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IP Justice Report on 2007 Internet Governance Forum (IGF)

 

IP Justice Report on 2007 Internet Governance Forum (IGF)

 

12 - 15 November 2007 - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

The 2007 Internet Governance Forum (IGF) is officially over. The second meeting hosted by the United Nations to advance discussion on issues related to Internet governance was held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil from 12 – 15 November 2007.

The 4-day international conference focused on 5 main themes: Openness, Access, Security, Diversity, and issues related to the management of Critical Internet Resources (CIR). Capacity building was a cross-cutting issue through all the main themes. Over 2,000 registered participants from 109 countries attended the IGF’s various main plenary sessions, workshops, best practice sessions and other related meetings.

Overall, the IGF-Rio was a success; it built upon the inaugural meeting in Athens, Greece in October - November 2006, improving upon it in many ways, although back-sliding in a few others.

This brief wrap-up of the 2007 IGF is meant to serve as a means of improving the forum in preparation for the 2008 IGF in New Delhi, India, which is scheduled for 8 – 11 December 2008. The first of three Open Consultations to organize IGF 2008 will be held in Geneva, Switzerland on 26 February 2008.

Where 2007 IGF-Rio Excelled:

1. High quality of the workshops and best practice sessions

 

The best part of IGF 2007 was undoubtedly the various workshops, “dynamic coalition” meetings, and best practice sessions, which were independently organized by the meeting’s participants. The level of quality of the dialogue in many of these sessions was outstanding, with diverse stakeholders coming together to engage on a common topic and present different viewpoints. All of the new ideas discussed at this year’s forum — indeed all discussion of “emerging issues” — came from the independently organized workshops and best practice sessions. As IGF Chairman Nitin Desai put it during the 2007 closing session: like the Internet itself, all the real action at this forum was at the edges.

In addition to the robust quality of the non-main session discussions, IGF-Rio offered an incredible number (84) of meetings on a broad range of subjects – indeed so many that participants had to choose between several interesting sessions that were scheduled concurrently. But don’t fret: you can still watch or listen to all missed sessions for years to come via the Internet.

There were workshops that discussed open standards, the free expression concerns with ICANN deciding what ideas may be expressed in top level domain names, overbroad intellectual property rights, human rights issues in ICT policies, digital education, an international cyberlaw clinic, freedom of expression, an ‘Internet Bill of Rights’, network neutrality issues and many, many more. (See the events IP Justice was involved with at IGF-Rio here).

2. World-class technical capabilities and remote participation opportunities

The Brazilian hosts and IGF Secretariat receive high marks for their technical capabilities in organizing and managing IGF 2007. Despite the large number of participants all demanding online access at the same time, the Brazilians delivered — and even exceeded expectations in many cases. The technology simply worked.

All of the main sessions were webcast live so people around the world could watch (and still can). And unlike most online webcasts, these video streams were smooth, with virtually no latency, like watching a TV program. The workshops and other sessions were all audio cast live, recorded, and will be posted to the Internet as MP3 files for download in the coming weeks.

Several language translations and live text transcriptions of the sessions were available, making the discussions understandable for millions of more people. The remote participation component of the meeting also allowed for those not in Rio to send moderators questions real-time via email or special chat sessions set up specifically for this meeting.

This technical capacity was a marked improvement from last year’s IGF, setting a new gold standard for technical facilitation of international conferences.

3. Offline interactions and networking opportunities

One of the best aspects of IGF-Rio was the incredible networking opportunities in the hallways, coffee shops, evening programs, and other informal IGF-related activities in and around the conference venue (and the samba parties in the evenings).

When thousands of people from all corners of the world with a common interest in the Internet gather together the synergy can be electric. New ideas were tossed around in these informal settings — without moderators, presentations, or pre-prepared conclusions. Participants were able to pick out key points made in the main sessions or workshops, and explore them more fully in small informal discussion circles. The particular lay-out of the conference venue, where IGF participants could gather and further discuss issues without foot traffic from other hotel guests significantly contributed to the positive networking opportunities at this year’s meeting.

