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APC response to the Internet Governance Forum Review

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By APC

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, 15 May 2009

Formal consultation with IGF Participants in accordance with Paragraph 76 of the Tunis Agenda for the Information Society: APC’s input

The Tunis Agenda for the Information Society calls on the Secretary-General “to examine the desirability of the continuation of the Forum, in formal consultation with Forum participants”. This consultation will be held at the Sharm El Sheikh meeting. As an input, all stakeholders are invited to submit comments with the online questionnaire below (there is no word limit, but please note that the session will time out after two hours). Other comments are also welcome.

A synthesis paper, conceived as a rolling document, will reflect all comments received. A first document will be made available for the 13 May open consultations and a revised version will be made available for the 16 September Open Consultations. The final version will be submitted to the IGF meeting in Sharm El Sheikh.

Questions:

*1. To what extent has the IGF addressed the mandate set out for it in the Tunis Agenda?*

The Association for Progressive Communications (APC) regards the 12 tasks of the IGF mandate as having different weight. For example we regard task a). the discussion of public policy issues related to internet governance as primary as compared to the other eleven tasks. The IGF stands or falls on the basis of how effectively it has met the requirements of task a). Hence the criticism of the IGF that has been coming from certain stakeholders – that the “IGF is just going around and around, avoiding the topics, and becomes sometimes a waste of time”1 – is simply not valid as an argument when the specific mandate of the IGF is precisely to discuss public policy matters.

So when it comes to answering the question of “_to what extent the IGF has addressed its mandate with regard to task a. to discuss public policy matters related to internet governance_”, APC has no hesitation in saying that the IGF has exceeded expectations in its performance. On a scale of 1 – 10, we rate task a) 10/10.

The evidence for this success is not hard to find. One can point to the increasing number of workshops each year that are self-organised by stakeholders and which involve a dialogue between stakeholders. One can point to the evolution of plenary discussions that have developed from top heavy panel discussions in the Athens IGF to interactive open policy dialogue sessions in the Hyderabad IGF. One can point to the participation of all stakeholders in the organisation of the IGF programme each year and the participation of stakeholders in the MAG as signs that the IGF takes dialogue seriously in the very construction of the agenda of each year’s meeting. One can point to the IGF’s success as a space for policy dialogue in the evolving content of the topics under discussion, for example, in combining the issues of security, privacy and openness in the panel discussion and open dialogue in the plenary session on “Cyber-security and Trust” at the Third IGF meeting in Hyderabad in 2008. One can point to the recognition at the Hyderabad IGF that certain issues are maturing in the process of discussion and should be considered in a way that stakeholders can find ways of “synergising action” from them through a new format of roundtable sessions. One can point to the high degree of confidence that stakeholders have in the IGF as a credible and creative space for policy dialogue on internet governance.

The IGF’s performance with respect to the secondary tasks of its mandate has been more uneven. It has not, for example, managed re task d). to “_advise all stakeholders in proposing ways and means to accelerate the availability and affordability of the internet in the developing world_”. It has discussed access but offered no advice. Similarly the IGF has not undertaken task h). to “_promote and assess, on an ongoing basis, the embodiment of WSIS principles in internet governance processes_”. It has embodied the WSIS principles in its own practices but, in spite of several IGF stakeholders organsing workshops on this topic, the IGF has not promoted or assessed the WSIS principles in internet governance processes themselves. With regard to this task, the IGF has not performed adequately.

With regard to task g). on capacity building in developing countries, the IGF has made a commendable start in supporting the East African IGF and supporting the development of regional and national IGFs elsewhere which have had a strong capacity building dimension. However, this task has not been systematically addressed and has a rather ad hoc air to it. We note that national and regional IGF’s will have a prominent position in the 2009 IGF programme which we hope is the beginning of a more systemic approach to capacity building in developing countries.

2. To what extent has the IGF embodied the WSIS principles?

The IGF has embodied the WSIS Principles – that internet governance should be multilateral, transparent and democratic, with the full involvement of governments, the private sector, civil society and international organisations – in its practice as a space for policy dialogue. The IGF has done this both in the manner of organising the programme of the IGF meetings annually as well as in the conduct of the meetings themselves. Where it has been less successful is with regard to task i). of its mandate which requires the IGF to “_promote and assess, on an ongoing basis, the embodiment of WSIS principles in internet governance processes_”. This task has not been performed at all.

There are however areas that need improvement. Participation of civil society, and in some cases also of developing country government and private sector stakeholders, is hampered by insufficient financial resources. This might be addressed through regional and national IGFs, but greater effort is needed to ensure that the global IGFs are as inclusive as possible.

The above comments address the WSIS principles on participation of stakeholders. However, the WSIS principles are far broader, and there are some that the IGF could pay far greater attention to, for example, inclusion of minorities, gender equality, and, most important of all, the importance of human rights in an inclusive information society.

3. What has the impact of the IGF been in direct or indirect terms? Has it impacted you or your stakeholder group/institution/government? Has it acted as a catalyst for change?

Methodologically speaking it is too soon to meaningfully measure the impact of the IGF. However as mentioned in 1 above we are of the view that the IGF has been a great success as a multi-stakeholder space for policy dialogue and as a civil society stakeholder in the IGF, the experience of engaging in policy dialogue with other stakeholders has been of immense importance to the APC.

