Is Another Internet Possible? Power Struggles for Ownership and Control of Cyberspace

Submitting Institution

Goldsmiths' College

Unit of Assessment

Communication, Cultural and Media Studies, Library and Information Management 

Summary Impact Type


Research Subject Area(s)

Studies In Human Society: Policy and Administration, Political Science, Sociology

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Summary of the impact

Franklin is a key participant in a formative period for global media and communications, in which power struggles over ownership and control of the internet are intensifying. Her work presaged the current global outcry over illegal forms of state-sponsored online surveillance and non-transparent forms of corporate storage and control of personal data. She combines participatory action research and critical theory with a leadership role in advocacy on human rights for the online environment. Focusing on UN and intergovernmental arenas in internet governance, her research unpacks how public, private, and civil society actors look to frame the terms of debate around diverging priorities for the internet's future design, access, and use. Her work has put human rights and principles advocacy for the internet onto the international human rights and internet governance agendas. It has played a formative role in increasing recognition — at the UN and European Union for instance — that online we have rights too.

Underpinning research

Professor Marianne Franklin has been employed at Goldsmiths continuously since 1997 when she was appointed as a Senior Lecturer. Her research explores ways in which developments in information and communication technologies, society, culture, and politics collide and collude with one another, from a macro and micro perspective. She adopts an interdisciplinary theoretical framework to address the interaction between state and non-state actors, socio-cultural practices and political economic imperatives in internet design, access and use.

Through the development and launch of a Charter of Human Rights and Principles for the Internet in 2010-2011 (the IRP Charter), the Internet Rights and Principles Dynamic Coalition (IRP Coalition) of the UN Internet Governance Forum has become a formative force in coordinating intergovernmental organizations, internet business associations, and NGOs working on rights-based initiatives for the internet. The coalition has broad membership from civil society, government, academic, technical, and business sectors. Members share information and debate issues via the coalition mailing-list and social media, face-to-face and through conference calls. They pioneered a `multistakeholder' working culture at the UN through their success at `collabowriting' the IRP Charter and its accompanying Ten Principles. This work has inspired others and contributed to official recognition from the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, in his 2011 report. This first step was followed with the landmark Resolution of the UN Human Rights Council in 2012 that focused for the first time on the issue of human rights online.

Franklin's participation in this project — founded on the rigours of ethnographic research, the use of `virtual research' methods alongside narrative interviews, and discourse analysis of official outputs and internal consultations — informs the empirical findings and theoretical contributions of her published work to date. For example, the first version of the IRP Charter (launched at the September 2010 IGF meeting in Vilnius) was presented at the Seminar Series of the Edinburgh Centre for Law and Society, University of Edinburgh, on 28 October 2010. Subsequently her research has been closely integrated with the development of the Charter 2.0 project, formally initiated at the UNESCO WSIS+10 meeting in Paris, February 2013. Her research output includes academic journal articles, articles and reports for researchers, policy-makers and NGOs (e.g. [1-2]), presentations at academic and cross-sector meetings (e.g. the Edinburgh Centre for Law and Society, European Dialogue for internet Governance 2013, and at the Council of Europe Ministers Meeting, Belgrade 2013), as well as refereed journal articles (e.g. [3]), commissioned book chapters based on her research profile in this area [4-5], and public media (e.g. The Guardian 2013, The Conversation 2013). Her latest book, Digital Dilemmas (OUP, 2013) is a summation of this work to date [6].

References to the research

Evidence of the international quality of the research: References [2] and [3] are articles in major peer-reviewed journals, while the monograph at [6] is published by one of the world's leading university presses.

