Internet Governance Forum 2012 Opens In Baku

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Baku, Azerbaijan – Over 100 workshops related to policies and technologies of the internet – including side events, open fora by United Nations and internet governance organisations, and gatherings of the “dynamic coalitions” – are on the agenda of the 7th UN Internet Governance Forum, which started Tuesday in Baku, Azerbaijan. Once more the IGF, the talk shop for all things internet, looks like a marathon for those interested in internet politics and once more the organisers just could not prevent sessions on issues like “law enforcement and domain names, caveats to DNS neutrality” and “blocking and filtering internet DNS content” or “solutions for enabling cross-border data flows” and “free cross-border data flow of internet traffic” going on in parallel.

Given the number of organised workshops and events, it is the human rights and freedom of expression topic that is getting the broad light in Baku. A dozen of the approximately 100 IGF workshops are being held over the four IGF days are focused on human rights, a human rights roundtable is scheduled and three of the seven pre-events tackled human rights and freedom of expression.

Link to the programme is here: http://www.intgovforum.org/cms/

Link to webcast is here: http://webcast.igf2012.com/

IGF: Human Rights above All

European Union Digital Commissioner Neelie Kroes, announced that at the IGF she will meet with human rights activists, talk to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, and “will learn first-hand about experiences of internet freedom both in Azerbaijan and globally, and will raise a number of concerns about protection and promotion of human rights in Azerbaijan.” The EU is organising or co-organising four events at the IGF this year.

Besides the focus on freedom of expression, privacy also is getting a lot of attention and not less than half a dozen privacy, identity and data flow-related workshops are at this IGF (see WS 179  by TechAmerica and PacketClearingHouse, Ident WS 59 by UNESCO, WS 50, or WS163 by the Internet Governance Project) or on data flow ISOC/ICC Basis WS 86.

While privacy and to a lesser extent human rights have been issues discussed in earlier IGFs another more neglected topic finally made it to the IGF platform: the fight about intellectual property rights. There are workshops asking the hotly debated questions: Are IPR and the freedom-to-share compatible (WS 146), and is there a need to rethink copyright (WS 131). There are also more content industry representatives from the Recording Industry Association of America, Walt Disney, Motion Picture Association and elsewhere on the spot.

The Elephant in the Room: WCIT

But despite this human rights frenzy – for which one might also blame the host country and its bad track record – participants in the pre-pre-meetings that took place in Baku said it is the upcoming negotiations by the World Conference on Telecommunication (WCIT) on the future International Telecommunication Regulations (ITR) that is the topic of nearly all discussions in the hallways.

The potential expansion of the ITR to internet security and accounting mechanisms for data exchange have already resulted in agitated debates between some developing countries on the one site and the internet cradle United States on the other, with the latter getting some support from their Western partners.

For example, Kroes in her statement warned that there is “no need for a new treaty to regulate the internet.” Yet it has been the US administration, the Internet Society and also IT companies including Google that have been the torchbearers against what they say could change the internet completely. One might only speculate whether the “imminent danger” of WCIT might be the reason for the size of the Google, ISOC and the US government delegation. The delegation size of these three is pretty impressive and matched by nearly no one except the host country and its organisations and, interestingly, Nigeria.

In the official IGF programme, the WCIT topic figures only sparsely, with one high-level workshop organised by the Internet Society devoted to it (WS 140) and coverage in the session on main managing critical internet resources.

But expectations are that the issue would come up not only in the opening ceremony speech of ITU Secretary General Hamadoun Touré, who is the organiser of WCIT, but also the US assistant secretary of Commerce for communications and information, and potentially the Indian Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal, who announced India would take “a decisive stand on internet governance” during the IGF.

Even if WCIT stays as narrow-scoped as the Western industrialised countries and their technical communities hope, the latent dispute about potential changes in the managing critical internet resources and the wider area of internet governance is going to continue. One bold step in discussing some of these disputes was made by the Association for Progressive Communication in a pre-event on enhanced cooperation, a concept coming out of the precursor World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) process (all pre-events are here).

Domain Name Issues on the IGF Table

Issues related to the internet domain name system will get their share of attention at the IGF, with a lot of appetite to talk about the effects and potential risks of new generic top-level domains.

“How are governments and other actors reacting to the first round of applications, which character strings have given rise to controversy, do names related to highly generic terms, geographical, or culturally sensitive words raise special concerns for the global community?” are questions that will be discussed in one of the IGF’s main sessions related to critical internet resources (CIR). CIR is one of the five major themes of the IGF since its start in 2006.

Another main session, the one on internet governance for development (IG4D), also will discuss the new TLDs with the declared target to explore the perceived gap in numbers of applications from the developed and developing world. One of the workshops organised by CENTR will also include discussions about the new TLDs.

The Secretariat of the Council of Europe – one of the organisations that has supported and used the IGF heavily in recent years – also made a statement on the new TLDs by publishing an expert paper on freedom of expression and freedom of association with regard to the new TLDs.

In the paper, the authors, Wolfgang Benedeck (University of Graz), Joy Liddicoat (Association for Progressive Communication) and Nico van Eijk (University of Amsterdam) call on the governments in the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) “to give priority to upholding freedom of expression rights” when it comes to their objections and GAC advice. The “broad nature of sensitivities over new TLDs referred to in the GAC’s principles regarding new gTLDs” and the focus on content expressed according to the authors create a risk for the GAC in terms of its human rights obligations.

While freedom of expression is one topic of the CoE on which it also organises a high-level discussion with EU Digital Agenda Commissioner Kroes, the CoE’s other face, the law enforcement and Cybercrime Convention experts, offer a discussion on the recently fashionable question how terrorists could be prevented from abusing the internet (for the full CoE program, see here)

The DNS-related topics at the IGF table include also DNSSEC (WS 113), IDN development (with a world report on this published by EuRID and the UNESCO), and DNS neutrality and blocking attempts (WS 118 and WS 180).

 

Monika Ermert may be reached at info@ip-watch.ch.

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