The Working Group on Internet Governance released their final report a couple of days ago, which will be formally presented tomorrow at the Palais des Nations in Geneva. I have had a brief look at it, and in general like what it says. The fact that civil society had such a strong presence among the members of the WGIG was a testament to how well we have organized our own work that even the most recalcitrant governments must admit have been valuable and constructive. The larger ramifications of the creation of new structures of internet governance have the potential of creating important precedents for civil society participation in international policy making.
The report of the WGIG is a short, readable 25-page document that manages to capture the major issues in internet governance and make some interesting suggestions for how the international community should address those issues.
Among the main areas of concern identified by the Working Group are:
- Unilateral control by the United States Government of the Root Zone System.
- Internet service providers in the developing countries must pay higher costs for internet access
- Lack of efficient tools and mechanisms to prevent and prosecute cyber-crimes.
- No unified, coordinated approach to Spam.
- Significant barriers to participation in governance mechanisms, especially for developing countries, indigenous peoples, civil society organizations, and small and medium-sized enterprises.
- Restrictions on freedom of expression in cyberspace.
- Lack of existence or inconsistent application of privacy and data-protection rights.
This already is a helpful contribution, identifying the key policy areas that need to be addressed. Few can argue that these are NOT problems that need solutions.
The report goes on to delineate the respective roles of the various stakeholders in internet governance — governments, the private sector and civil society. This again is useful since it clarifies the respective strengths and contributions needed by all actors. For civil society groups, having this spelled out in a UN document will be valuable as we argue for a continued role in implementation, monitoring and further policy development.
The models of internet governance proposed by the WGIG respond to two basic needs:
- For a multi-stakeholder forum where the various actors can gather to discuss critical issues in internet governance on an ongoing, transparent and equitable basis.
- For greater oversight over the existing mechanisms and structures of internet governance, the WGIG noting that “no single Government should have a pre-eminent role in relation to international Internet governance.”
The four models proposed are as follows:
- Model One: A Stronger GAC at the United Nations This model calls for enhancing the role of the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). The enhanced GAC would come under the umbrella of the UN.
- Model Two: “It Ain’t Broke.”: This model basically just calls for an open forum on internet governance and enhancing the role of the GAC.
- Model Three: Strong Government Oversight. A third model envisages the creation of a new body composed of governments that would replace the GAC and have wide ranging policy competencies. ICANN would be accountable to this new body. The private sector and civil society would have only an advisory role.
- Model Four: The Maximalist Position: Proposes new structures for three interrelated areas of Internet policy governance, oversight and global coordination. It suggests the creation of three new bodies for each of these functions and would include a reformed internationalized ICANN linked to the United Nations.
It’s important to note that in all of these models, civil society has an advisory or observer capacity, not a decision-making role. While many NGOs might have wished for a stronger role for civil society, the reality is that governments were not going to accept any proposal that put NGOs and governments on equal footing.
What is important now is that NGOs lobby for the most effective, participatory forum possible that is directly linked to the United Nations, while also maintaining enough autonomy to not be hijacked by the usual inter-governmental politics.
I was asked by some members of the WGIG to suggest other examples of forums that are linked to the United Nations. In my view there are three models that we should look at:
- UN-Commissioned Panels of Experts The Secretary General can use his convening authority to commission panels of experts to study particular issues or problems and report back to him. These commissions have no legal standing in the UN system, and often must raise funds and hire staff on their own. But carrying the Secretary-General’s mandate often open doors and purses. They typically meet for some predetermined period, then issue a report to the SG directly. The SG in turn transmits the report to the General Assembly, which is how the report officially enters the UN system. However these Panels always have a predetermined short life span.
- The Sub-commission on Human Rights. The Sub-commission on Human Rights is a subsidiary body of the UN Commission on Human Rights. It is comprised of 26 independent experts in the field of human rights who are elected by the Commission who act in their personal capacity. Its main functions are to undertake studies on human rights issues, to make recommendations to the Commission concerning the prevention of discrimination of any kind relating to human rights and fundamental freedoms and the protection of racial, national, religious and linguistic minorities, and to carry out any other functions which may be entrusted to it by the Council or the Commission.
- Multi-stakeholder Dialogues of the UN Commision on Sustainable Development. According to the Cardoso Panel:
The most innovative CSD mechanisms are the multi-stakeholder dialogues, initiated in 1998 based on a recommendation of the 19th Special Session of the General Assembly (“Earth Summit+5”). The multi-stakeholder dialogues allow major groups and governments to interact on equal footing on a specific agenda issue, with parliamentary rules put aside in favour of an interactive discussion. The preparation for the dialogues is itself a multi-stakeholder process, involving a steering group of organizing partners (credible networks who are invited by the Bureau to facilitate the engagement of their major group and are trusted by their group in this role) from each major group. The content of the dialogue is determined in consultation with the CSD Bureau and the organizing partners facilitated by the CSD secretariat. The organizing partners engage in consultations with their major group to draft a ‘dialogue starter paper’ (a position paper) and determine who will speak for the group at the dialogue. The dialogue papers are released as part of the official documentation in languages without editing the content.
This last example of the Multi-stakeholder Dialogues of the CSD is the key one to be looked at, in my view. The MSDs have been widely credited with being a major advance for civil society, not only in discussing with governments on an equal footing an important policy area, but also in agenda-setting and policy guidance. If a similar forum was set up for internet governance issues, this could be a significant step forward in democratic global governance writ large.