Multistakeholder participation and enhanced cooperation seem to be among the major issues in this year's Internet Governance Forum (IGF). With World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) around the corner, there is an anxious buzz about whether this is a bid by governments to have more control over the internet through the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs) and International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the proposals for new governing bodies like the UN Committee on Internet Related Policies (CIRP) and the discussions on “enhanced cooperation” by the Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD) in May earlier this year – maybe not surprisingly.
Anyway, I attended the pre-IGF meeting co-organised by ICC-BASIS, ISOC and APC on this called: "From deadlock to dialogue: Enhanced cooperation in internet governance”. It was very interesting, although I also wondered how hard it must be to follow the discussions if someone hasn't already been following some of the developments and discussions on other lists and spaces. The only reason I was able to follow some of this was because:
a) I was reading the Internet Governance Caucus list a bit obsessively at one point earlier this year;
b) I was trying to write a summary to APC women team on the stuff I read complete with an acronym buster; and
c) I somehow just read the most excellent ICANN paper that APC produced last year in the plane (totally recommend it!).
Basically, as far as I could grasp it, the discussions was around:
- Is it just about better cooperation between governments (improving their ability to carry out responsibility on the internet), or is it about multistakeholder models, or about a bit of both?
- What is already happening in enhanced cooperation terms of internet governance? On this issue, there was a lot of talk on ICANN as good example of multistakeholderism where enhanced cooperation is taking place, with the governmental advisory committee. Then there's also the OECD and IGF as good spaces where multi-stakeholderism and enhanced cooperation can, and already are, taking place.
- If enhanced cooperation has already been discussed & is happening in different places, do we really need a new process/forum just for this? The representative from the Brazilian government suggested that we need at least a working group to discuss this. Parminder Jeet from IT for Change, Bangalore, commented that nothing is working right now because it's all biased to western interest, suggesting let's have something completely new. And APC and friends say why not just use the IGF since its already a mature multistakeholder space for public policy dialogue and is ready to take on more than talk. Plus, IGF is already mandated within same cluster of paras where enhanced cooperation is mentioned under the Tunis Agenda. But APC's Anriette Esterhuysen also says at the end, let's not be too tied up with existing modalities but be creative and open and flexible - and I couldn't agree more.
- Bill Smith of PayPal has a lot of things to say. Amongst them a good question: What are the international public policy issues that needs to be dealt with that aren't already dealt with in existing forums? By which Markus Kummer from the Internet Society shoots back: Well dude, the problem with that is that most of the forums aren't multistakeholder - duh.
- What are "global internet public policy matters"?
- At the start of the event, it seems that it's all about critical internet resources (CIR), or things that ICANN manage. Parminder rasies a good point: People, people, CIR is the *least* important public policy matter really. There's a lot more and we need to really look at this. In other words, seriously, there's a lot more to both internet governance and enhanced cooperation than ICANN.
- So what could it be? I was also thinking, what would these global internet public policy issues be for women's rights? Would violence against women (VAW) be one, and what would be the best way that we, as civil society working on this issue with partners in different countries, want to propose as the best way forward for different actors to respond to this? Would IGF be the best place for this? Or would CEDAW? Or would it really be just at national level? Then what about the social networking sites and other privately owned spaces where VAW also takes place in? And I think the most important question for me is that, which of these processes and spaces makes it easier and more accessible for women's rights activists to engage with on an equal footing with everyone else? Maybe I'm spoiled by the IGF rhetoric and history and evolution, but I want to be there on an equal footing dammit! And I don't want to return to begging governments for some policy that is going to end up being used to silence people anyway. Or to return to scraping at the table end of private companies, writing letters they wont respond to unless it gets picked up by big media. The point being, with all the talk of enhanced cooperation and/or internet governance processes, what was missing for me in the morning talk was more on how these modalities and discussion on gaps, needs, principles, potentials can also ensure equal participation of civil society (with all their diverse concerns and expertise in relevant areas).
- There were some good recommendations, about the need for capacity building on internet governance with different stakeholders - and that this takes political will to ensure that internet governance that is happening at national levels is robust, legitimate and done through a multi-stakeholder model. And this is also something women's human rights activists can work with. There was a talk of a mapping exercise on different loci where internet governance and enhanced cooperation are happening and on what kinds of public policy issues are involved. But I loved it when Anriette said: Mapping is all fine and dandy, but we can't use this as a stalling exercise, we need to be ready and prepared to come up with solutions, even if it's something we're not totally comfortable with, but we need to be open and creative about this.
Okay, I will stop here. I hope tomorrow there will be coffee, shuttle busses that will take us back to the hotel at the designated time, and food glorious food!
Image by Shawna Finnegan