The 10-year extension of the IGF mandate is a testament to the IGF’s significant evolution over the past decade as the leading global forum for dialogue on Internet governance issues. What’s next?
As the Internet continues to evolve at breakneck speed, many critical issues still need to be addressed. A major area is Internet governance. This broad realm encompasses both governance of the Internet (essentially the business of ICANN and other technical organizations) and governance on the Internet (a range of issues affecting services and content, such as privacy and cybersecurity).
Last year, the U.N. General Assembly approved the renewal of the mandate of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) for another 10 years. Born in Tunis at the end of the second phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), the IGF has evolved to serve as the leading global forum for dialogue on Internet governance issues. Since the first forum in 2016, the IGF has been an annual event.
The IGF now gathers a growing number of experts from academia, civil society, governments, industry and the technical community. Traditional topics of Internet governance involve setting rules, standards, policies and providing technical support so that the world can be connected on the global Internet. Going beyond the technical issues, the IGF also deals with complex social, economic and transnational issues related to the use of the Internet.
Getting to where we are today has been both a challenging and rewarding journey that is still in progress.
The IGF has gone through times of skepticism about both its continued existence and its ability to fulfill its mandate. Over time, the IGF has gradually expanded beyond its narrow circle as a “discussion only” forum to include processes that can produce tangible and useful outcomes, seen in the Best Practices Forums (BPF) and the Dynamic Coalitions. The 10-year extension of the IGF mandate is a testament to the IGF’s significant evolution over the past decade.
Earlier this month, over 2000 participants from 83 countries came together in Guadalajara, Mexico, with hundreds more participating remotely, to attend the 11th IGF meeting, the first since the mandate’s renewal.
As in previous years, ICANN’s Board directors, community leaders and senior staff attended the IGF. But unlike past years, the role of ICANN and the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) functions did not take center stage in Guadalajara.
This is thanks to the Internet community that worked hard over the past few years to finalize the transition of the U.S. Government’s stewardship of the IANA functions to the global multistakeholder community. Instead, this year’s debate was focused on lessons learned from the IANA transition as a recent and successful example of a multistakeholder process in action.
With over 200 sessions, the 2016 IGF agenda covered the standard topics of Internet governance such as access, diversity, privacy and cybersecurity; plus more current issues related to online trade, the Internet of Things (IoT) and the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Links between SDGs, Internet governance and the IGF figured strongly on the agenda, with a main session and several other workshops organized on this topic. A common sentiment this year was that the IGF should focus more on the SDGs; a stance that was conveyed clearly during the “Taking Stock” session on the last day.
ICANN’s participation at IGF 2016 was led by CEO Göran Marby and Board Chair Stephen Crocker. Primary objectives were to emphasize the successful IANA stewardship transition as an example of how ICANN’s multistakeholder processes work, and to encourage participation in the ongoing work of ICANN’s Supporting Organizations and Advisory Committees.
ICANN’s goals are to continue supporting the multistakeholder model in Internet governance and contributing to global policy discourse with all interested parties – activities that are within ICANN’s mission and scope.
On the day before the event, ICANN organized a town hall session to reflect on the evolution of ICANN’s multistakeholder processes using the IANA stewardship transition as a case study. Presenters sought views from participants on their experiences with ICANN and how they envisage the challenges ahead.
In addition, ICANN community and organization staff planned and conducted workshops and roundtable discussions on a variety of topics such as the IANA transition, the new generic top-level domain (gTLD) Program, the role of noncommercial users in ICANN, law enforcement in the online world, and Asia and the next billion Internet users.
So, what’s next?
Geneva will host the 2017 IGF next December, and already discussions about strategic focus are underway. Holding the event in Geneva, the second home of the U.N. and to 192 government missions, may boost the participation of governments from developing countries and of non-U.S. businesses, both issues at Guadalajara.
The IGF Multistakeholder Advisory Group (MAG) will meet early in the new year to determine the focus for the 2017 IGF. At the top of the agenda will be how to deal with the call made by many in Guadalajara for more attention to meeting the targets of the SDGs. No doubt, the MAG may want to concentrate on other issues like human rights and global trade accords.
After all, the U.N. Human Rights Council meets in Geneva, and the World Trade Organization (WTO) is based there. Once the focus is set, preparatory work can begin for the Geneva IGF.
All in all, 2017 will be an interesting year in furthering key goals in Internet governance.
Picture credits: kvitlauk
How big is the divide between the United States and Europe when we talk about data protection and cybersecurity? And what is at the basis of the current differences between the two regional players? Is it just Snowden and the NSA, or is it a deeper issue?
I had the privilege to contribute to the European perspective among a large group of experts attending an interesting exchange about this in Washington DC. What was supposed to be a conference on cybersecurity policy and regulation became an exchange on privacy and data.
It is difficult for the EU and the US to work together in the field of online and data security as long as we have those other open quarrels on privacy protection and the rules applicable to transatlantic transfer of data.
I was a bit surprised to realize that the whole data protection regulatory approach in the EU is observed with a mix of admiration and respect by US experts. And -interesting enough-, it is our model which is in the way of becoming a world standard among democracies.
Boit systems are clearly different: we have a structured piece of legislation on privacy in Europe (currently in full revision), with clear definitions of privacy related data, and clear rules about the rights and obligations related to the use of those data; all with clear authorities responsible of enforcing those measures.
In the US, the legal protection of online privacy results of a diversity of legal instruments, enforced by different agencies and authorities. This is combined with the importance given to self regulation by companies.
But is the demand for online privacy by citizens that different in Europe and the US? No, as a matter of fact it isn’t. Americans do want their privacy protected as well.
What is radically distinct among “us” and among “them” can be reduced to a word: trust.
[Tweet “Europeans do not trust their government’s management of data and will not give them a blank check”]
The Stasi, Ceaucescu, and many other personal experiences of authoritarian invasion of private life have taken their toll in the public perception of the risks of abuse of personal data. The US public does not have that memory. It is not a perceived risk. Definitely not in the mainstream public opinion.
And what about private companies? What part of Europeans’ mistrust against Facebook or Google is addressed to those two companies and their privacy policies, or is addressed to their potential collaboration with the US Government? Difficult to say.
But what appears to be clear is that a huge amount of Europeans request from their public authorities, including their European legislators and the European Commission, to assume an active role in protecting them from this external potential intrusion.
An intrusion which, in the public perception, comes from the United States: in part from its Government, in part from its huge corporations which control the largest part of our online digital life.
If this is true, then the current transatlantic difficulties regarding online privacy require a social approach, must deal with this citizen’s mistrust, and are not just a matter of technical negotiation between experts or burocrats on both sides of the Pond.
The matter will only be solved if this public trust is reinforced. US companies have a lot to lose if the transatlantic flow of private data is halted; if the “safe harbour” scheme -which currently regulates in which cases private data originated in Europe can be transferred to and filed in the US- is interrupted.
But we know well that this scheme is not working, and the threat to annul it is real (and it may be the Court of Justice who annuls it in the fist place). The Commission -under huge pressure from the parliament- is negotiating this with the US.
But this is not just a legalistic issue to be solved like a trade negotiation of battery standards. This is a problem with deep social roots. The sooner American decision makers -in Congress, in Government-, understand this; the more possible it will be to rebuild the indispensable trust on the part of Europeans.
And only with that trust in place we will be able to work together, US and EU, in the search of common answers to the essential common threats to our online and digital security.