ITU Called On To Increase Transparency, Open Doors To More Stakeholders 21/12/2017 by Catherine Saez, 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 UN International Telecommunication Union (ITU) needs to become a 21st century organisation, and open its door to multiple stakeholders on internet governance issues and policy, according to speakers at a session of the Internet Governance Forum this week. The session jointly organised by Public Knowledge and the Association for Progressive Communications was titled “What’s going on at the ITU, how it affects internet governance, and why you should probably care,” and took place on 20 December. It was held on the margins of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), taking place in Geneva from 17-21 December. The ITU was the lead organisation in the process that led to the formation of the non-negotiating IGF over a decade ago. Thomas Schneider, a Swiss delegate, speaking on the panel, said ITU is the organisation that is most coherent on the importance of ICTs and the digital transformation with regards to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals for 2030. This is something that at the United Nations in New York had not been on the radar for a very long time, and the ITU has been very consistent in producing reports, and working with others, for example the World Economic Forum, he said. “Considering the challenges that we face, and the opportunities,” it is important for the ITU to further strengthen its openness, and further develop its cooperation with other actors, said Schneider. Multi-stakeholder cooperation on the ground but also at the strategic and political levels is something that can and should be further enhanced. Large entities have a responsibility of transparency and accountability, he said, and the Swiss government is supportive of efforts to enhance both at the ITU. Robert Pepper, head, Global Connectivity and Technology Policy, for Facebook, said on the panel that Facebook is trying to connect the 4 billion people on the planet who are not connected. The company is engaged in the internet governance conversation, he said, and is “going to spend a lot of time at WRC19,” and is involved in the preparatory meetings. The The ITU World Radiocommunication Conference 2019 will take place from 28 October to 22 November 2019. ITU Steps into Human Rights Area without Expertise Mehwish Ansari, digital programme officer at Article19, a group focused on defending freedom of expression and information, said the ITU’s mandate is on infrastructure, and internet infrastructure is essential as it defines how information is flowing across the network, where it is flowing from, where it goes, and who can access it. There is an increasing focus in the ITU on internet and internet-related technologies, and the ITU is increasingly moving into areas that have implications for human rights, she said. The ITU has started to talk about issues such as privacy, identification in the context of internet of things, and these factors have an impact on the rights of internet users, she explained. The ITU is a multilateral organisation and “we’ve seen very little capacity or expertise to really talk … about the human rights implications,” Ansari said. It is really important for civil society to remained engaged and to understand that the ITU is a space that does impact human rights on the internet. Civil society has to figure out ways to engage with the ITU, she said. Ansari said the ITU has a very important role in technical capacity building, but the concerns come when the agency moves into areas for which it does not have the capacity or expertise, which is a consequence of its organisational structure. Deborah Brown, of the Association for Progressive Communications, said they are able to engage in the ITU’s work but not at the same level as governments. During high level discussions, the group has to join a government delegation, she said. The reason APC cares about the ITU is because they work on access and connectivity issues. She underlined progress in transparency at the ITU, but not enough, as to be meaningfully engaged as members of the public or civil society organisations “you have to be able to know what is being discussed.” For example, documents being discussed are in the open unless the government opposes its document being released. ITU Needs to Open to Stakeholders, Step in 21st Century Too In the audience, a United Kingdom government representative said he agreed with the frustration expressed by civil society. The ITU is a very political organisation, he said, driven by its member states, and sometimes decisions can be made for political reasons without strong evidence base. Sometimes at the ITU it is becoming so political that “we are seeing proper consensus decision making processes breaking down.” Despite good relationships at the working level, he said, the ITU often does not properly recognise the role of other organisations, and too often it tries to do everything itself, he said. Back in the 1960s and 70s, telecommunications were largely run by state-owned operators, he said, and it made sense then to have a multilateral organisation manage international agreements. But the picture is completely different now, he said. ICTs and internet have expanded into every aspect of life and the regulatory landscape is much more complicated, and the ITU is still struggling to come to terms with that change, he said. “It is still stuck, very much, in the 20th century.” From the UK’s point of view, the ITU has to play a more strategic role as it cannot continue to do everything by itself, and help developing countries navigate this complex new landscape. ITU is at its best when it opens its doors to other stakeholders, he said, citing the 2003 and 2005 World Summit on the Information Society as a good example of this opening. “We would like the ITU to recognise much more explicitly the roles and mandates of other organisations, especially in the internet space, and build more genuine and reciprocal partnerships with them, not pretending that they don’t exist, in ITU resolutions for example,” the UK delegate said. “We really want the ITU to continue to be an effective global champion of the role that ICTs can play in sustainable development. We think the SDGs do not reflect the importance of ICTs for development as much as they should and there is a lot more that the ITU needs to do in New York and globally in order to make sure that the ICTs are absolutely in the heart of the sustainable development agenda,” he said. Pepper, from Facebook, remarked that SDG9 is about infrastructure, so directly linked to the ITU, and some people were very concerned that this was sort of in a corner, he said. But if you think about it, a lot of the conversation and subsequent work on the SDGs recognises that digital technology becomes horizontal and has a potential positive effect across virtually all of the SDGs whether it is education, health, or food security, he said. Pepper also insisted on the need for transparency, access to information and a genuine consensus process built upon a multi-stakeholder approach, and said ITU has to become a 21st century organisation. Benedicto Fonseca, a Brazilian delegate, said Brazil has long supported expanding the participation of nongovernmental participation in the ITU internet governance discussions. The same discussion is going on in Brazil, he said, as in Brazil internet is not considered a telecom issue, but as services. The national telecommunication company does not have a mandate for internet, he said. Image Credits: Catherine Saez 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 Catherine Saez may be reached at email@example.com."ITU Called On To Increase Transparency, Open Doors To More Stakeholders" by Intellectual Property Watch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.