Internet Governance

We have come a long way…

Some reflections on the 2013 Internet Governance Forum (IGF)

I was not the only one who said that the 2013 Internet Governance Forum meeting was the best ever. 

In many ways, IGF 2013 was a defining moment. There was a strong sense of community among the participants – no stakeholder group defended their own interests, but they all stood up to defend the principle of multistakeholder cooperation. Much of the discussions focused on Internet governance principles,  principles of multistakeholder cooperation and  the role of governments in this multistakeholder environment.

Some priority was also accorded to what I am tempted to term “WCIT left overs”. At the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) in December 2012 in Dubai there was an emphasis by some emerging economies on certain perceived problems related to the Internet, such as spam. The IGF picked from there and dealt with these issues in some depth, documenting that there are some solutions available to address these problems and there was a suggestion to take these discussions a step further and integrate into the 2014 IGF programme some technical training workshops.

In all these debates, participants agreed to take the discussions forward, towards points of convergence. The agenda for the 2013 meeting was guided by the attempt to make the IGF more responsive to the broader policy discourse, defining the Internet governance space.

The 2013 IGF meeting proved its worth as a one-stop-shop where the community gathers to share experiences and exchange information. It lived up to the challenge created by government surveillance and focused on the need to rebuild the trust of Internet users.

By tackling surveillance head-on – the proverbial “elephant in the room” – and by allowing for an open and frank discussion of government surveillance and monitoring, it proved its value.  The IGF facilitated this difficult debate and proved that it had matured and lived up to the expectations of participants who wanted to voice and bring to the fore their concerns.  It was significant in this context that the US Government was present with a fairly large and senior delegation that recognized that the IGF was the unavoidable option to face the community and discuss this issue. For the IGF, this was a win – had the IGF avoided discussing this issue, it would have been considered irrelevant.

The open microphone session on the last day allowed to take stock and it showed that we – indeed – have come a long way. Many speakers pointed out that the IGF had matured and created a sense of community that allowed the discussion of difficult issues in an open and frank manner. While agreeing to disagree on various issues, participants showed respect and listened to each others’ arguments. Fundamentally, however, they all agreed that this kind of discussion would have been impossible a few years ago. The Bali meeting clearly showed that the community was rallying behind the core principle of open and inclusive multistakeholder cooperation.

A first sense of this community spirit manifested itself at the 2008 meeting in Hyderabad. The 2008 meeting took place in the wake of the Mumbai terrorist attacks when many participants for understandable reasons cancelled their attendance. This led to a solidarity effect among those who were in Hyderabad and who expressed their sympathy to the Government and people of India. It was then for the first time that I noted that the commonalities among the IGF participants exceeded their differences.

This notion of pursuing a common interest was much bigger still in Bali. The challenge this year was not a threat to the host country, but to the Internet itself. The  monitoring and surveillance activities by governments and the loss of trust that followed brought the community together. The underlying theme was the necessity to rebuild the trust of Internet users. There was a general agreement that the IGF was the privileged place to pursue these discussions and that the multistakeholder format was the only way forward.

While the IGF has been criticized by many for not providing solutions, it needs to be pointed out that it was not created to provide solutions, but to provide a space for dialogue. In this respect, the IGF has exceeded expectations – it has proved to be a space for discussions that could not have taken place anywhere else. For those who attended the first IGF meeting in Athens in 2006 this would have been unimaginable. Discussions then were tense, unstructured and there was much mistrust between stakeholders.

We have come a long way!

Internet Governance

Noticing the "Cellophane" rights

The first day of the IGF 2013 has offered some very interesting insights into core areas, where multi stakeholder cooperation is badly sought. 

One of todays highlights has been WS 99 on Internet Rights and Principles Online. The main theme for this workshop was the so-called neglected human rights online, namely rights other than the frequently evoked rights to freedom of expression and privacy. Pranesh Prakash (Centre for Internet and Society) stressed the importance of providing online access to the visually impaired, an often overlooked aspect of digital inclusion. Marianne Franklin (IRP) on the other hand made a very interesting observation about educating young people in the digital realm: focus is wrongly given on building computer skills where it may often be the case of students being more comfortable in using new technologies than their teachers. What is needed is not to teach them how to operate the machine but rather to think about teaching them to become users capable of making informed choices.

In the same vein, Joy Liddycoat (APC) urged the lawmakers to do a different reading of surveillance: unless this is addressed as a human rights issue and not as a governmental policy, effective human rights remedies cannot be sought. Michael Nielsen(Microsoft) talked about the role of corporations in fostering human rights online and outlined a few of Microsofts strategies in this respect: the Microsoft global human rights statement and the company’s general vision for building technologies to foster global development are a few of the points mentioned; however the audience remained sceptical and unconvinced as the discussion moved on. Last, Karl Frederick (Swedish Ministry of Foreign  Affairs) outlined the difficulties met in the public sector: governments often struggle with the absence of global consensus and ineffectiveness to respond to general notions of discontent as to their online policies.

