Network sovereignty and other issues posing a threat to an open internet and democracy

Photo by Christian Wiediger on Unsplash

We have made a few strides now in Lesotho on the issues regarding internet governance. With the passing of the Cybersecurity bill, it looks like we’re in the right direction. While we’re not focusing on any of the contents in the bill, it’s wise to look at what network sovereignty entails and other issues which can impend on the open internet and democracy.

Network Sovereignty is the effort of a governing entity to create boundaries on a network and then exert a form of control, often in the form of law enforcement over such boundaries as defined from Wikipedia.

Much like states invoke sole power over their physical territorial boundaries, state sovereignty, such governing bodies also invoke sole power within the network boundaries they set and claim network sovereignty. In the context of the Internet, the intention is to govern the web and control it within the borders of the state. Often, that is witnessed as states seeking to control all information flowing into and within their borders.

In the efforts of governing bodies to create boundaries on a network and exert control through law enforcement, communities continue to face a variety of complex challenges. With the evolution of technology, governing bodies set up laws that limit the evolution of that technology and deprive citizens of their chance at the technology.

Network sovereignty also hinders creators of free speech and online freedom technologies who don’t live in the jurisdiction where the most vulnerable users live.

That means, users who need the tools may not use them at all. Even worse, the control may sometimes cut support for initiatives that have proven their value to users.

One of the set-backs that is likely to arise through network sovereignty is isolated communities. Building a more human-centric internet will require a sustained commitment by a wide variety of groups- civil society groups, legal experts, policymakers, the private sector, economists, hardware creators and governments.

The objective is to foster a real community of like-minded players in the internet space who care deeply about making it fairer and more democratic to all.

As Cath, Ten Oever, and O’Maley write, “the community of practitioners concerned with media development can, and must, engage in the decision making bodies that are shaping Internet governance to ensure that the Internet – and the growing media sphere it sustains – remains open, pluralistic and democratic.”