Session description: A look at the changing institutional and procedural approaches applied to the problems of Internet governance over the past 15 years and the sharing of various perspectives about the effectiveness and legitimacy of each approach. World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) criteria recommend the full involvement of governments, the private sector, civil society and international organizations in Internet governance arrangements. The workshop looked at progress made since the initial 2003-2005 WSIS meetings and forward to a possible future meeting of WSIS in 2015.
Most panelists say
September 17, 2010 - Jeremy Malcolm, a co-coordinator of the civil society Internet Governance Caucus and Internet governance scholar, led the organization of this event and served as its moderator. He noted that Working Group on Internet Governance appointed through the WSIS process defined Internet governance as “the development and application by governments, the private sector and civil society in their respective roles of shared principles, norms, rules, decision-making procedures and programs that shape the evolution and use of the Internet.”
He said the original global meetings of WSIS held in 2003 and 2005 spurred creation of the Internet Governance Forum, and perhaps there will be another WSIS gathering in 2015 to coincide with the target date for completion of the Millennium Development Goals.
“The WSIS process criteria stated that international management of the Internet should be transparent, participatory and inclusive,” he explained. “These are some criteria we could look at in judging success or failure, but perhaps nothing is a failure as long as lessons have been learned from it.”
Malcolm said an uncontroversial example of what could be considered a success is HTML as it has been managed by the World Wide Web Consortium. “The W3C’s work brings in public policy issues such as policy on patents,” he said. “It won’t accept a standard if it involves patents that can’t be freely licensed. So there’s a successful Internet governance policy."
He next raised the example of what he called a “failure” – the global top-level domain memorandum of understanding – a predecessor to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) in 1997. “It was developed by the Internet community, they ended up with 224 signatories, including the World Intellectual Property Organization and the International Telecommunication Union, yet it completely failed, and ICANN took over the role of the administration of the global domain name system.”
Malcolm said it failed because governments weren’t involved. “So a lesson we have taken away from that was that governments have to be involved in Internet governance in some fashion, otherwise they’ll simply do what the Internet protocol was designed to do, which is routing around failure,” he said. “They’ll simply route around this failed Internet governance mechanism and create their own replacement.”
Moving from a hierarchical system to network thinking
Wolfgang Kleinwachter, a professor of Internet policy and regulation at the University of Aarhus in Denmark a co-founder of the Internet Governance Caucus and longtime Internet governance scholar and civil society leader, said the dialogue among various stakeholders is key, and it took a long time to gain the right for members of civil society to participate in a full role in multistakeholder Internet governance.
“What does this mean? There’s no leader,” he explained. “It’s a collaborative effort. Each party has a role to play in a position that has no central authority, which is a decentralized system where with many layers and many players and each party has a certain responsibility.”
He said it’s an important achievement to move away from a hierarchical system to network thinking.
“You don’t first build a legal framework and then fill it,” he said. “You look at an issue and then you ask what is needed to manage this issue. We are dealing with a borderless cyberspace. We are dealing with resources which do not disappear when we use them, the resources of the information economy, like IP addresses, domain names, and the mechanisms of how to manage these resources have to be different from the mechanisms to manage resources in the 20th century.”
He said the processes of multistakeholder governance are still evolving, and the experiment is especially under scrutiny at ICANN, which is adding new layers of transparency in its processes.
“There are still open questions where we have to move forward to be more specific,” he said. “We need to discuss the procedural elements which guarantee equality among various stakeholders by taking into account the different roles the stakeholders play.”
Should governments continue to represent citizens at the global level?
Bertrand de La Chapelle, a representative of the government of France who has been involved in global Internet governance leadership for many years, said the format of WSIS should not be a "repeat of the heads of state summits of 2003 and 2005."
"If we want to be true to multistakeholder evolution," he said, "we need to have a multistakeholder format and the best way to do this is probably to have the IGF and the WSIS forum - whatever form it takes - develop during the next five years and converge in a single meeting in 2015 to address both the projects and the policy issues.
