My main role was to give a talk focused on the societal implications of the Internet, but I also participated in a useful panel discussion of Internet governance, chaired by Derek Wyatt MP, who opened the panel by reviewing recent issues arising around governance of the Internet and Web. He concluded with a note on the forthcoming, inaugural Internet Governance Forum scheduled in Athens from 30 October to November 2nd, 2006. http://www.igfgreece2006.gr/ He asked the panellists to discuss whether the IGF and related activities represented appropriate ways to move forward.
I kicked off the discussion, making three general points:
1. Types of Internet Governance Issues
Internet governance incorporates many different policy and regulatory issues, many if not most of which are being dealt with by a variety of actors and agencies across the world. It is useful to divide Internet governance issues into at least three separate but interrelated categories :
a. Internet-centric issues, such as naming and numbering and standard setting, which are centrally concerned with the Internet. Jurisdictional turf struggles over ICANN fall into this set.
b. User-centric issues, such as gambling, fraud, or malware, in which the behaviour of users is the primary focus. In most cases, laws exist in each nation that govern such behaviour, but greater international coordination, such as among law enforcement agencies is key to moving forward.
c. Non-Internet centric issues, such as copyright, privacy or freedom of expression, where policies exist, but are set by national or international agencies, such as WIPO, the courts, and legislatures. In these cases, the Internet community can comment on and influence debate within other bodies, but the issues are ‘owned’ by others even though they have direct implications for the role and future of the Internet.
In this framework, the best way forward would be for the IGF to identify issues that do not have a home, or which are not being addressed adequately by existing institutional mechanisms.
2. Values v. Issues
The agenda for the IGF is focused on openness, diversity, access, and security. It does not explicitly identify privacy and data protection, but it does not rule out any issue being raised. This focus on what might be called ‘values’, rather than issues, seems to be driven by an effort to bring a broad and diverse constituency into the discussion. A more precise set of specific issues might have been off-putting to some individuals, such as non-technically sophisticated people, and raised jurisdictional questions, since existing actors or agencies own most issues. The IGF must wish to be inclusive and not create an expectation that the forum would somehow solve or take a position on an issue.
3. Conflicts on the Horizon
However, the values chosen for discussion might reveal an underlying set of issues on the horizon. These values are not as consensual cross-culturally as they might appear. Security for example can pit national security interests against civil liberties proponents. Diversity and access can array market-led against more public-led, public service oriented media regimes. Openness will not be viewed the same in China and many other Asian nations as it is in Western liberal democracies.
Finally, there is likely to be debate over the linkage between Internet governance and development. At the WSIS, issues of governance were distinct from issues of development, so-called Information and Communication Technologies for Development (ICT4D). I thought is was a very important and positive step to link these in the inaugural forum on ‘Internet Governance for Development’, but wondered if this connection will continue to hold.
All the news since the IGF has suggested that the forum was indeed successful in drawing a sizeable number of participants and creating a constructive discussion about ways forward on key issues. I’d encourage everyone with a serious interest in the future of the Internet to follow the forum. The main Web site is: http://www.intgovforum.org/