Internet Governance Forum: Ten Years After 16/11/2015 by Monika Ermert for Intellectual Property Watch Leave a Comment Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Ten years after feeble beginnings, the Internet Governance Forum, once the baby of the United Nations World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), stood last week in Joao Pessoa. But in all these years, did it also learn to walk? The IGF is more popular than ever but also perhaps more inadequate than ever at containing and advancing the many views and concerns that are raised there by a multitude of global stakeholders. Some 150 workshops and panels, more open fora by UN organisations than ever, 2500 attendees and, according to the organisers around double that number of remote participants remote – by numbers the 10th Internet Governance Forum (IGF) is a huge success. The IGF was created by the 2005 World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) as a non-negotiating place for discussion of internet issues. It launched 10 years ago to enthusiasm about a place to voice views, and skepticism about whether those views would have any impact in a non-negotiating environment. A slight change towards producing tangible output and an attempt to link the discussion forum with the decisions to be made in December at the UN General Assembly High Level Forum in New York were welcomed by many participants. Yet there were also many voices from civil society and some unruly young participants accusing governments of paying lip-service to human rights and multi-stakeholder regulation at the IGF only to put the sheer opposite into national legislation. After ten years of IGF meetings in democratic and autocratic countries, there is some success the forum could claim, Jeanette Hofmann, director of internet governance at the Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Technology in Berlin, told Intellectual Property Watch. “There is so much more expertise now than in Athens,” Hofman said, referring to the first IGF in 2006. There is more trust and respect of the various stakeholder groups. Athens, she said, was still “under the impression of WSIS that nobody wanted to continue or to repeat.” Negotiations on the WSIS documents, the Tunis Agenda, resulted in the first big international clash over internet governance concepts. No Taboo Topics Anymore The major success story according to her has been that “no topics are banned anymore” from the IGF agenda. In Athens, there had been a taboo around the very core topic the forum had been built for: Internet governance of core internet resources. “It was banned from the agenda!”, she recalled, and “later on there were other taboos such as intellectual property rights and the role of human rights in internet governance. Now we can address all these issues.” In fact, the planned handover of the oversight of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) from the United States to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and its stakeholder community is the one development that, if agreed during the WSIS might have prevented the creation of an IGF in the first place. The fight about US oversight over the Internet root zone had nearly resulted in a breakdown of WSIS talks. During the 10th IGF closing ceremony Izumi Okutani, chair of the CRISP Group, the team preparing the IANA transition for the five regional IP address registries, said she saw the work to develop for a multi-stakeholder overseen IANA “as a concrete example, excellent example and a product of how this multi-stakeholder process has worked and produced in addressing a policy question.” “There are some sticky issues that we still have to deal with,” said VeriSign Director of Policy Keith Drazek, who is member of one of the key groups working on the transition proposals. “But I feel like we are very much on track to delivering a proposal that meets the criteria laid out by NTIA, shows that the bottom up multi-stakeholder process is mature, and it can deliver something that would be acceptable.” According to Drazek, the process is proof of the multi-stakeholder process in itself. VeriSign currently acts as the maintainer of the central root zone of the domain name system. Leaving out considerations about the future of this contract in the transition discussions so far has caused some critical reactions. Policy Discussion Versus Policy Making Leaving aside the discussion of the accountability of ICANN, the future IANA operator, during the IGF meeting in Joao Pessoa, was a desideratum (deficiency) difficult to defend, found Milton Mueller, professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology School of Public Policy, like Hofmann an academic who has watched IGF for a decade. Mueller is much less positive when asked to take stock of the IGF at 10. The biggest change since Athens according to Mueller is, “it has succeeded in shaping public discourse in the community of people interested in internet governance, channelling things into the ‘multi-stakeholder model’.” In addition, he said, there is a general feeling at the IGF “that there is some value in having an institution that brings together people from across all the IG-relevant venues (ICANN, IGOs, regional internet registries or RIRs, standards organisations, civil society groups, governments, business) for dialogue, and that no other alternative does this. If there is no IGF, where does this happen?” (For IP-Watch archive reporting from the 2006 Athens IGF, see here and here) At the same time, Mueller is decided on what the biggest shortcoming of the mega-meetings is: “The big failing is that there is no real work for these people to do once you bring them together.” Instead of utilising the experience, wealth of knowledge and – to some extent – diversity at the meetings, especially the plenary time is spent on generic comments, for example on cybersecurity concepts and developments in that field, he said. “There is no attempt to define a particular issue and use the IGF to develop a consensus or plan of action,” he said. In the end, Mueller could not think of “any major new policy or policy shift that can be attributed to IGF.” One of the IGF Youth attendees from Peru in a session on the much-applauded NetMundial conference put it bluntly: “I participated in many workshops. There were very interesting topics