Elon University

Internet Governance Forum – USA, 2010: Report to the Global IGF in Vilnius, Sept. 16

Brief description:

IGF USA Banner LogoThe global IGF 2010 conference in Vilnius Sept. 14-17 included sessions in which leaders representing various regional and national Internet Governance Forums could share a summing up of the discussions held over the past year. The IGF-USA session in Vilnius featured a briefing on the key points emerging from a gathering of stakeholders from all sectors – business and government representatives, technologists, academics and people from civil society – that took place in Washington, D.C., in July 2010.

Details of the session:

Marilyn Cade, the catalyst and convener for the steering group of IGF-USA, moderated the global IGF-2010 session. It was highlighted by a description of scenario discussions that took place at annual gathering in the United States.

Before introducing the presenters at the session, Cade, a veteran of international Internet politics, quoted Hillary Clinton’s “it takes a village” ideal and noted, “We are certainly learning the value of continuing to grow the size of the village and ensure that there is broad diversity and participation of all the people who are interested. We are just beginning to learn about and to build an environment for the IGF-USA initiative.”

Cade said one aim of the US initiative is consciousness-raising. “The phrase ‘Internet governance’ didn’t actually have much meaning in the United States,” she said. “Most people, when they think about Internet governance, were probably thinking that the government ought to be doing it or that it was done by ICANN. We started thinking we need to help define what Internet governance is.”

She said as many as 65 people have participated in the IGF-USA steering group. “It is very informal, the steering group remains open, and people do come in and out of the steering group,” she noted. She said the participants take a “national perspective with a global view.”

The centerpiece feature of the IGF meeting in the US this year was a series of concurrent morning workshops based on three different 2020 future scenarios that lead to an afternoon plenary session in which the key points of the smaller-group scenario discussions were raised and analyzed. Assessing the possible, probable and preferred potential future allows people to make better-informed decisions as they move forward.

The ‘Internet Islands’ 2020 scenario

Iren Borissova of VeriSign summarized the IGF-USA discussions of a 2020 scenario in which fragmentation of the Internet limits the flow of information as businesses, governments and other segments of society divide for various reasons, including convenience, cost-effectiveness and security.

“It is a fractured Net,” she said, “a scenario that can best be described as ‘Internet Islands’ … walled gardens or fortresses … it’s not an ideal situation by any stretch of the imagination. Part of this scenario that is quite troubling is the situation of emerging technologies in developing countries. Developing countries are effectively left off any island in this digital divide.”

Borissova said the group discussing this potential-future scenario worked backward from it to try to determine the conditions that might be its cause. She noted some of the drivers of this scenario are: national security concerns; the explosion of cybercrime and irritants to efficient use of the Internet such as spam; financial crises; the desire for control over culture; conflicts over perceived property rights.

Borissova Speaking IGF USA 2010They identified the types of islands that might be possible, including: the ‘totalitarian island,’ where control of information is primary; the ‘liberal island,’ where citizen protection and trade protectionism is primary; the ‘corporate island,’ where customers and profit-making are protected by businesses; the ‘cultural island,’ where language and a particular way of life are protected by a sector of global society.

“All of these result in tremendous pressure on the multistakeholder Internet governance model,” she said. “The bottom-up, consultative nature of the process is destroyed and the system that we know today basically collapses under the pressure.

“This is a scenario we need to avoid. We need to make sure we do everything possible to not reach a tipping point where – from the few islands that, in fact, currently already exist – we reach a point where islands are not an exception but they become the norm and the Internet becomes truly fractured.”

Borissova said the discussants involved in probing this scenario expressed the opinion that civil society and non-governmental organizations’ (NGOs) “work is critical in bearing witness, representing the underrepresented and serving as the resource for firms and governments” to recognize these issues.

“It’s clear we all need to work together,” she said. “Nobody can prevent this scenario from happening alone. Working together is critical. It is important that IGF, ICANN and other parts of the Internet governance ecosystem should be kept equally open to all stakeholders. Another point is that IGF should preserve its current structure and not turn into a policy or standards-making body because this will be a negative development.”

Borissova said the final recommendation of this group was that there must be increased participation in Internet governance events throughout the world to share best practices and tools so the system that currently exists is preserved.

To view video clips from the original, July IGF-USA Internet Islands Scenario discussion, click here.

The ‘Global Governments’ 2020 scenario

Steve DelBianco of NetChoice, one of the moderators of the IGF-USA discussion on this scenario, reported to the global IGF about a scenario with a proposed future in which citizens and industry demand that their governments “clean up an Internet that has been infected with dangerous content and criminal conduct.”
He noted that the drivers of this scenario could be converging forces that include: consumers’ loss of trust in commerce mostly due to rampant fraud; lawsuits over user-generated content and privacy issues; and governments’ working to address threats to their economies and the threats of cyber attacks and cyberwar.

“With those three drivers, the Internet in 2020 is one giant continent that’s closely managed by coordinated government regulators,” DelBianco described. “They are overseeing online content and ecommerce.” He said this scenario includes biometric authentication before people are allowed online. Online publishers of content and user-generated content are liable, and they are sued when anyone posts anything with which another party finds fault.

“You need an online license to use the Internet,” he said, noting that the discussants agreed that this scenario is quite plausible and it should be avoided.