The spontaneity of informal conversations and opportunities to meet new people in the hallways provided sufficient value to justify the trip to IGF-Rio — even if one is not an official speaker at the forum. And the networking opportunities in the conference hallways contributed to the creation of several new IGF Dynamic Coalitions, such as the coalition on digital education and the coalition on gender issues.

Improvements for IGF 2008:

1. Human Rights and other controversial topics avoided in main sessions

Unfortunately not everything about IGF 2007 was a success. One important area where IGF 2006 was clearly superior to IGF 2007 was with respect to the discussion of controversial topics, such as online censorship or other human rights.

Anyone at IGF 2006 will remember that countries like China and Iran, and companies like Cisco Systems and Yahoo! were taken to task by the Internet community for their role in contributing to Internet censorship. Unfortunately this year, critical discussion of human rights concerns was discouraged, and main session organizers walked on egg-shells to avoid offending China or businesses who assist in the repression of Internet freedom and democracy. IGF participants have repeatedly been warned that if they raise such critical concerns, repressive governments and companies will pull-out of participation in the forum – and we can’t have that!

The Chairman of the “Openness” session, Brazilian law professor Ronaldo Lemos described several aspects to “Openness” and he explained the developmental impact of Open Standards for Internet governance (note: Susy Struble reported on the work of the Dynamic Coalition on Open Standards (DCOS) during another session).

While the main session on "Openness" included significant discussion on the threat to free expression that overbroad intellectual property rules create, those comments had to come from “discussants” such as Canadian cyberlaw Professor Michael Geist, the audience, and remote participants, since the main panelists lacked expertise on the tension between freedom of expression and intellectual property from civil society’s viewpoint. And although the topic of “access to knowledge” is listed as a main topic for “Openness”, no experts on that issue were included on that panel.

 

Amnesty International’s representative on the “Openness” session, Nick Dearden, discussed the importance of freedom of expression on the Internet and called on the IGF to elevate discussion on free expression at the forum. US Ambassador David Gross described why enabling the free flow of information on the Internet should be one of the most important Internet policy goals.

 

Unfortunately discussion about the privacy rights of Internet users was significantly down-graded in the main “Security” session this year (while those who spread fear of pornography have been elevated to a special status). However Katitza Rodriguez and Ralf Bendrath made valuable contributions on privacy during the session. Issues of importance for the growing Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) communities were somewhat marginalized, with only a single FOSS speaker, Georg Greve, on one main session, “Security” to explain the need for transparency for computer security.

Although human rights issues permeate through all of the forum’s main themes, human rights concerns were given short shrift in the main meeting’s organization. For IGF to continue as a forum responsive to concerns of Internet users and one working towards “an Internet for development”, it must include focused discussion on human rights, and specifically include the issue of human rights as a main theme for IGF 2008. Indeed the governments of Brazil and Italy issued a joint statement during the forum calling for human rights to a specific focus of IGF 2008.

 

 

Anriette Esterhuysen, Executive Director of the Association of Progressive Communications noted during the “Opening Ceremony” that that Internet is a public good and should be governed based on public interest principles including human rights, free expression, open standards, privacy, balanced intellectual property, interoperability, creativity, transparency, and accountability.

 

 

 

During the May 2007 IGF Open Consultations, numerous civil society voices (and some governments like the Council of Europe) called for human rights to be discussed as a cross-cutting theme at IGF-Rio; but China vetoed that request during the consultations. Similarly, during preparations for IGF 2006 in Athens, a Central American government vetoed the call for human rights to be fully addressed at IGF 2006. The United Nations should not allow repressive governments to veto calls for human rights to be discussed more fully at IGF.

