This document is intended to serve as an introduction to W3C work (initiated by the Technical Architecture Group) on the relationships of governance and Web architecture. It outlines areas where the nature of the relationship between users, computers, services, and content and the behavior of the systems involved are impacted by society's regulation.

NOTE: This document was originally based on a contribution from Janaki Srinivasan, U C Berkeley, and Larry Masinter and Peter Secor, Adobe. This is currently still an early draft.


Governance is the process by which society defines expectations, grants power, or verifies performance, through laws, regulations, or other means. Societies govern communication, for example, to support copyright, privacy, or to help manage defamatory or illegal material. As the Internet becomes increasingly central to the way people communicate, it is also increasingly subject to governance.

Unfortunately, a number of problems commonly arise when dealing with governance of the Internet.


Technology standards can help reduce some of the difficulties by providing appropriate terminology, guidance and standards. For example, W3C Recommendations for accessibility have helped reduce some of the unnecessary variability between accessibility guidelines in various countries.

There is a clear path for voluntary industry standards to make their way into contractional obligations and ultimately into law.[[Hemenway]]

As a community of technologists focusing on bringing the web to its full potential, documenting the intended or accepted practice for new technology areas can help influence the legal community. It is common that judges will ask what the consensus practice or standard is in a technical community when forming judgments.

Even if seemingly "stating the obvious", putting together a technical introduction to those developing governance methods we hope will be useful to lawyers, judges, legislators, administrators.

This can take the form of a framework, a set of definitions, or a set of roles and relationships, an analysis, etc.

Whatever its form, it must take a stand of some kind - not a legal stand, but an engineering stance. The lawyers already know the law, so talking about legal situations would be out of order. Taking a stand is not "this is what I think the law should be" and the statement shouldn't say anything about law. Rather it is: "This is how we think about the technology, and what the technology is for."

Governance requirements constrain architecture

In order to build systems such that those responsible for the systems are capable of meeting expectations, it is often the case that governance adds requirements to the overall architecture of the system. For example, an obligation to keep records of use requires system data paths to gather the required records; an obligation to avoid publication of certain categories of material requires some means of distinguishing wanted from unwanted content.

On the other hand, to be clear, effective and fair, rules, regulations, laws and expectations need to be written in terms that match the technology. New technologies often allow novel means of communication, where relationship such as causality, responsibility, speed of access, and distribution policies are widely different from earlier technology. A mismatch between governance and actual usage often leads to mandated requirements which cannot be easily and consistently interpreted.

Governance areas

This section lists some governance areas of special impact to the web, and notes some of the issues to consider. (The order is not significant.)

Policy consequences

The consequences of providing products and services on the web that do not comply with governance requirements can range widely.

Technology areas

This section lists some of the technology areas that an examination of the interaction of governance and web architecture might cover.