“There are huge barriers to innovation in a heavily regulated, globally coordinated Internet,” he said. “Also, many governments would lack the competency to manage the Internet, and we know that courts lack the competency to issue rulings coming out of a single case that have sweeping effects on how the Internet runs. Bad actors ignore the rules, too, so sometimes the new rules developed won’t stop the crime. Finally, we did express the concern that this would widen the digital divide.”

DelBianco said the scenario discussion turned to ways to avoid this. “We have four messages,” he summed up. “First, industry needs to get busy solving the problems that constitute the drivers that make this a plausible scenario – there was a loud call that industry should do more.

“[Second], we turn to governments and say, ‘Please enforce your existing laws before you start worrying about creating brand-new laws.’ Greater enforcement will help. When new problems arise, try to find multiple solutions as opposed to looking for some silver bullet that will solve them, and please don’t overreact to the problem du jour with a new set of regulations.

“[Third,] we turned to ICANN to say it should work very hard to recruit and attract more and more governments to participate in the Government Advisory Committee. And those governments should send more high-level people – both technical and policy – to participate at ICANN.

“Finally, IGF should keep talking, focus on capacity-building. It should, as much as possible, work with the technical groups that are capable of doing a deep dive for the technical solutions we need to solve some of the problems we address here. Also governments are always going to want to rule the Internet, so we just need to get over it, get used to it and get busy solving the problems that will help us avoid this scenario.”

To view video clips from the original, July IGF-USA Internet Islands Scenario discussion, click here.

The ‘Users Reign’ 2020 scenario

Molina Speaking IGF USA 2010Pablo Molina of Georgetown University recapped this 2020 scenario discussion of a world in which cloud-based social networks and applications are advanced and innovation and users’ rights are the drivers.

Fewer IGF-USA participants chose to discuss this potential-future scenario during IGF-USA in July, so the group in the room to analyze the possibilities was not as large or as experienced as those analyzing the Global Government and Internet Islands settings. This could have been due to the fact that the other two scenario workshops, which were taking place at the same time, have had their implications exposed more often in public discourse. Molina said that despite its appealing name, this scenario has its drawbacks.

“This is one of the most optimistic future scenarios, but caution is in order,” Molina said, noting that there were questions raised about privacy, autonomy, identity, copyright, diversity, freedom of expression, censorship by users, and editorial control exercised by markets or communities of users.

He said the discussants of the scenario recommended: “That users should help other users to be proficient online with the help of volunteer organizations, civil society and more-formal programs. That user control should not come at the expense of privacy, copyright and – most importantly – the protection of the most vulnerable people in online communities.

“The idea is that the IGF should focus on education, awareness and best practices and certainly we should rely on more smart user engagement, for example crowd-sourcing and social research. IGF should promote more inclusive and diverse participation and yet ensure that it continues to offer egalitarian participation to the community.”

To view video clips from the original, July IGF-USA Internet Islands Scenario discussion, click here.

Other discussion and workshop details

In other discussion of IGF-USA activities, Fiona Alexander of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the US president’s principal advisory group on telecommunications and information policy, noted the high level of participation by NTIA and other US government representatives in IGF-USA activities.

“We take it seriously,” she said. “We show up, we participate and we listen. And everything from that day we discuss back at the office, and it feeds back into our policymaking discussions. We want to stress that it’s a multistakeholder process and it directly impacts US policymaking.”

Bennett Speaking IGF USA 2010Kirsten Bennett, a youth participant in the global IGF who also took part as a youth participant in the national IGF in Washington, D.C., talked about the ways in which NGO and civil society group members’ citizen journalism – coverage of multistakeholder meetings – provides visibility, documentation and a historical record of the proceedings, putting them in context and making them available to public access anytime, anywhere.

“Stakeholders from all sectors of society discuss competing values in order to enhance cooperation and arrive at the best possible outcomes,” said Bennett, a research assistant with the Imagining the Internet Center.

“IGF is a forum for these important debates and discussions but only for those present at IGF or participating remotely. Imagining the Internet’s coverage provides a way for these discussions to be carried beyond IGF and make these ideas and issues raised available to all over the very medium we are working to support as it evolves.”

The Imagining the Internet Center has provided complete documentary journalistic coverage of the first two national IGF-USA meetings and all five global IGF conferences. Each year, more independent bloggers and journalists and civil society organizations such as DiploFoundation are beginning to do real-time reporting on the events of IGF at the national/regional and the global level, while coverage from mainstream media organizations remains at an extremely low level.

The growing online documentation of these events encourages more people to get involved and provides better dissemination of the discussions, thus bringing more enlightened participation in the processes of such multistakeholder forums.

The IGF-USA participants also recapped the discussions taking place in other workshops held at the July meeting. To read more about the other IGF-USA 2010 workshops and view video clips from them follow click the links below. 

A National Framework for Cybersecurity 

Critical Internet Resources

E-Crimes and Malicious Use in the DNS 

Cloud Computing 

Child Safety Online

The UN IGF Secretariat’s video of this global IGF session and
the video from other national and regional sessions are here.

The UN IGF Secretariat’s transcript of the IGF-USA session in Vilnius is available here.

Transcripts from other regional and national IGF sessions are located here:
East African IGF
West African IGF
Russian IGF 

– Senior producer Janna Anderson

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