[governance] Is This An Issue for Internet Governance/Internet Human Rights?

Norbert Bollow nb at bollow.ch
Fri Jul 29 15:48:06 EDT 2011

Paul Lehto <lehto.paul at gmail.com> wrote:
> On 7/29/11, Daniel Kalchev <daniel at digsys.bg> wrote:
> > Very interesting. You still ignore private, non-corporate governance.
> > There isn't much difference between governments and large corporations,
> > except that some corporations are much richer than most governments, and
> > sometimes much more effective. Both types are subject to great corruption.
> With democratically-styled governments, one has the right via the vote
> to "kick the bums out" and often to enact laws directly via
> referendum.   Such remedies don't exist at all with corporations.

This is a valid reply to the assertion about corruption. Still we need
to keep in mind that the first mentioned remedy only affects government
action regarding issues which are (or can be caused to become) of
high enough profile that they're discussed in parliamentary commissions.
And the second remedy can, where available at all, only be effectively
used for extremely high profile issues.

Paul, you still haven't addressed however Daniel's point that besides
governance functions conducted by government institutions, and situations
of abuse of power by corporations, there is also a reality of what Daniel
calls "private, non-corporate governance", which has been working quite
well for many internet related governance functions, allowing the
internet to become as successful as it has become.

> Has anyone ever tried to change the fine print of a corporate contract?
> Or even to negotiate it?

I have, as essentially a "nobody" (as representative of SIUG, a very
small NGO with only a handful of contributing members and no other
sources of funding or other resources of significance) succeeded in
influencing Microsoft to change the fine print of the patent licensing
conditions in the "open specification promise" to make them compatible
with the GPL family of free software licenses: Microsoft entered
negotatiations with me on the needed changes and a result was reached
which is acceptable in my eyes as well as in the eyes of the lawyer
who was advising me.

I don't know whether this kind of success is the exception rather than
the norm, but I do know that other, bigger, NGOs have also made
positive experiences by engaging constructively with corporations. 

The kind of contacts that you can make while engaging in fora of what
Daniel calls "private, non-corporate governance" are a good starting
point for this kind of thing.

> Where many corporations are larger than many of the smaller world
> governments and economies, it's hard to imagine, especially when
> corporations are not accountable to those they govern (even in
> theory), how it would be easier to move or persuade any corporation
> compared to moving or persuading governments.

When the goal is to make corporations act reasonably in some
particular area of conduct, I would generally expect it to be
easier to achieve this objective by primarily seeking to create
an effective "private, non-corporate governance" entity for
this area of governance. It is very difficult to convince a
government to take this governance function under their roof and
do a reasonable job at it. In the context of internet governance,
where it would be necessary to influence governments worldwide
to take concerted action and do a reasonable job at it,
influencing governments is practically feasible only for issues
where the arguments are particularly strong that legislative
action is needed. For example, the WBU initiative for an
accessibility treaty has a chance of success IMO, and I'd say the
same about the efforts of Consumers International to get A2K
issues included in consumer protection legislation.

> But most importantly, we should remember at all times that law is
> Force.

And there are other types of Force as well, including in
particular economic forces of supply and demand, public opinion,

> The only thing that can legitimize that force is tracing that
> power back to a majority vote in a democratically elected institution.
>  On what basis does a corporation or other private actor exercise
> force over anyone else?

Most internet governance entities operate on the basis of power
of pursuation coupled with economic network effects.

There is no way in which the legitimacy of governance can be
increased by attempting to replace "power of pursuation coupled
with economic network effects" by democratic decision-making,
because "power of pursuation coupled with economic network
effects" is also at the heart of the decision-making processes
in all real-world implementations of democracy.

That said, the potential for abuse of power by the powerful (in
particular by corporations with great financial resources and/or
a dominant market position of some kind) exists in any governance
system, and needs to be safeguarded against.

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