internet governance. We are calling for normative creative for the Internet. And we are calling for it to happen now. The  Internet Governance Forum 2019 in Berlin, with a view to the 75th anniversary of the United Nations is an optimal starting point for discussions on the next generation of internet governance norms on cybersecurity, human rights, economic progress, and on future-proofing laws and society in light of the challenges presented by developments such as the Internet of Things and AI. The answers need to be as convincing as the challenges are great: realizing a rights-based, sustainable next generation internet governance regime through adaptive and tailored governance approaches. 

The Internet has brought significant change to all sectors of society and fundamentally altered the interrelation of stakeholders in public policy. It is now time for the Internet, and its governance regime, to become responsive to sensible change. It is time to become responsible stewards of the internet.

We do not have the answers yet, but we are convinced that by invoking the necessity to clarify the relationship that global society should entertain regarding truth, dignity, society’s finality and development, we are asking the right questions. 

Let us find the answers together.

The project: 

The authors have developed a platform at to find common questions and common answers. For a long form of this contribution, see the authors’ edited book fort the 2019 Internet Governance Forum, including contributions by Vint Cerf and UN Secretary-General António Guterres: Kleinwächter/Kettemann/Senges with Katharina Mosene (eds.), Towards a Global Framework for Cyber Peace and Digital Cooperation: An Agenda for the 2020s (Hamburg: HBI, 2019)

The authors:

Matthias C. Kettemann is Associated Researcher at the HIIG and Project Lead, International Law of the Internet. He is alsoHead of the Research Program Regulatory Structures and the Emergence of Rules in Online Spaces at the Leibniz Institute for Media Research | Hans-Bredow-Institut (HBI), Hamburg. Max Senges is a Visiting Scholar at Stanford’s Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law (CDDRL) and works as Lead for Research Partnerships and Internet Governance for Google in Berlin. Wolfgang Kleinwächter is a member of the Global Commission on Stability in Cyberspace, was a member of the ICANN Board (2013-2015) and served as Special Ambassador for the NetMundial Initiative (2014-2016).

This post represents the view of the author and does not necessarily represent the view of the institute itself. For more information about the topics of these articles and associated research projects, please contact

Matthias C. Kettemann, PD, Mag., Dr., LL.M.

Assoziierter Forscher: Leibniz-Institut für Medienforschung | Hans-Bredow-Institut

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