Publisher: APCNews NEW YORK, 09 August 2013
Although the decentralised nature of the internet, a distributed network of non-hierarchical and independent nodes, seems to contradict the idea of governance, there are several international spaces where principles are discussed and rules are sometimes regulated. One such space is the Working Group on Enhanced Cooperation (WGEC), one of several follow-up mechanisms for the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) implemented by the UN in 2003. In the first meeting of the group, in late May 2013, participants developed a questionnaire seeking inputs to help define the current issues in internet governance, how these should be addressed, and solutions for improvement or further development.
The questionnaire is open for individuals and organisations until 31 August 20131, and respondents can answer some or all of the questions. APC’s Joy Liddicoat explains why it is important for civil society working in the field of ICTs and social justiceto bring their knowledge and perspective to this process. “We’re living a critical time in the history of internet governance.” We’re facing mass surveillance by governments, there are increasing concerns about violence against women and how national and global mechanisms are protecting them, among many other worrying developments. And there is still the issue of access: there are a lot of people who are still not being able to participate meaningfully in the information society.”
APC has identified this questionnaire as an opportunity to influence an important international forum on the subject. Liddicoat adds, “We need to honour the Tunis Agenda and ensure that the voices of civil society are heard and are an equal part of discussions with governments, especially voices from the global South and developing countries: they have the opportunity to flag specific issues that are important to them for the Working Group to discuss. Governments of powerful countries and transnational corporations are often over-represented in these discussions. We’ll have less credibility and less ability to incorporate alternative voices if we don’t see strong submissions from them,” she concluded.
We’re also offering members an opportunity to collaborate on an APC network-wide response to the questionnaire. We’ve set up a survey in order to to compile responses for submission as a single response from APC members and staff. “APC sees this process and the questionnaire as a critical opportunity to influence an important international forum in the next steps of the evolution of internet governance,” concluded Anriette Esterhuysen, APC’s executive director.
The WGEC has been convened by the UN Commission for Science and Technology for Development (CSTD), one of the agencies coordinating WSIS follow-up, since “enhanced cooperation” was included in one of the final outcomes of the Tunis Agenda in 2005. In that document, stakeholders agreed that internet governance “is an essential element for a people-centred, inclusive, development-oriented and non-discriminatory Information Society.” Additionally, it established the creation of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), a “new forum for multi-stakeholder policy dialogue.”
Over the years, the IGF has become the main space for all stakeholders to discuss global policy issues, and it has inspired the creation of similar arenas in most regions and many countries. One of the main criticisms that the IGF has received, however, has been its lack of outcomes or recommendations. Some individuals and groups involved in the process feel that while dialogue is an important and necessary element of policy-making, reaching agreements would help to translate development rhetoric into outcome-oriented action.
One of the mechanisms that the UN is implementing with the aim of generating recommendations in IG – also inspired by the Tunis Agenda – is the WGEC, which follows the model created by the Working Group on the Improvements to the Internet Governance Forum. Like its predecessor, the WGEC has adopted a multi-stakeholder model and its members come from governments (22 people) and from civil society, business, academia and technical community, and international organisations (five people each). The questionnaire was the outcome of the working group’s first meeting in early May. The responses will be discussed at the next meeting of the WGEC in November 2013 and used to determine recommendations to the UN General Assembly in early 2014.