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New commission to investigate the future of internet freedom

An independent commission is set to investigate the future of the Internet as concerns about privacy and freedom online continue to grow.

There has been a number of recent events that are making the future of Internet freedom increasingly foggy. Between the recent court ruling on the state of Net Neutrality, the Edward Snowden leaks and subsequent NSA reforms and the efforts to regulate online activity by numerous governments have only produced more questions than answers.

The Internet is becoming an increasingly vital part of the daily lives of many. Social media is connecting people in meaningful and impactful ways as evidenced by the Arab Spring revolutions, while services like Wikipedia can provide educational information for free. These services can benefit any one from the average American citizen to people in impoverished countries throughout the world who may not otherwise have access to such information.

Need for oversight
Many of the major players that dictate online policies are also the ones who are responsible for Internet oversight. This can create a conflict of interest as these parties can work to influence legislation in such a way that would favor their best interests rather than those of users.

For instance, when Edward Snowden leaked information about the invasive and unconstitutional policies of the National Security Administration, he was treated as a criminal and spy, despite the fact that many Americans feel that he did a service for the American people. Though there are certainly concerns about the sensitive nature of the Snowden leaks, it is U.S. government that is responsible for reforming its policies – the exact same body that was compromised by the released information in the first place.

New global commission
What is necessary to improve the state of Internet freedom is a body that can make observations and comments on the state of the Internet that is free from conflicting biases. This is a major reason why the Center for International Governance Innovation and the Royal Institute of International Affairs have teamed up to create a commission on Internet Governance.

The commission will be chaired by Carl Bildt, the Swedish Minister of Foreign Affairs and contain members from all around the world. Sweden has been widely recognized as one of the most open country's when it comes to Internet legislation.

"In most countries, increased attention is being given to all the issues of net freedom, net security and net governance. And they are, in my view, closely related to each other. The rapid evolution of the net has been made possible by the open and flexible model by which it has evolved and been governed," Bildt said in a press release. "But increasingly this is coming under attack. And this is happening as issues of net freedom, net security and net surveillance are increasingly debated. Net freedom is as fundamental as freedom of information and freedom of speech in our societies."

Improving regulation
The Global Commission on Internet Governance will be aimed at addressing many of the concerns that have been raised in discussions about online surveillance and privacy in the recent months. The group will be focusing on four major areas including improving government legitimacy, promoting innovation, human rights online and reducing systematic risk.

The Guardian reported that there would be a number of other prominent members on the board as well. This includes Joseph Nye, who was the former dean of the Kennedy School of Governance at Harvard along with many former members of government and people involved with Internet policy. The group is expected to meet about six times over the next two years at various locations throughout the world.

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