He noted that Kleinwachter pointed out that IGF does not work within pre-existing structures but instead it organizes around topics. This is a new governance approach that takes on elements of guilds, institutes and consortia. At the Internet Governance Forum this has sometimes taken the structure of the "dynamic coalition," but occasionally IGF gatherings on various topics are spurring new action or new organization around action by multistakeholder, global participants united around an issue who are working independent of IGF processes.
"Issues-based networks are the core element of the Internet governance multistakeholder approach," he said. "And I do see in the last two years or three years the emergence in the IGF of more-structured groupings of people who are concerned about the same topic. That's the way forward."
He said talking about "democracy" in Internet governance is complicated. "On the one hand we seem to equate it with representative democracy, which is one modality," he said. "When we talk about democracy among countries we need to keep in mind a fundamental question: Should or could governments maintain the monopoly of representation of their citizens at the international level? This is the fundamental question. You can answer "yes" you can answer "no," but this is the question that is in front of us. There are pros and cons, but it is more and more difficult to maintain this monopoly of representation."
The Internet can make global governance models more agile, fair
Audience participant Rodney Taylor of Barbados asked about the success of regional and national IGFs and said he thinks the Regional Caribbean Internet Governance Forum works as well as the global IGF. “My own view is that organisations such as ICANN and IETF and IANA are doing a great job managing the technical governance issues of the Internet,” he said.
He urged a concentrated effort to spread the knowledge gained through the regional, national and global IGF processes into the bodies making decisions.
“What is needed is to be able to engage other international organizations which were established to facilitate cooperation in international law, international security, economic development, etcetera, the same issues that we talk about here, and let them – let the established global processes – complement and not replace what is already happening with respect to specific Internet issues," he said.
"Maybe we can even use the Internet to change global government itself or the global governance models so they are more agile and more representative.”
Malcolm said the system is flawed, but people are working to try to make a difference, “but the question is always whether it’s going to make a difference.”
Access issues are still a big problem for many across the globe
Tracy Hackshaw, chief solution architect in the government of Trinidad & Tobago’s ICT Company, discussed concerns of developing nations.
He shared specific details about the successes and failures in his part of the world, using his country as a primary example. He said access issues have not been solved in remote locations such as the islands around Trinidad & Tobago, but the WSIS process and other global governance efforts are raising the need for connectivity.
“Social media and cloud computing will benefit developing states for many reasons,” he added.
A danger: People with the political
Carlos Afonso, a member of the Brazilian Internet Steering Committee and longtime leader in IGF and ICANN, said the multistakeholder process “is a very important success even with all its imperfections.” But he noted that some countries that were active at the start of the WSIS process have not been present in the IGF in recent years, listing Bolivia and “several other countries.” He said people should question why this is happening.
He said IGF is an important space for informing people about legislation and national regulations.
“Some legislators think they know about the Internet and they know absolutely nothing about the international and complex nature of the Internet,” he said, “but they have the power to propose laws and the political power to put them through Congress, and this is a very dangerous process which I’m sure is not happening only in Brazil but in many other countries, and this is completely disconnected from all of these international governance discussions and learning processes we have here.”
Afonso cited the Budapest Convention on Cybercrime as an example of an error in execution. “You have very well-developed countries getting together to write a convention on cybercrime which has a lot of implications for privacy, for freedom of expression, etcetera,” he said, “but sometimes I feel that parts of the cybercrime convention have been written by the police and not by policy makers. This is not a multistakeholder process. This is not even due process. As a result so far only 10 percent of the countries or even less have ratified the convention.”
He said one problem with the IGF is the lack of funding for people from developing countries to participate more fully in the process. He also mentioned that these are the people who need to be reached if truly universal quality broadband communication is to be attained.
There's a need to pre-assess potential impacts of governance decisions
David Souter, managing director at ICT Development Associates, said that as the Internet has become central to society, economics, politics and culture the Internet community and mainstream governments have struggled to find a relationship.
“The Internet is in a continual state of flux and its development is unpredictable, so its governance arrangements need to be responsive to the changes that are taking place within the Internet and its development and its impact,” he said. “We need a more thoughtful approach for accommodation between the Internet world and government. The interface between the two seems to be more crucial than the identity of either.”
