Tunis Commitment, almost signed
By 10 pm Tuesday, the chairperson, Ambassador Khan, had concluded negotiations on Chapter 3 on internet governance and received a standing ovation from all attending delegates. The outcome of the internet governance process is to have a forum that will take up broad public policy issues on the one hand, and a process of cooperation on the narrow principles that relate to domain name, numbers and the root zone file on the other. APC’s Willie Currie felt "this outcome has to be evaluated in terms of the balance of power in the community of nations."
While glitzy Mercedes models unloaded heads of state for the opening of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) on Wednesday morning, the Tunis Commitment had already been reached.
The high-ranking government delegates at WSIS arrived for the opening ceremony where UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, but also Iranian human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi addressed the WSIS plenary assembled at the KRAM convention centre north of Tunis.
THE INTERNET GOVERNANCE FORUM
At 4 pm on Tuesday November 15, the different working groups looking at internet governance reported back to the main Subcommittee A plenary.
The key issue that came up, with regards to the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) – a new body that has been proposed during the preparation meetings leading up to the Tunis summit — was the question of how the forum’s processes will be set up.
What kind of secretariat should support the development of the IGF?
The Russian Federation had a quick answer. Recognising ITU’s work on WSIS already, they suggested that this UN telecommunications agency be the one coordinating a secretariat for the IGF.
The USA disagreed, saying that there should be a certain degree of “openness” on how to put together a secretariat. They proposed that the secretariat not be limited to the involvement of the Secretary-General of the UN as proposed in earlier talks, but also by other organisations of the internet community such as the worldwide internet association, ISOC (Internet Society).
Parallel to this discussion around the best way to craft the IGF secretariat, there was a debate about the process outlining the participation of different stakeholders at the forum. Should it be open to all stakeholders or should it based on a limited membership?
The outcome of these two points is that all stakeholders would be welcome to the forum and that the UN Secretary General would constitute the secretariat of IGF, with or without the involvement of the ITU.
The place and date of the first IGF meeting has also been determined. The offer of Greece to host the first IGF meeting was also accepted and the Secretary General of the UN will convene the participants before the end of the second quarter of 2006.
The second major issue that was agreed upon was a variation of the EU proposal on enhanced cooperation regarding the role of governments to carry out their responsibilities with respect to the internet.
These do not include day-to-day operational matters. The form of the proposed cooperation is to develop a set of principles with regard to the coordination and management of critical internet resources such as DNS management — which controls the internet naming system — and the root zone file, used by the key 13 computers that control the system.
This process will be carried out in cooperation with relevant international organisations and would involve all stakeholders. It would start by the end of the second quarter and would proceed as quickly as possible to be "consistent with legal process."
There was considerable discussion as to who will initiate the process of cooperation. Some countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran and China are in favour of the UN Secretary General’s leadership.
Others like Australia and the U.S. require the participation of "relevant international organisations" whose identity were not specified. The compromise that was reached is that the Secretary General will initiate the process of cooperation with these organisations.
What do these outcomes mean for the future of the internet?
AT THE TALKS
By 10 pm Tuesday, the chairperson, ambassador Khan, had concluded negotiations on chapter 3 on internet governance and received a standing ovation from all attending delegates.
The outcome of the internet governance process is to have a forum that would take up broad public policy issues on the one hand, and a process of cooperation on the narrow principles that relate to domain names, internet numbers and the root zone file on the other.
"This outcome has to be evaluated in terms of the balance of power in the community of nations", observed Willie Currie, APC’s Communications and Information Policy Programme Manager.
"The U.S. clearly saw that its strategic interest with regard to the war on terror and its dominant role in the global economy meant that it had to retain its oversight over the primary form of communications in the world, which today is the internet," Currie said.
It is true that the U.S. was not willing to negotiate on its oversight of ICANN
the organisation that currently controls internet names and numbers or to transfer their oversight of ICANN to a United Nations body as could be observed in the WSIS discussions.
On the other hand, the legitimate concerns of other governments that a global resource like the internet is controlled by just one country, were asserted in the discussions and the U.S. had to concede to a new process of cooperation to determine the principles that should guide the management of the DNS system.
This process is likely to lead to a gradual shift with regard to the oversight of ICANN.
It opens a space for all stakeholders to address the kind of norms that ICANN should apply to its management of the internet’s critical resources, such as freedom of expression, right to privacy, ICANN’s accountability to stakeholders, ICANN’s independence from oversight exercised by any single country, administrative justice principles with regard to ICANN’s decision making processes, principles affecting complaints, dispute resolutions and review of decisions.
"The combination of the cooperative process and the establishment of the IGF together, will place internet governance on a more transparent, multilateral and ultimately democratically accountable track," Currie told APCNews.
This is the end of this WSIS story, but it’s not the end of the process.
A lot will depend on how the enhanced cooperation takes place and the process in which the IGF is constituted and goes about its business. The question to watch out for at this stage is whether ICANN will eventually develop into an independent global body with full authority of the DNS management and root zone file, with a form of global accountability commensurate with its mandate.
Looking back on the WSIS process, Currie also insists that civil society has been a determining actor in catalysing the steps forward.
"The establishment of the forum is largely a result of the civil society’s intervention in the Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG) process. One must recall that the US, the private sector and ISOC were opposed to the establishment of this forum from Day One."
In addition to Chapter Three, the Tunis Commitment also refers to a set of other agreements on financing mechanisms, know-how transfers, international internet connectivity costs, training and education with ICTs and participatory decision-making and many more.