Internet Governance Forum-USA, 2011
Workshop: A Plethora of Policy Principles

Brief description:

This session delved into recently announced policy statements with future implications, including those made by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, the U.S. International Strategy on Cyberspace, the G8 and others – Are principles a feasible approach to underpin Internet governance? If so, which ones? Should principles be applied by codification in law, MOU, or treaty? The workshop consisted of a mini-analysis of currently proposed sets of principles. Because the Internet and online services are global, the perspective of the workshop was a global view. 

Details of the session:
The co-moderators for the session were Fiona Alexander of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and Shane Tews of Verisign. They hosted a session in which the following people first presented briefings on recently announced sets of principles.
Heather Shaw, vice president for ICT policy for the United States Council for International Business (USCIB), shared details of the OECD Communique on Principles for Internet Policy-Making:
Chris Hemmerlein, a telecommunications policy analyst for NTIA, spoke about the sections of the May 2011 G8 Declaration that focus on the Internet:
Sheila Flynn, of the cyber policy office of the U.S. State Department, briefed participants on the U.S. International Strategy on Cyberspace:
Leslie Martinkovics, director of international public policy and regulatory affairs for Verizon, introduced the concepts of the Brazilian Principles for the Internet:
Sarah Labowitz, U.S. State Department, shared details of the Council of Europe's Internet Governance Principles:
The introduction of the principles was followed by a guided discussion moderated by Iren Borissova of Verisign. Pre-invited expert participants who were seated in the audience to act as respondents were:
  • Jackie Ruff, vice president for international public policy and regulatory affairs for Verizon Communications
  • Jeff Brueggeman, vice president for public policy at AT&T
  • Cynthia Wong, director of the Project on Global Internet Freedom at the Center for Democracy & Technology
  • Liesyl Franz, vice president for security and global public policy for TechAmerica
  • Mike Nelson, research associate for CSC Leading Edge Forum and visiting professor at Georgetown University
  • Robert Guerra, director of the Internet Freedom program at Freedom House
  • Susan Morgan, executive director of the Global Network Initiative

For all of the Internet-focused principles laid out by the OECD, G8, U.S. State Department and the Brazilian government, the lists of tenets and guidelines, the debate at the 2011 Internet Governance Forum on “A Plethora of Policy Principles” boiled down to one question: Can any set of principles be successfully converted into positive action?

Governmental parties, whether they are sanctioned by presidential administrations or are the result of a multistakeholder process, are seeking to list the boundaries in which they wish to act when the next contentious issue hits the Web. The problem with these lists, which by themselves could perhaps act effectively within a singular cultural, regional or governmental context, is that they are expected to stretch across all boundaries in a way similar to that of the Internet itself.

The recently announced policy principles included in the discussion, which in no way represent the entirety of idealized lists, were as follows:

-The OECD Communique on Principles for Internet Policy-Making, which is the most recent set, agreed upon by 34 member states, that seeks to promote the free flow of information, promote the open nature of the Internet, promote investment and the cross-border delivery of services, encourage multistakeholder cooperation and a litany of others, ranging from security concerns to liability issues for an affront to any of the contained principles.

-The G8 Renewed Commitment to Freedom and Democracy, which isn’t solely focused on Internet rights issues, but nonetheless deals heavily with digital issues. The list segments Internet users into three groups: citizens, who seek to use the Internet as a resource and as a means to exercise human rights; businesses, which use it to increase efficiency and reach consumers; and governments seeking to improve their services and better reach their citizens. The G8 list also considers the Internet as the “public forum” of our time, with all of the associated assembly rights applied.

-President Barack Obama’s U.S. International Strategy for Cyberspace focused on the concepts of prosperity, transparency and openness. It represents an effort on the part of the U.S. government to approach Internet issues with a singular vision and seeks to establish an international framework to deal with these issues in the future. Interestingly, it was also the only list of principles discussed during the session that asserts a sort of “digital right to self-defense” in the instance of an attack on the United States’ own digital resources.

-The Brazilian Internet Streering Committee’s Principles for the Governance and Use of the Internet in Brazil differed from the other lists in that it was created after a series of discussions between interested governmental, NGO, private and scientific parties. The committee’s principles also stood for greater universality to the Internet, particularly a breakdown of linguistic barriers and a strict adherence to maintaining diversity in the digital domain. For those questioning why Brazil, given the sheer number of countries with vested interests in Internet issues, Leslie Martinkovics, the director of international public policy and regulatory affairs for Verizon, said, “Brazil is seen as an opinions leader in the Americas. … they would like to take the high ground and lead the discussions going forward.”