The latter reminded me of the effectiveness of “rough consensus and running code” on the same issues that the public sector is unable to respond to. Perhaps it  is time to begin the burial rites of the classic trichotomy of public, private and technical and move towards a common reading of the basic human rights, principles and norms online.

Building bridges could actually get us to the other side over the dark  and troubled waters of human rights online as things are at the moment.


(All views and opinions are my own as well as any errors or omissions)

Internet Governance

Building Bridges – Enhancing Multistakeholder Cooperation for Growth and Sustainable Development

Opening Remarks speech at the 2013 Internet Governance Forum (IGF) – Bali, Indonesia under the theme of “Building Bridges – Enhancing Multistakeholder Cooperation for Growth and Sustainable Development”

This year’s theme (Building Bridges – Enhancing Multistakeholder Cooperation for Growth and Sustainable Development) is extremely relevant in light of the many challenges faced by the Internet since we were last together in Baku.

I would like to be able to talk to you about important work going on across the Internet organizations and community  —  such as efforts to bring the remaining 4.5 B people online, or to reduce operating costs in developing countries by supporting IXPs, or to help the developing world get ahead of spam, something we heard clearly was a problem at last year’s WCIT, or to increase local content, or improve security through efforts to deploy DNSSEC, RPKI or email authentication, to list only a very, very small number of activities; however, there is a cloud over all our efforts.

The widespread covert government-sanctioned surveillance activities recently revealed have provided new challenges to all of us – alarming challenges.   Any actions – even those justified on the grounds of national security – that interfere with the privacy of its own citizens or of other nation’s citizens is wrong.

Many of the ideas being promoted in response to these surveillance issues support a reductive model with a focus on security, risk mitigation or control through digital borders, and this is worrisome.

The so-called “technical community” is fully engaged in the debates, and earlier this month, the Internet Society convened many of the leaders of these technical organizations in Montevideo, Uruguay.


  • We reinforced the importance of globally coherent Internet operations, and warned against Internet fragmentation at a national level. We expressed strong concern over the undermining of the trust and confidence of Internet users globally due to recent revelations of pervasive monitoring and surveillance.
  • We identified the need for ongoing effort to address Internet Governance challenges, and agreed to catalyze community-wide efforts towards the evolution of global multi-stakeholder Internet cooperation.
  • and, we called for accelerating the globalization of ICANN and IANA functions, towards an environment in which all stakeholders, including all governments, participate on an equal footing.

We also noted that the Internet and World Wide Web were built and governed in the public interest through unique mechanisms for global multi-stakeholder cooperation, and that this has been intrinsic to their success.  We discussed the clear need to continually strengthen and evolve these mechanisms.

We all want a robust, sustainable, secure Internet.   And, clearly, there are areas that are still challenging.  If they were easy problems, they would be solved by now.  But many are difficult or complex to solve – they impact or implicate many different stakeholders or involve many disciplines or types of expertise.

The Internet Society has drafted a taxonomy, it is still in very early stages and we will be looking for help in refining it. It is intended to aid in gaining a shared understanding of the challenges of today, and clarity on how they can be addressed effectively. Since many issues are quite broad, it is helpful to dis-aggregate them in order to find solutions.  Security is a good example, covering many, many areas. Briefly, here are the categories:

  1. Connecting needs and resources:  Issues for which answers are known by some, but not by the people or institutions with questions.  For example: Spam or IXPs…
  2. Mobilizing Collective Action:  Issues for which we believe there are answers, but require more time and buy-in.  For example:  DNSSEC – which is not useful until much of the DNS is signed and resolvers are validating responses.
  3. Collective Behavioural Change:  Issues which require others/multiple parties to change operations, habits, etc.  For example: Privacy, Intellectual Property Rights, etc.
  4. Disputed issues:  Issues for which there is not general agreement on the problem. An example: Operator business models — concerns that “sender pays” is the only model that works for access network operators, matched by realization that such a model would cripple innovation on the Internet.

To successfully tackle these difficult or persistent problems clearly requires multi-stakeholder cooperation and flexible approaches.

In closing, we are all helping to build the Internet of the future, whether building physical networks, defining policies, creating standards, participating in the IGF, or building multi-stakeholder consultative or consensus processes.

We are all working to build the future – there is really no status quo, it is a continual evolution.  Returning to more traditional roles for governments, private sector, civil society, or the technical community is not feasible; the proverbial horse has left the barn.

Over the course of this week, we will have the opportunity to talk, to listen, to share experiences and best practices, and to shape decisions that will impact the future of the Internet.  The Internet Governance Forum (IGF) is, indeed, more relevant and essential than ever before.

It is our strong plea that here at the IGF, we show an increased commitment to a distributed, de-centralized model of Internet Governance, and that we all work to strengthen the IGF, to put it on a stable and sustainable basis, and extend the mandate beyond 2015 – for the future of the Internet and the benefits it can bring to all of us.