Souter said IGF is a success because it has enabled argumentation. “It has created a space in which debate can be assertive but not usually hostile and can cover a wide range of issues,” he said. “It has enabled arguments to move to comfort. That’s a substantial change in ethos and I think it goes beyond IGF itself.”
He said a weakness he sees is that the multistakeholder process of IGF includes only Internet governance insiders, people whose primary interest is the Internet. “We need to be listening to the rest of the world in order to understand what the Internet is doing to society, economy, politics and culture,” he added.
Souter asked for three things:
Equity of stakeholder responsibility and contributions essential
Catherine Trautman, a member of the European Parliament representing European Socialists, said the work toward multistakeholder governance is a positive step of WSIS and the IGF process. She expressed concerns over the question of enhanced cooperation, noting that civil society is perhaps not getting its due recognition.
“Civilian society could show the contribution they make,” she said. “This is essential in this evolution and the decision on continuation of IGF.” She said the process is in a state of flux as the United Nations General Assembly is expected to take a vote soon about the possible extension of IGF that could be a positive or a negative influence on the processes set in motion through WSIS and IGF.
“We will pay a lot of attention to the equilibrium between the different stakeholders because this is what makes it a success,” she said. “If states are not so invested it can be a danger for the next decisions – if they want to close off the process more or be too heavy an influence.
“How will the role of private actors differ between the present and future WSIS? I think the private sector has to play an increasingly important role and also scientific experts, yet public authorities – especially elected ones – are important to keep in the loop. Also, young people must be represented more in the process.”
If there is a WSIS 2015 it should not be a review, but a look ahead
When the discussion turned to the possibility of a WSIS meeting in 2015, Kleinwachter said civil society organizations must begin to get more organized to participate effectively.
“What I see as the risks is that it would be a repetition of what was decided in Tunis and Geneva, and now in 2015 that means a bureaucratic summary and not a new conception of thinking for the next 10 years,” he said. “It would probably be a backward-looking summit, which would be a waste of resources and energy. It’s better to strengthen the IGF, to have another big world summit, to have a ministerial meeting, multistakeholder in 2015.”
Afonso spoke about the impact of constantly emerging innovations such as Facebook and cloud computing. He said that in light of considering 2015 people involved in IGF should be investing more effort into anticipating the governance agenda for the next five or 10 years, asking, “What are the new challenges?”
“We have to explore this territory, to come with innovative solutions,” he said.” This would be my challenge for the next five years of the IGF, to make the IGF a place where such new ideas are discussed.”
Souter agreed that any third WSIS meeting should be more than a look back. “What social networking existed in 2005?” he asked. “Where was the mobile broadband in 2005? So much has changed already. Take that five years forward, so a review summit that looks back won’t be very constructive. What’s needed is one that looks forward.”
Necessary to counterbalance forces endangering the Internet
Audience participant Wolfgang Benedek, a professor at the University of Graz in Austria, said a challenge and shortcoming is the locus of decision-making. “We are sitting here, we are discussing, we are kind of giving free advice to governments, international organizations, ourselves, but the decisions are still made elsewhere,” he said.
“Certainly there is a need to talk about the major threats which might be anticipated for the future. Such threats come from governments because of their sovereignty-oriented approach. They come from businesses because of their money-oriented approach. They can also come from ourselves, lets say the at-large community, because of negligence, not being actively involved enough.
“The challenge here is to get more people participating and how to make all of this more transparent and inclusive. There is still a lot to be expected here, and this would strengthen the democratic legitimacy of what is going on and give us some oversight over the process.
"It is necessary to counterbalance the forces which are taking the Internet for their own purposes.”
He said that working toward a WSIS meeting in 2015 is a positive thing.
“We need from time to time to reflect on the whole process,” he explained. “But how this will be done is a big challenge.” He added that he and others are working on a charter with basic rights and principles of the Internet, and he proposed that the compilation of principles that give a framework and offer guidelines might be “a process that should come out of the IGF in which as many as possible should participate.”
The UN's video recording of the session can be found at this link:
The UN's official transcript of the workshop can be found at this link:
- Video recorded from a remote location, captured