1. Gender Advocacy at the World Summit on the Information Society: Preliminary Observations, Research Report for the Ford Foundation, Knowledge, Creativity, and Freedom Program, 2005 [Hard copy available from Research Office on request]

2. `NGO's and the "Information Society": Grassroots Advocacy at the UN — a cautionary tale', Review of Policy Research 24 (2007): 309-30 DOI: 10.1111/j.1541-1338.2007.00285.x


3. `Digital Dilemmas: Transnational Politics in the 21st Century', Brown Journal of World Affairs 16 (2010): 67-85 doi: 10.1177/0163443711411009


4. `Decolonising the Future: Not to go where Cyborgs have gone before?' in Interoperabel Nederland [Interconnecting the Netherlands], Nico Westpalm van Hoorn, Peter Waters & Pieter Wisse (eds), Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs. Den Haag, The Netherlands, 2011: 4-22 [REF2 entry]

5. `How Does the Way We Use the Internet Make a Difference?' Chapter 9 in Global Politics: A New Introduction, Second Edition, Maya Zehfuss & Jenny Edkins (eds), London/New York, Routledge, 2013: 176-99 [Hard copy available from Research Office on request]

6. Digital Dilemmas: Power, Resistance, and the Internet, Oxford University Press, 2013 [REF2 entry]

Details of the impact

For over a decade, Franklin has been active as participant-observer (and since 2012 co-Chair) of the Internet Rights and Principles Dynamic Coalition at the UN Internet Governance Forum. A broad-based international network, the IRP Coalition plays a formative and active role in an arena where human rights are becoming increasingly the focus for internet policy-making agendas and, in turn, the internet a focus for rights-based advocacy and monitoring by the international human rights community. It has helped to frame the debate in an area where governments, the private sector and civil society voices have a stake in the outcomes. The IGF frames international debates and policy agendas for internet ownership and control, including infrastructure, access, terms of use, web-based goods, and services and content. It is based on the multi-stakeholder participatory model that characterizes the IGF, which includes UN member-states, IGOs, business, NGOs, academics, and technical experts in all discussions.

The key results of this work are the Charter of Human Rights and Principles for the Internet and the 10 Internet Rights & Principles [1]. The Charter and the Ten Principles were launched during the Arab Spring of 2010-2011. They have become central to other calls for internet rights such as European Digital Rights (EDRI, 2011), to international mobilization against the ACTA and SOPA bills in the USA, and to keeping human rights at the centre of debates around internet governance and telecommunications regulations at the UN. The aftermath of the revelations of widespread illegal state surveillance of online communications has raised the ante over the last year, confirming as it does the prescience of this work to generate a broad-based and recognizable articulation of human rights and principles for the online environment. The IRP Coalition, and the Charter of Human Rights and Principles for the Internet, have been instrumental in this agenda-setting domain.

Franklin has played a key role both in driving forward the debate and in achieving the widest possible international influence [2]. A founding member of the IRP Coalition in 2008, she was a contributor to the drafting of the IRP Charter in 2009-2011. In November 2012 she became the IRP Coalition co-Chair at the 2012 UN Internet Governance Forum meeting in Baku, and in this role she has achieved a prominent public presence during 2013 [3]. As human rights and the internet have become a growing public concern, this leadership role is where Franklin has been helping shape and steer debates about placing the IRP Charter, and human rights generally, into international and national legal and regulatory frameworks. Franklin's impact is anchored in her research projects and publications; and in over a decade of observation, active participation and public leadership in online and on-the-ground decision-making debates. Its value for the preservation of human rights online was recognised both by the Council of Europe's Compendium project on the existing rights of internet users [4] and by the UN Human Rights Council [5]. Her research to date, and her advocacy around human rights and the internet, recognizes that it is vital to engage ordinary people and NGOs in other areas (e.g. health, education, development) in this emerging arena, as everyday life, work, and politics become increasingly embedded in the online environment and practices that internet technologies enable.

Civil society participation in the IGF, and gradually in arenas such as ICANN and ITU meetings, reflects increasing public awareness and controversy over how rights and responsibilities in the offline environment are reflected, yet distinct, in the online environment. Franklin's activism is a formative contribution to setting this agenda and the terms of debate. Human rights and related socio-cultural concerns (e.g. disability, non-English language needs, cultural legacies) — once considered as a footnote to the `real' business of software design and telecommunication engineering task forces, or realpolitik of global versus state-centric internet governance agendas — are now top of the agenda. Franklin has been especially influential in framing the influential and highly praised IPR Charter of Human Rights and Principles for the Internet and in the development of the follow-up IRP Charter 2.0: Human Rights & Principles for the Internet in Practice [6]. Furthermore she has played a major part in the IRP Coalition's role as part of a wider movement to put human rights and principles on the Internet Governance Forum agenda. This year's meeting in Bali, Indonesia sees this goal achieved [3].