I noticed government and business representatives wearing "VIP" badges, but did not see any civil society leaders with "VIP" badges. More must be done to give civil society voices the same value as government and business at the UN. The multi-stakeholder nature of IGF is viewed as one of its core features, giving it legitimacy where other fora have failed. But IGF risks slipping backwards to a forum where government and business concerns are given precedence, while civil society concerns are marginalized as insignificant or too controversial.

Despite the alluring rhetoric of multi-stakeholderism at IGF, the reality is that some stakeholders are more equal than others.

2. Glaring lack of gender balance and exclusion of young voices in main sessions

A disappointment in the meeting’s organization was the over-whelming majority of speakers on several main sessions who were men – much older men. For example, of the 7 speakers on the main “Openness” session, not a single woman was included as a main panelist, and only one woman (of 6) was given the lesser role of “discussant” during this session. The so-called “Emerging Issues” session also did not include any female perspectives in the debate, and despite the session’s title, it did not include any speakers who contribute to “new” thinking. Rather than the title of “Emerging Issues”, this session could more accurately have been described as “fading away”.

Anyone who works on Internet policy knows that women play a crucial role in advancing dialogue on these issues and numerous women in Rio would have made excellent contributions to these discussions if allowed to contribute. Government and business in particular made no apparent effort to consider gender balance in the sessions. Nearly all of the speakers representing government and business were men, leaving civil society with an even heavier obligation to nominate women as main session speakers in order to achieve some level of overall balance. Business and government should be required to nominate female speakers for main session panels if they wish to participate in meetings held under the United Nations flag.

Despite the obvious innovation that has come from young people on the Internet, it appears that main session organizers consider the perspectives of people under the age of 50 to be less valuable. It is undisputable that the creators of the Internet’s most revolutionary tools such as search engines like Google, or Peer-to-Peer (P2P) file-sharing programs, or online communities such as YouTube, Facebook, and Second Life come from young innovators and are often geared toward young people. Sadly one speaker on the “Emerging Issues” session openly dismissed the concerns of youth as not worth listening to. But it would have been a breath of fresh air to hear from the leaders of tomorrow at this forum.

The lack of funding to bring women and voices of youth (and participants from developing countries) to IGF is a major contributing factor to the problem of gender and age imbalance in the forum. As long as there continues to be no funding to bring women, youth, and developing country panelists to IGF, the speaker lists will continue to be dominated by older men from developed countries, who are sent by large companies and governments to advocate for their own corporate or national agendas.

3. Main sessions dominated by established players

In stark contrast to the robust dialogue in workshops and other non-main sessions, the IGF-Rio main session discussions were somewhat lacking in substance. Main session speakers tended to be the same voices we heard at last year’s main sessions. A number of speakers were panelists on several main sessions this year. But there are many qualified experts who hold a wide range of views and expertise on ICT policy issues. More must be done to include a diversity of viewpoints.

The main session on “Critical Internet Resources” (CIR), the most controversial topic for many IGF participants, unfortunately resulted in a missed opportunity. One panelist on that session, Professor Milton Mueller, openly confronted the problems with the current management structure of the Internet. Professor Mueller made several interventions on the meaning of Critical Internet Resources, the role of governments at ICANN, the dominance of the United States Government at ICANN, the future of ICANN, and the future of global governance.

 

The other note-worthy intervention during the CIR session came from Carlos Afonso of cgi.br who provided a possible framework for redistributing ICANN’s functions among several linked entities. So while it was a step forward to even permit the controversial CIR topic on the agenda (unlike IGF 2006), the dominance of established players and current management insiders resulted in a controlled discussion which barely touched upon the concerns of those seeking improvement in the Internet’s management.

Another example: 4 people who have served as ICANN board members and 2 representatives from the same company (Cisco Systems) spoke on the “Emerging Issues” main session. Nearly every speaker on that session was also a main session speaker at last year’s IGF … yawn … another missed opportunity. The list of examples could go on, but I think you get the point.

We will do better in Delhi.