Elon University

Internet Governance Forum – USA, 2011: Opening Remarks Ambassador Verveer Emphasizes Internet Freedom

Brief description:

IGF USA Banner LogoThe opening plenary session of the second IGF-USA featured general remarks from Pablo Molina CIO of the host institution, Georgetown University Law School; Chengetai Masango, a representative of the United Nations Secretariat for the Internet Governance Forum; and Ambassador Philip Verveer of the U.S. State Department.

Details of the session:

U.S. Ambassador Phil Verveer told the opening plenary audience at IGF-USA 2011 that a key to today and the future is  keeping the Internet as free as possible from what he referred to as “intergovernmental controls” across continents, so that ideas and information can continue to flow openly and freely.

Certainly, he said, it’s the U.S. view that the principles and any rules by which we agree to operate the Internet should not result in well-meant methods that some people co-opt as a means of oppression or repression.

“It’s equally clear that we—all humanity—are better off if the Internet remains as it is, free of intergovernmental controls,” Verveer said.

“In the view of the United States this is critically important. (An open and free Internet should be) open to new ideas and uses and to the kinds of organic change it has served so well and also free of censorship and other tools of political oppression.”

Verveer said intergovernmental controls involve Internet lag times and attempts at coming to a consensus about important issues often ultimately results in operating at the “lowest common denominator.” And all that is inconsistent with today’s version of the Internet, he said.

An excess of rules and regulations, too, are problematic because of the fretful future they could bring.

“There’s a great danger that we’re going to end up in a situation where some administrations can claim the assistance of all other administrations with respect to things like censorship and greater political control that we in the United States feel very, very strongly should be avoided,” he said with great authority.

Opening Plenary IGF USA 2010 Group PhotoOne way to avoid unnecessary rules is through communication, and that’s where the Internet Governance Forum, a multistakeholder organization, enters the picture, said Pablo Molina, chief information officer and associate vice president of Georgetown University.

“Communication is a fundamental human right,” Molina said.  “The ability to communicate with others and exchange information is critical for human development.”

He cited many examples, among them that individuals who send and receive money across borders and immigrants who use the Internet to bridge the gap between their foreign and origin countries must rely on communication.

And with communication comes the right to education, Molina said, as more and more students and professors are working at colleges and universities from other parts of the world and opening up globally to engage in international initiatives.

These important initiatives are why the private sector, all countries, governments, private organizations and academia are all on equal footing while at IGF, said Chengetai Masango, a coordinator of the United Nations Secretariat for the IGF. Masango discussed the history of global Internet governance processes during his opening remarks.

Verveer Speaking IGF USA 2010He said the IGF’s current format engenders open and honest discussions without the fear of something being held against a speaker because no policy decisions are made at IGF. Instead it offers a place for people to learn, share and return to their home countries, to their businesses, non-profit organizations and technology research and policy agendas with new ideas to help better shape their various groups as they all play various roles in the positive future of the Internet.

Some have criticized IGF’s approach as too soft and say it should be making decisions, conducting votes or at least filing official positions to inform governmental processes, yet Masango said there are many who believe the forum is best structured in a non-binding advisory format in which discussions and open dialogues are fostered, with no standing on UN General Assembly-style formality.

Verveer’s position on that topic echoed that of Masango.

“The Internet is the largest and most successful cooperative venture in history,” Verveer said, noting that it’s an amazing thing and adding that it has produced many multistakeholder organizations, including ICANN and IGF, with many more cropping up every year.

Cade Speaking IGF USA 2010Marilyn Cade, chief catalyst for IGF-USA, welcomed the more than 300 members of civil society, academia, government and the private sector who were registered to the third IGF-USA and laid out the busy day ahead.

“We focus on IGF-USA by taking a national perspective with a global view,” Cade said. “And you will see that in the workshops and sessions today.”

The workshops and sessions that followed throughout the day focused on many topics, including the future of Internet policy principles, youth Internet stereotypes, regionalization of the Internet, cloud computing, critical Internet resources and the changing landscape in the Domain Name System.

To read more about the global IGF, click here.

– Anna Johnson

Return to IGF-USA 2011 Home

Twitter LogoA selection of Twitter reports on this IGF-USA 2011 event:

#IGF11-USA begins with opening remarks from Marilyn Cade, Pablo Molina, Chengetai Masango and Ambassador Phil Verveer.

#IGF11-USA is a collaborative effort, examining a national perspective, but with a global view. -Marilyn Cade

#IGF11-USA’s Cade says that breaks are non-existent here; that each room is full and the day is busy.

“Communication is a fundamental human right.” -Pablo Molina, CIO and AVP, Georgetown University #IGF11-USA

“Everyone at the IGF has the same right to speak and be heard…whether you are a country or an individual” -Molina #IGF11-USA

“The real immigrants are those who use the Internet to connect between their home country and their host country.” -#PabloMolina #IGF11-USA

“The Internet helps to grow the economy of our country, our nation and our world” #PabloMolina #IGF11-USA

The Internet helps to ensure water, food, shelter and education for all; alleviates disease, poverty, natural disasters. -Molina #IGF11-USA

“Everyone has the right to an education” -Molina #IGF11

Chengetai Masango, of the UN’s IGF Secretariat, gives a brief history of the evolution of the #IGF.

#IGF11-USA We need to know definition and boundaries of Internet gov to discuss it. It’s hard to define. -Masango

#IGF11-USA IGF goal – Discuss policy issues related to key elements of Internet gov to foster sustainability, robustness, security, stability, development of Internet. -Masango

“IGF can shape public opinion and decision making, and is based on a ‘soft governance’ approach.” -Masango #IGF11-USA

#IGF11-USA We are not here to make rules, but to swap ideas, engage and debate. -Masango

If you know that no firm decisions are going to be made in this setting, then people are more free to speak. #IGF11-USA -Masango

One of the most interesting parts of #IGF11-USA: No voice is more important than any other. Each person gets a say in the conversation.

#IGF11-USA Some issues – like privacy – are discussed in all regional IGF initiatives. There are some differences as well. -Masango

IGF-USA spearheaded idea of using scenario sessions at IGF conferences. This will now appear at global IGF Nairobi. –Masango

#IGF11-USA Ambassador Verveer says Internet is the “largest and most successful cooperative platform in history.”

#IGF11-USA A series of specialized institutions developed around Internet is essential to its creation and maintenance. -Verveer

#IGF11-USA Internet should be open and free of government controls and oppression. –Verveer

“There is a misconception that the US uses the #Internet as a tool of power, and we must correct this misconception.” -Verveer #IGF11-USA

“The IGF itself is the manifestation of the multistakeholder approach.” -Ambassador Phil Verveer #IGF11-USA

Verveer echos Masango’s claim that a benefit of #IGF is the equal-opportunity conversation. #IGF11-USA

“At a minimum, multistakeholderism is an ethic.” -Verveer #IGF11-USA

“We ought not lose sight of the cash value of the Internet.” -Verveer #IGF11-USA

Verveer applauds the #IGF in sub-Saharan Africa, because it is one of the places where the benefits can be most seen #IGF11-USA

The multimedia citizen journalism 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.