and controversial ones like net neutrality and zero rating. But we repeat the same ideas and talk a lot, but we get nowhere. But when governments start to deploy, the policies of the internet and human rights discussed in in the IGF and similar platforms, we don’t see what is discussed here implemented.” Trade agreements behind closed doors, the strengthening of surveillance legislation and talks on how to ban encryption came up time and again during the week as examples illustrating that governments while applauding the IGF multi-stakeholder principle and the NetMundial Declaration once home do not feel bound to the feel-good declarations or statements. Trade Agreements, Surveillance – Where Multi-Stakeholders Have Less Say “Everything that we are discussing here is there, from DNS to spectrum to youth to consumer rights, internet, to cross data flow and to privacy,” warned Carolina Rossini, Brazilian lawyer and board member of Coding Rights pointing to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and other mega regional trade agreements. But there is no openness for multi-stakeholder consultations in the many trade negotiations currently underway or recently completed. “I can’t imagine any other space on the internet policy area less open to discussions, less open to the public to comment,” said Claudio Ruiz from the Chilean organisation Derechos Digitales in a panel dedicated to the TPP. “It has been negotiated in total secret and total opacity for more than five years,” he said, also kept from national parliaments. “The trade negotiations are being made in secret not just for us but also for our national congresses,” Ruiz said. He said he is afraid that the TPP will put an end to any discussion on the future of copyright in the digital age. Recent developments with regard to mass surveillance also put a question mark to many IGF participating states’ willingness to honour commitments made in international fora, many NGO representatives warned during the IGF week. Marilia Maciel, researcher at the Getulio Vargas Law School noted: “What we have seen since NETMundial is a very worrisome trend in terms of countries trying to put forward laws that would legitimize mass surveillance, and this is really something that we should look into.” Maciel said the uptake of more encryption technology is extremely important, “but laws are very important too.” Encryption technology and the backlash reaction from governments toward it, mainly by considering potential obligations for intermediaries to preserve decryption possibilities for authorities, was one of the top emerging issues discussed in Joao Pessoa, alongside developments of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. Despite the applause from governments left and right and also from corporations like Google which was represented in a considerable number of panel discussions, in the end it was “not the governments who protect freedom of speech, not the corporations, not the police,” concluded Nadine Moawad, APC programme coordinator, activist and blogger. “The only people who will protect it is us, by our relentlessness and our sheer insistence that we will not shut up about our rights, to say what we want to say.” Whither IGF? An extension of the IGF mandate by the UN WSIS+10 High Level Meeting in December is already be expected by many observers given a draft outcome document. The document will form the basis for another round of informal consultations from 19-20 November and 24-25 November, in New York. This was “another success story that the UNGA now considers extending the mandate by 10 years instead of five. This may sound like not much, but given the huge scepticism of many developing countries against the multi-stakeholder setting, this is definitely progress,” explained Hofmann. A major ongoing discussion remains how to make the IGF more output oriented and the host Brazil tried to push the 10th edition a little more into that direction, trying to use its successful NetMundial meeting as a precedent. Some baby steps were taken, including an output document compilation on “Policy Options for Connecting the Next Billion” which according to the Brazilian IGF chair’s summary will be forwarded to other related processes such as the United Nations General Assembly 2nd Committee through the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, to the International Telecommunication Union Council and to United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs through council meetings. Furthermore, several Best Practice Forums (BPFs) delivered what was labelled as “living documents” on regulation of unwanted communications, on establishing Computer Security Incident Response Teams (CSIRTs), on developing meaningful multi-stakeholder participation mechanisms, on practices to counter online abuse and gender-based violence against women and girls and creating an enabling environment for IPv6 adoption.“ Finally the intersessional work of the so-called dynamic coalitions was presented in dedicated plenaries. The Brazilian organisers also tried to build a bridge between the IGF multi-stakeholder discussion and the UN GA decision making process, by inviting the two co-facilitators of the preparatory consultations for the future WSIS mandate text. Brazilian Ambassador Benedicto Fonseca Filho, director of the Department of Scientific and Technological Affairs of the Ministry of External Relations, said it was his experience that the different processes would ignore each other. “What is taking place here is largely ignored by most of the representatives in New York and Geneva, and vice versa,” he said. Will governments in New York hear the concern by many IGF participants to include protection of anonymity on the net in the document and to not fall back to a government-only UN working group on internet governance. The latter, a considerable number of IGF participants were afraid, would be a backlash against the multi-stakeholder principle and could result in putting the IGF into the corner of a “discussion only” body for much longer. Image Credits: IGF Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window) Related Monika Ermert may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org."Internet Governance Forum: Ten Years After" by Intellectual Property Watch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.