With regard to the question of whether the IGF has acted as a catalyst for change, it is similarily too soon to tell. Certainly the IGF has enabled all stakeholders to come together, after the severe mistrust and suspicions generated during the World Summit on the Information Society regarding the control of the internet. Through the IGF they have come to regard one another as stakeholders in a common endeavour, rather than as friends and enemies. IGF Chairperson Nitin Desai put it this way at the Hyderabad meeting:

“this is a dialogue between two groups of people. On the one hand, we have a group of people who feel that the present modalities of management of the internet are working, will work, even in the future, who are afraid that any major change in the way in which these arrangements are set up would compromise the internet in some form. And on the other hand, we have a lot of people who are dependent on the internet for their activities, for the economic, social, political, whatever, who feel that they have to have a say in the public policy issues which affect how the Net runs in this manner. These are essentially the two groups who are in dialogue here. And the purpose of the IGF is, in fact, to get these two groups who do not normally meet in the various foras that we have to come together and listen to each other”2.

One has to place this achievement against the near breakdown that occurred in the debate over internet governance during WSIS and the unresolved tensions over how critical internet resources should be managed. The IGF has helped defuse the sharpness of the opposing positions and in an era where the world is returning to multilateralism after a long period of unilateralism, one should not underestimate the extent to which the IGF has played an important role in bringing the two groups of stakeholders together in dialogue.

4. How effective are IGF processes in addressing the tasks set out for it, including the functioning of the Multi-stakeholder Advisory Group (MAG), Secretariat and open consultations?

The IGF processes have generally worked well and are continuously improving. The IGF secretariat and MAG is a learning organisation that makes use of feedback from stakeholders in open consultations productively.

There are no doubt aspects that could be improved, particularly in relation to the constitution (clear annual or bi-annual rotation and mandate renewal process, greater representational parity between different stakeholders) and functioning of the MAG (clearer roles of MAG members in supporting IGF participants in session/panel organisation, more on-site support from MAG members during annual fora, more regular meetings of MAG members during annual for a) and so on. We acknowledge the improvement of information sharing from the MAG to the IGF community (minutes of meetings are posted within 2 days of MAG meetings).

APC has already proposed that the MAG (including current and past groups) conduct their own internal assessment and review, and we encourage the secretariat to propose this.

5. Is it desirable to continue the IGF past its initial five-year mandate, and why/why not?

APC believes it is critical that the IGF continue past its five-year mandate because:

a)It is the only space for public policy dialogue on internet governance that involves the participation of all stakeholders in the internet.

b)Internet governance is itself distributed across multiple governance institutions and the IGF provides a space for them to engage with a broader range of stakeholders on policy issues than they otherwise have access to. This in itself is a soft form of holding such institutions to account.

c)The IGF has demonstrated during its first three years of existence that it can successfully perform the role of creating an open space for policy dialogue among stakeholders, despite the different views many stakeholders have with regard to how the governance of the internet should evolve.

d)The IGF is itself part of an important 21st century development in international public policy arenas that are experimenting with multi-stakeholder participation in complex governance matter. It is too soon to fully assess the impact of such an experiment and certainly too soon to end the experiment. To end the IGF, would be a grave mistake.

e)As a civil society stakeholder, the Association for Progressive Communications has made a considerable commitment and investment in time, energy and resources to making the IGF succeed as a space for multi-stakeholder dialogue. It would be totally unacceptable to the APC as a civil society network of more than 50 organisations for the IGF to be closed at the end of its initial mandate.

6. If the continuation of the Forum is recommended, what improvements would you suggest in terms of its working methods, functioning and processes?

In its next phase the IGF should be more proactive in undertaking activities outside of its annual meetings. This may well be difficult if funding remains minimal, but at the very least the IGF should develop two substructures, one for capacity building and a second that actively promotes and assesses, on an ongoing basis, the embodiment of WSIS principles in internet governance processes and institutions. This is, on the one hand, a promotional function and on the other, a research function. The IGF urgently needs to establish a research function that can undertake this assessment on an ongoing basis. The promotional function can take place at the annual meeting as well as at events of institutions that are responsible for different facets of internet governance during the year. The IGF should proactively encourage institutions involved in internet governance to debate and discuss by providing an open space specifically for such activities, in it’s annual meetings.

7. Do you have any other comments?

We would like to express our appreciation for the work done by the IGF secretariat and chairperson, and the host countries, during the last three years. We also want to extend our appreciation to the many stakeholders who have put in hours and hours of voluntary time to participate in the IGF, before and during the annual forum. It is its ‘self-organised’ nature which has probably contributed most to making the IGF a space where people can speak as individuals who are committed to a better internet (however they define it) rather than as representatives of governments or institutions who often have quite narrow interests. Nevertheless, there is room for growth and improvement.

Notes

[1] Hamadoun Toure: Speech ICANN meeting Cairo, 6 November 2008: http://cai.icann.org/files/meetings/cairo2008/toure-speech-06nov08.txt

[2] Nitin Desai: Statement in Opening Ceremony, IGF Hyderabad, 2008 http://www.intgovforum.org/cms/hydera/Opening%20Ceremony.pdf

(FIN/2009)

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