UN Internet Governance Forum 2008: Friends And Foes, But More Friends05/12/2008 by Monika Ermert for Intellectual Property Watch 1 CommentShare this Story:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Google+ (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)IP-Watch is a non-profit independent news service and depends on subscriptions. To access all of our content, please subscribe now. You may also offer additional support with your subscription, or donate.By Monika Ermert for Intellectual Property Watch HYDERABAD, INDIA – The Internet Governance Forum of the United Nations is halfway through its first term and starting to think about its future after 2010. Gathering in Hyderabad, India this week, it brings together friends and foes of what has been cast as a multi-stakeholder experiment, a fairly open dialogue between governments, industry and non-governmental organisations.Established as a result of the World Summit of the Information Society (WSIS), the forum was tasked with continuing the dialogue on internet governance.The IGF was set up in order to avoid a failure of the WSIS over the differences about core internet resources – the domain name system (DNS) and internet protocol (IP) address allocation. But it has evolved into a broad forum for many internet-related issues from child protection to free speech, from privacy to best practices for Interpol, Europol and the G8 (Group of Eight) Subgroup on High-Tech Crime Group.“The IGF is not a new organisation or agency,” Jomo Kwame Sundaram, UN assistant secretary general for economic development said at the event opening. “IGF is a space, a platform, for frank and enlightened debate.”The forum allowed the launch of new ideas and trial balloons. “Around the world, multi-stakeholder coalitions woven together by the internet have been dramatically sowing the course of political outcomes, not the least of elections,” said Jomo. He also pointed to the deadline for the IGF mandate in 2010 and referred to a stock-taking session on Saturday as a first possibility to discuss evaluation. The UN Council then will decide if it wants to continue the IGF or stop it.IGF Not on Track“It would be nice to have an assessment after three years,” Hamadoun Touré, the Secretary General of the UN International Telecommunication Union (ITU), told Intellectual Property Watch. The ITU organised the WSIS process. Touré clearly is seen as one of the most outspoken critics of the process, having it called a waste of time. “I make no apology,” he said in his speech at the opening, “for stating bluntly that I believe the IGF was not on track to meet the expectations of many countries that participated.”Touré mainly is referring to what he sees a failure to move forward with regard to the management of the DNS. United States oversight of the root zone system and the internet technical coordinating body the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has been a bone of contention.But he also warned twice that it would not make sense for the IGF to take on issues that are dealt with elsewhere. “If we allow ourselves to get bogged down in rehashing issues for which there was already broad global consensus in Tunis [the 2005 second phase of WSIS], then critics are justified in labelling our efforts a waste of time.”Nitin Desai, special advisor to the UN secretary general on internet governance, acknowledged during the IGF opening the dispute over the core internet issues and the clash of two groups in the IGF. “On the one hand, we have a group of people who feel that the present modalities of management of the internet are working, will work even in the future, who are afraid that any major change in the way in which these arrangements are set up would compromise the internet in some form. And on the other hand, we have a lot of people who are dependent on the internet for their activities, for the economic, social, political, whatever, who feel that they have to have a say in the public policy issues which affect how the ‘net runs in this manner.” Desai also said the IGF’s job is to bring the parties together.Beloved by Many: Multi-stakeholderismSome non-governmental organisations also are on the lookout for bolder steps by the IGF, not necessarily in term of the core resource dispute. Rather, they are looking for the IGF to make recommendations on privacy or openness on the internet.“Recommendations are in the mandate,” said Ralf Bendrath, privacy expert at the University of Delft, speaking in one of the pre-IGF sessions of the civil society. Next year’s ITU World Telecom Policy Forum will address the same questions as the IGF, but will pass recommendations as a result, say civil society participants.Others like Wolfgang Kleinwächter, professor at the University of Aarhus (Denmark), warned: “Recommendations would need to be negotiated and governments might not be prepared to share that responsibility with civil society.” Civil society should underline that the multi-stakeholder discussion bringing governments, industry and civil society to one table has been the main success of the IGF. Kleinwächter told Intellectual Property Watch, “We might just view the IGF as the Davos meeting for internet governance. No decisions are taken there. Yet people go there to discuss.” Davos refers to the annual World Economic Forum held in the Swiss city.Alun Michael, member of the British Parliament, said: “We have not much time to make sure that this works.” Yet Michael, former minister of state for industry and the region and head of the EU delegation during the final WSIS negotiations, is a friend of the WSIS. “The multi-stakeholder governance model is increasingly used on the national and sub-national level, too,” said Michael. It is a “different type of governance” for a technology that could not be regulated like the steel industry.Michael is one of the few members of parliament from Europe participating in the Hyderabad event. Members of the EU parliament and also the whole delegation of the Council of Europe had their travel cancelled because of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai immediately before the IGF. Markus Kummer, secretary of the IGF and a Swiss diplomat, reported at a press conference that despite the security concerns 1,273 participants had registered, compared with the 1,500 originally expected.The Best IGF Yet?“The fact that people come again and again shows that we have done something right,” said Desai. NGOs, business and government are well-represented. International organisations such as the ITU, UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and ICANN organised their own open forums or workshops at IGF 2008. The new participant-driven open forum discussions are packed with statements from members of parliament from Brazil on the need for action by providers for child protection, representatives of the Internet Society in China on the necessity to cooperate on blacklisting, or representatives of the European Union on the appeal to protect fundamental rights when upgrading the tools for the fight against cybercrime.“There is no need for recommendations,” said Lynn St. Amour, president and CEO of the Internet Society (ISOC). Instead, participants take new information home to make decisions locally, she told Intellectual Property Watch. “Some criticise the IGF as a talk shop, but I believe this critique completely misses the point,” she said in her opening speech. ISOC itself had initially questioned the need, but had now come to value the opportunities created by the IGF. “The IGF does things that intergovernmental structures cannot do.”“We could have another ministerial meeting, that is easy,” said David Gross, US coordinator for international communications and information policy. “But this is interesting and we get a lot of new information about what is really going on.” A debate about net neutrality, he said, surprised participants because of the “vigorous agreement” existing on core issues.For Gross, he said, this third edition of the IGF is “the best.” The previous forums were held in Athens, Greece and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.For Marcel Schneider, manager of international relations at SWITCH, the registry for the .ch top-level domain of Switzerland, the IGF seems to have filled a special gap: “It is a bit like the ICANN at large,” said Schneider, referring to the user stakeholder group. While governments would likely disagree, for ICANN’s at-large NGOs it might be a smart move because the IGF does not need as much paperwork as ICANN’s complex at-large accreditation process.Monika Ermert may be reached at email@example.com.Share this Story:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Google+ (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"UN Internet Governance Forum 2008: Friends And Foes, But More Friends" by Intellectual Property Watch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.