Global public goods


18 Feb 2017

Global Commission on the Stability of Cyberspace (GCSC), the new global multistakeholder body addressing risks in cyberspace, has been established during the 2017 Munich Security Conference. According to the announcement by The Kingdom of the Netherlands, The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies (HCSS) and the EastWest Institute (EWI), GCSC is "a global body formed to convene key global stakeholders to develop proposals for norms and policy initiatives to improve the stability and security of cyberspace". Headquartered in The Hague, GCSC will gather number of independent commissioners from over 15 countries and from various stakeholders, and will be chaired by the Marina Kaljurand, former Foreign Minister of Estonia and the member of the UN Group of Governmental Experts on cybersecurity. It will also be supported by Microsoft and the Internet Society (ISOC), among others. GCSC will develop proposals for norms and policies to enhance the stability of cyberspace, and work on the exchange of knowledge and ideas between governments, the business community, academia and users. GCSC commissioner and co-chair Michael Chertoff, a former Head of Homeland Security of the USA, compared the Internet to the high seas and called for global rules of cyberspace that would make it possible for everybody to use the cyberspace similarly to how international rules allow everybody to use the oceans.

14 Feb 2017

Microsoft president and CLO Brad Smith has called for a Digital Geneva Convention, outlining six rules to be included, calling the current situation 'a growing problem in need of new solutions'. He called on both governments and the private sector to do more in the area of cybersecurity, and suggested that a trusted and neutral 'Digital Switzerland' could assist in this endeavour. This came alongside his presentation at the RSA conference in San Francisco on 14 February. In a similar, but unrelated post, Scott Shackelford, Associate Professor of Business Law and Ethics, Indiana University, asks Should cybersecurity be a human right? Both posts emphasise the involvement of International and Digital Geneva as a centre for UN efforts to ensure global cybersecurity.

16 Oct 2016

Leaders of BRICS countries - Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa - have emphasised the need to enhance international cooperation against terrorist and criminal misuse of ICTs. The Goa Declaration, adopted during the 8th BRICS Summit on 15-16 October, also recognises the 'leading role of states' in ensuring the stability and security in the use of ICTs, and reaffirms that the Internet is a global resource. States 'should participate on an equal footing in its evolution and functioning, taking into account the need to involve relevant stakeholders in their respective roles and responsibilities,' the leaders emphasised.


The concept of global public goods can be linked to many aspects of Internet governance. The most direct connections are found in areas of access to the Internet infrastructure, protection of knowledge developed through Internet interaction, protection of public technical standards, and access to online education. Global public goods, combined with initiatives such as creative commons, could provide solutions that would both protect the current Internet creative environment and preserve Internet-generated knowledge for future generations.

One of the key features of the Internet is that through worldwide interaction of users, new knowledge and information are produced. Considerable knowledge has been generated through exchanges on mailing lists and forums, social networks, and blogs. With the exception of creative commons, there is no mechanism to facilitate the legal use of such knowledge. Left in a legal uncertainty, it is made available for modification and commercialisation. This common pool of knowledge, an important basis of creativity, is at risk of being depleted. The more Internet content is commercialised, the less spontaneous exchanges may become. This could lead towards reduced creative interaction.



When it comes to the Internet infrastructure, this area is predominantly run by private companies. One of the challenges is the harmonisation of the private ownership of the Internet infrastructure with the status of the Internet as a global public good. National laws provide the possibility of private ownership being restricted by certain public requirements, including providing equal rights to all potential users and not interfering with the transported content.

With regard to standardisation, almost continuous efforts are made to replace public standards with private and proprietary ones. This was the case with Microsoft (through browsers and ASP) and Sun Microsystems (through Java). The Internet standards (mainly TCP/IP) are open and public. The Internet governance regime should ensure protection of the main Internet standards as global public goods.

The balance between private and public interests

One of the underlying challenges of the future development of the Internet is to strike a balance between private and public interests. The question is how to provide the private sector with a proper commercial environment while ensuring the development of the Internet as a global public good. In many cases it is not a zero-sum game but a win-win situation. Many other Web 2.0 companies have tried to develop business models which both provide income and enable the creative development of the Internet.

Protecting the Internet as a global public good

Some solutions can be developed based on existing economic and legal concepts. For example, economic theory has a well-developed concept public goods, which was extended at international level to global public goods. A public good has two critical properties: non-rivalrous consumption and non-excludability. The former stipulates that the consumption of one individual does not detract from that of another; the latter, that it is difficult, if not impossible, to exclude an individual from enjoying the good. Access to Web-based materials and many other Internet services fulfils both criteria.

Other legal notions

The notion of global public goods is one of several other notions that can be linked to the Internet or Internet-related aspects. One other notion is that of common heritage of mankind, a concept which was adopted by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). In recent months, Malta – the small island state which was behind the introduction and adoption of the concept within UNCLOS – has been arguing in favour of the applying the concept of Common Heritage of Mankind to the critical infrastructure of the Internet.

Another notion is that of a global public resource, which has recently also been promoted – through several initiatives – as a possible solution for the protection of the Internet and its critical infrastructure.




Internet Governance Acronym Glossary (2015)
An Introduction to Internet Governance (2014)


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