The IRP Coalition's work on the IRP Charter has been a cornerstone and inspiration for a range of initiatives to promote human rights issues online around the world. Examples include the Brazilian Marco Civil and its Bill of Digital Rights (The Brazilian Internet Steering Committee), the Swedish government (Stockholm Internet Forum), the Council of Europe, and NGOs such as European Digital Rights (EDRi). Acknowledgment of the relevance of the IRP Charter's role in promoting human rights as a core principle for developing appropriate checks and balances to abuses of human rights online has been gathering pace in the past two years, for example among the Council of Europe, the Multistakeholder Advisory Group that organizes the annual UN IGF meetings, European and US internet service providers, interest groups and consumer associations.

The existence of a coherent and inspirational framework for human rights in the diverse domains that make up internet governance has excited attention from policy-makers, pundits and media watchdogs around the world: from Vint Cerf, the `father of the Internet' in the US, and the Canadian-based Centre for Law and Democracy [7], to the Centre for Internet and Society in Bangalore, India; from civil society groups in Latin American countries such as Brazil and Argentina, to the UK-based network Nominet and EU forums like the Council of Europe and the European Dialogue on Internet Governance (EuroDIG), where Franklin was moderator at the final plenary session [8]. At all these points the IRP Coalition, and Franklin's scholarly output and leadership, have played an instrumental role in reframing the debate, and keeping the internet governance and ICT for Development agendas accessible to human rights concerns. Recent revelations of widespread and excessive forms of governmental online surveillance of ordinary people on a global scale have put human rights and principles at the centre of the future of the internet, so her work has gained traction and increasing public attention in the media [9].

Sources to corroborate the impact

All sources listed below are available in hard or electronic copy on request from Goldsmiths Research Office.

  1. Charter of Human Rights and Principles for the Internet (launched at the 2010 IGF meeting in Vilnius) and the Ten Internet RIghts and Principles.
  2. Recent public events and speeches have included: `Mobilizing transnational publics in a digital age', at the Digital Publics International Conference at the Internationales Forschungszentrum Kulturwissenschaftten (IFK), Vienna, 12-13 May 2011; `People-Power and Media Futures in a Digital Age: Is Another Internet Possible?' at Media, Power, and Revolution: Making the 21st Century, Leverhulme Centre Conference, London, 4 April 2012.
  3. As co-Chair of the IRP Coalition, Franklin has been an invited panellist at the UK Internet Governance Forum; moderator at the upcoming Council of Europe Ministerial Meeting in Belgrade, Freedom of Expression and Democracy in the Digital Age; and consolidating the IRP Coalition work to date with a substantial leadership role and invitations to other workshops at the 2013 Bali Internet Governance Forum (three meetings with new and established partners: No. 99 Charting the charter: internet rights and principles online; No. 276 Rights issues for disadvantaged groups; No. 66 Towards the IRP Charter 2.0: Human Rights & Principles for the Internet in Practice).
  4. Acknowledgement of the IRP Coalition and the Charter of Human Rights and Principles for the Internet in the Council of Europe's Compendium of Rights of Internet Users (Council of Ministers, October 2013 release).
  5. UN Human Rights Council Resolution L 13 (29/06/2012) A/HRC/20/L.13, The promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the internet.
  6. Recommendations from the IRP Coalition Workshop at the UNESCO WSIS+ 10 Meeting in Paris, 28 February 2013, in final report.
  7. Commentaries from legal and technical communities addressing human rights and the internet include Vint Cerf in the New York Times Internet access is not a human right, 4 January 2012, and the Canada-based Centre for Law and Democracy Commentary on the Charter of Human Rights and Principles for the Internet, version 2, October 2011.
  8. As co-Chair of the IRP Coalition and co-organizer of events at the 2013 European Dialogue on Internet Governance in June 2013 (EuroDIG Workshop 4 and EuroDIG Workshop 5), Franklin was invited to moderate the final plenary session.
  9. In The Guardian, Human rights on the internet; and in The Conversation, Like it or not, we are all complicit in online snooping, 20 June 2013, in response to the PRISM affair and its aftermath.