WSIS Internet Governance Forum Begins To Take Shape 21/02/2006 by William New, 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)The Internet governance forum established by the November World Summit on the Information Society began to take shape after a 16-17 February meeting at the United Nations. The first forum will be held in Athens, Greece, but the date and subject of the meeting remain unclear. The UN secretary-general’s office will decide on meeting details in the coming days, following any other public input submitted by 28 February. The forum is expected to be held over three to five days in October or November. Participants from a wide variety of perspectives in the two-day consultation appeared to agree that the forum be held at least once a year. A number of government and other participants suggested that the forum could address policy issues such as unsolicited commercial email (spam), cybersecurity, privacy, consumer protection, costs of international telecommunications connections, and multilingualism on the Internet. Brazil and others called for an international treaty on public policy issues related to the Internet. José Marcos Nogueira Viana, a Brazilian official, said in his statement to the forum that technical bodies are deciding policy issues, which could cause “serious trouble.” Brazil offered to host the second Internet governance forum. Many participants also indicated support for an organising, or “program” committee to guide the preparation for the forum. In general, there was support for the committee, and the forum, to have “multistakeholder” representation, although there were some variations on what that might mean. For instance, some governments showed interest in having their own meetings apart from civil society and the private sector. But this is unlikely to happen, a UN official said. Participants offered widely differing ideas too. For instance, some, such as Australia and Switzerland, sought to limit the scope of the forum and thereby go more deeply into each issue. Others said there should be no limit on what may be raised and discussed. Forum Chairman Nitin Desai, a veteran of the UN secretary-general’s office, suggested participants focus on what could be accomplished in the first forum, leaving open the possibility of other topics being raised in the future. Still others said there should be no impediment to individuals or groups with interest in similar issues arranging to meet or speak in working groups alongside the forum process and then present their ideas to the forum. Group meetings could be regional in order to spare participants the cost of travel, it was suggested. The EU raised spam and multilingualism as important, as well as ways to close the “digital divide” between technological haves and have-nots. Georg Greve of the Free Software Foundation Europe backed multilingualism depending on the meaning, but cautioned that commercial approaches to fighting spam could undermine the principles upon the Internet was based. Greve recommended the forum establish a set of basic principles to uphold the foundation on which the Internet is built. Milton Mueller, a Syracuse University professor who co-chairs the Internet Governance Project, said, “If we prevent forum from discussing divisive issues, where will those issues be discussed and how will they ever be resolved?” The WSIS outcome provides mandate for forum to take up all key issues, he said. A key factor in the planning and prospects for the forum is that there remains little or no funding for it. Markus Kummer, who managed the WSIS working group on Internet governance in 2005, predicted that funding would come once it became clearer what direction the forum is heading. Private sector will not donate if it sees a forum in which it cannot participate, if it “is sort of a stillborn baby,” he said. Kummer also said most participants saw a need for a lightweight secretariat. He also noted that last week’s meeting was a consultation with no decisions expected. An issue that remained in the background was whether the United States should have to give up some of its control of the Internet, the contentious issue from the WSIS that led in part to the forum’s creation. The US government has an arrangement with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). Several speakers called for avoidance of controversial topics and a focus on areas of agreement. The Coordinating Committee of Business Interlocutors and the International Chamber of Commerce called for positive discussions on very few topics, and no duplication of work being done in other organisations. Thiru Balasubramaniam of the Consumer Project on Technology praised the “open process” of the consultations. He said Chairman Desai’s remark that ‘nothing can be ruled out’ “holds the promise that substantive issues” such as spam, open document formats, and the decentralization of ICANN functions related to consumer protection will be on the table in Athens. Jonathan Zuck told Intellectual Property Watch that from a journalist’s perspective, it is interesting that Internet governance brings together those who believe that more government involvement will lead to more access to the Internet and those who hope that government involvement will allow for greater control. Zuck also said that ICANN’s greater attention to technical management would allow a better focus on policy issues. Desai urged the process of working on issues to begin at the national level, and said the forum should be established in a structured way, not dependent on any individual associated with it. 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