The Region Is Preparing for the Internet Governance Forum

by Digital Rights LAC on August 27, 2013

Connected final

From 27th to 29th of August, the Sixth Regional Preparatory Meeting for the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) will be held in Cordoba, Argentina, a discussion space where, in addition for best practice sharing, it will serve to raise issues and challenges implicated in building this great new public space that is the Internet.

By Pilar Saenz*

What is Internet Governance?

Internet is a collaboration product. It began as a partnership between government and academia networks to which was later added the private sector and civil society. For those who are regularly online, the Internet has become a new public space that facilitates organization and participation, as well as becoming a medium for the creation, production and distribution of culture.

At present, Internet has more than two billion users around the world, a towering figure for a medium that has an expansion of less than 30 years. For some persons, the question is how to get to the other five billion users, but for others the challenge is to ensure an open, participative and free Internet for these future users. So they can use it on their own terms to fit their needs and not simply another medium managed by the commercial interests or by the control and regulation of state agencies. Therefore, the challenge is that the Internet remains the space that guarantees, allows and facilitates the exercise of rights and not just a controlled means of communication or distribution channel.

The Internet management, the way in which decisions on its infrastructure, protocols and services are taken, is what is called Internet Governance. This refers specifically to “the development and application of principles, norms, rules, decision-making procedures, and programmes that shape the evolution and use of the Internet.” These topics cover the Internet entire universe and generally augment tensions between various components, for instance, security and privacy, freedom of expression and the protection of intellectual property, innovation and access, among others. Multiple sectors (not only governments and private sector but also the academia, technicians and civil society) are simultaneously interested on these topics. Without the equal participation of all stakeholders, the balance could dangerously tilt in favor of the interests of those who hold political, social or economic power, and, consequently, those who can generally be involved in discussion forums and decision making processes.

After a long and thorough analysis, an approach was reached whereby the Internet governance model should reflect the cooperation spirit among stakeholders. In addition, since the network is really an emergent process, which is constantly changing and evolving, its management should be flexible enough to allow changes in response to new technologies, applications, users and challenges. This suggests that it cannot be thought traditionally: a corporate management model cannot be used, as the Internet is not owned by anyone, nor can be operated by a governmental authority, since not all of its infrastructure is public; a mixed management model is not sufficient, since it should allow participation of civil society, academia and technicians in the discussion.

The search for an Internet governance model began in 2003 at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Geneva. It continued with the work of the Working Group on Internet Governance, which submitted its report in 2005. Finally, during the second phase of the WSIS in Tunis, that same year, it was decided to create the Internet Governance Forum (IGF).

The IGF is a multistakeholder forum (this concept goes beyond the notion of multi-sectoral, as it implies more commitments of the parties, the absence of barriers to access to discussions and equal participation) that provides a space for dialogue between different stakeholders on the Internet’s public policy issues. It is part of a cooperation agreement between stakeholders to address issues relating to public policy on the Internet, and not to its technical and operational management. Finally, it is accepted that Internet governance should be a multilateral, transparent and democratic model, with the full involvement of governments, the private sector, civil society and international organizations, whose objectives are to ensure an equitable distribution of resources, facilitate access for all and assure a stable and secure functioning of the Internet, taking into account multilingualism.

The Invitation Is to Participate in the Discussion

The Internet Governance Forum is an exploration effort. It is a free access space that is not designed to make decisions, but to confront different points of view and to stimulate dialogue and discussion in order to establish a good practice standard.

The IGF can lead to practical results if the conditions for the exchange of knowledge and experience are given, including for listening the web users and helping identify new issues to be addressed in the formal processes that are being managed by Internet specialists. Thus, the IGF and regional preparatory meeting are forums that bring together governments, companies, NGOs, groups of consumer rights and human rights activists, Internet specialists and media in one dialogue where all participants have to adjust their expectations. Among the topics to be discussed at the sixth regional preparatory meeting for the Internet Governance Forum, to be held this month in Argentina, are, among others, access and diversity, privacy and Internet security.

The call is to get involved in the global discussion processes, but also at regional meetings, in where policies can be consolidated, and best practices and problems can be shared. The sole aim is to invigorate the processes of civil society groups that increasingly bring together collectives, institutions and individuals that advocate for the Internet and use it to vindicate other rights.

Technology must be leveraged to follow the proceedings, even remotely, and to participate in the discussion. There is no doubt that the contributions in this matter will greatly influence the future of humanity, as there is no barrier to participate, it just a matter of getting involved.

*By Pilar Sáenz, activist of the collective RedPaTodos and member of Karisma Foundation.