-The Council of Europe’s Internet Governance Principles is the product of 47 member states with an expressed focus of “affirming the applicability of existing human rights on the Internet,” according to Sarah Labowitz of the U.S. State Department. In addition to those concerns, the principles call for a clear series of planning, notification and coping mechanisms in place in the event of a cyber disaster.

Once the particulars and intricacies of the various plans had been laid out, the critiques began to fly in. Mike Nelson, research associate for CSC Leading Edge Forum and visiting professor at Georgetown University, played the self-admitted role of the skeptic.

“The first thing you do is hold a meeting, and we’ve been doing that for five years,” Nelson said, describing how meetings lead to research, research leads to a lengthy span of time, during which the public becomes discontented, after which a list of principles emerges to placate the masses.

Nelson did not seek for the topic of discussion to be “do you or do you not stand for freedom,” but instead, a fundamental  debate on so-called “flashpoints,” which are actual, specific points of policy, the results of a debate, which could result in legitimate action, as opposed to simply more principles.

Rebecca MacKinnon soon followed Nelson in critiquing the concept upon which the entire panel was devoted, noticing a trend for the principles and conclusions reached by disenfranchised groups, including those who aren’t in the post-industrial West or in the increasingly powerful emerging economies, to be at best given lip service, and at most outright ignored both by interested parties and IGF itself.

“What’s changed between 2004 and now?” MacKinnon asked. “How do people interpret these principles that have been, less or more, set in some degree of stone for quite some time?”

For the Chinese or Iranian dissident, she posited, rouge groups such as Anonymous and Wikileaks do more for their cause than institutional bodies like IGF simply because they rely entirely upon action instead of dialogue, action that is particularly focused on powerful entities.

For all of the critiques piled on the notion of principles and the efficacy of IGF, there was an equal counter of support.

“The role of the IGF is exactly what it was set out to do. There has been discussion, and it has encouraged awareness,” said Heather Shaw, vice president for ICT policy for the United States Council for International Business.

She added that many of the principles outlined in the State Department report published by the Obama administration contains many of the same concepts that were actively discussed at the previous year’s IGF meetings.

“The fact this discussion is happening everywhere points to the success of the Internet Governance Forum,” said Fiona Alexander of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. “IGF is spurring these kinds of conversations.”

But the unanswered question lingering at the end of the session’s discussion was whether those conversations, those discussions and that awareness is enough in this day and age, with the Internet’s rapid advancement now being met with an equally rapid growth in governmental interest in its inner workings.

- Morgan Little
A selection of Twitter reports
on this IGF-USA 2011 event:
Policy principles discussion about to begin. Detailed coverage on #IGF11-USA here, @futureofthe_web, and at 
Panel includes description of 2011 OECD Principles, G-8, U.S. State Department International Cyber, Brazilian Principles. #IGF11-USA
Cynthia Wong: "None of these principles are magic. The value is in identifying values that keep the Internet open and free." #IGF11-USA
"Is Anonymous actually accountability, or is it the Robin Hood response to a lack of governance?" -Participant #IGF11-USA
"The problem with principles is implementing them in the face of facts." -Participant #IGF11-USA
Q: Where does IGF fit into this? A: To do this, act as a forum for discussion, find similarities, differences between groups. #IGF11-USA
Q2: Why have all these principles just come forth? A2: Issues are maturing, incredibly relevant. -Labowitz, US State Dept. #IGF11-USA

The multimedia reporting team for Imagining the Internet at IGF-USA 2011 included the following Elon University students and alumni: Jeff Ackermann, Natalie Allison, Ronda Ataalla, Ashley Barnas, Joe Bruno, Kristen Case, Lianna Catino, Nicole Chadwick, Kellye Coleman, Colin Donohue, Steven Ebert, Jeff Flitter, Anna Johnson, Elizabeth Kantlehner, Melissa Kansky, Morgan Little, Brian Meyer, Julie Morse, Derek Scully, Rachel Southmayd, Katy Steele, Jeff Stern, Bethany Swanson and Carolyn VanBrocklin.
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