PRESS RELEASE ISSUED BY THE OFFICE OF THE PRIME MINISTER: The Internet as the Common Heritage of Mankind

On 15th December, Alex Sceberras Trigona, Special Envoy of the Prime Minister, addressed the United Nations General Assembly in New York at the High Level Meeting which is reviewing developments 10 years after the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS+10).

He argued that the legal concept of the Common Heritage of Mankind should also be applicable to the critical infrastructure of the Internet, by analogy with Article 136 et seq of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the negotiations of which article he recalled as having been concluded between 1981-82, when he was the Foreign Minister of Malta.

He explained that small island states were particularly dependent on the digital economy, which was why Malta strongly supported the EU's work for a single digital market.

In its turn, this huge regional digital market requires a global digital market operating within a reliable legal framework, such as the one that the Common Heritage of Mankind paradigm could provide.

Moreover, Trigona argued, it is becoming increasingly apparent that internet governance problems cannot be solved on a national basis alone, but on a global basis, including by the EU, as evidenced by the latter’s own commitments in Action 97.

Trigona explained how difficult it had been way back in 1997 in Kuala Lumpur to advocate the Common Heritage of Mankind concept for the Internet, when he had first proposed this at the World Internet Forum organised by the Commonwealth Secretariat in London.

In those days, cyber gurus strongly resisted this proposal as they firmly believed cyberspace existed beyond the stratosphere, beyond national jurisdictions, and beyond governments who they warned not to interfere with the internet, even going so far as to issue formal declarations of independence from governments.

Many developments have since then provided a better sense of reality. Geolocation of devices, for a start, has enabled the application of traditional rules of jursdiction to most internet questions.

Concerns with cybersecurity have brought governments together to counter cyber-crime together in Europe, in Africa, in the Commonwealth, and in other regions of the world. Increasing threats to cyber-security by hackers, cyber-attacks, and even cyber-terrorists, have compelled governments to start adopting common rules.

Trigona declared that this was a far cry from treating the Internet as a res nullius, a no man’s land where everyone would be independent; rather, this vision entails treating the internet as a res comunis omnium, that is, a  common good with common rules, especially for the next billion users, as Common Heritage has suggested.

These, and other compelling reasons, moved Trigona to suggest that the United Nations General Assembly should consider more specifically the protection of the Internet as a Common Heritage of Mankind.

The assembly was addressed by nearly 200 representatives of governments, inter-governmental and regional organisations, NGOs, and civil society representatives.
Photo: OPM