So I have firmed up my speaking engagements for the Internet Governance Forum in Athens, which I am headed to on Sunday. I am on at least two panels, one "Internet Governance Participation" on Tuesday and another on "Intellectuals in IGF" on Thursday.
That leaves me a lot of time for live-blogging and other outside reporting during the conference, which runs from October 30 to November 2. The schedule is pretty packed, so my fingers should be tired by November 3, after which I will spend a couple of much needed days relaxing in Greece.
Meanwhile, I have to think about what I want to talk about. Here is a quick run-down on the history and mandate of the IGF as a starting point.
The principal aim of the Internet Governance Forum, as is typical for UN bodies, is a laundry list of laudable but difficult to achieve goals:
public policy issues related to key elements of Internet governance in
order to foster the sustainability, robustness, security, stability and
development of the Internet;
discourse between bodies dealing with different cross-cutting
international public policies regarding the Internet and discuss issues
that do not fall within the scope of any existing body;
- Interface with appropriate inter-governmental organizations and other institutions on matters under their purview;
the exchange of information and best practices, and in this regard make
full use of the expertise of the academic, scientific and technical
all stakeholders in proposing ways and means to accelerate the
availability and affordability of the Internet in the developing world;
and enhance the engagement of stakeholders in existing and/or future
Internet governance mechanisms, particularly those from developing
emerging issues, bring them to the attention of the relevant bodies and
the general public, and, where appropriate, make recommendations;
to capacity building for Internet governance in developing countries,
drawing fully on local sources of knowledge and expertise;
- Promote and assess, on an ongoing basis, the embodiment of WSIS principles in Internet governance processes;
- Discuss, inter alia, issues relating to critical Internet resources;
- Help to find solutions to the issues arising from the use and misuse of the Internet, of particular concern to everyday users
Boiling it down, the IGF is an attempt to build into the current internet governance structures, principally ICANN, a mechanism for more meaningfully engaging with governments, the private sector, the UN and its agencies, and NGOs / CSOs on internet policy.
The IGF was the result of difficult negotiations among governments at the World Summit on the Information Society on the most appropriate role for the UN and the world government’s in the management of the architecture and development of internet standards and structures. Some governments, particularly those from the developing world, wanted the UN to have a substantial and recognized role in the management of the domain name system, which is the global switchboard. In their view, this is a national asset, a principal means of driving their economies, which needs to be under tigher government oversight if not complete control.
Others, principally the business sector and the US government, favored a more market-driven, private sector-dominated approach. I.e. allowing the current structures to remain, while acknowledging some general guidance from governments and others.
From the perspective of many civil society organizations active in the WSIS, our main concern was to preserve as much effective participation of interested stakeholders as possible, including NGOs, developing country delegations, and the general public. Also there was strong pressure to retain a flexible and broad definition of the IGF’s mandate to include such important issues as freedom of expression, free and open source software, privacy, and cyber-crime on the table for discussion. You can see many of these recommendations in the civil society Internet Governance Caucus recommendations from 2005. On both counts, we largely succeeded.
The actual result of the negotiations, the Internet Governance Forum, is somewhat of a compromise, somewhat a stalling tactic. I.e. create as body to "discuss the issues" and have it "facilitate discourse" between different bodies charged with managing the internet resources. For better or worse, this is the body that is going to be meeting for the first time on Monday.
Next I will blog about what points I want to make in Athens. They will mainly center around building structures and processes
for timely and effective participation of the various stakeholders with
the Internet Governance Forum, and on internet regulation policy
structures in general. I will likely bringing in such fun topics as the Minnesota e-debates, Second Life and other virtual worlds, problems in bringing in the academy, and top-down versus bottom-up processes…