Connections and disconnects: Reflections from APC on the 2014 IGF

Publication date: 
October 2014

1. Preamble

The 2014 Internet Governance Forum (IGF), “Connecting Continents for Enhanced Multistakeholder Internet Governance”, came at an important time for internet governance both internationally and in Turkey.

The 2014 IGF demonstrated the IGF's maturity by taking strides towards becoming more outcome-oriented. There is little doubt that this shift was encouraged by NETmundial, convened in Brazil in April, which proved that a multi-stakeholder process can produce outcomes in the form of a statement of principles for internet governance and a roadmap on how to implement them. APC welcomes this development.

Going forward, APC's key recommendations to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), the IGF Multistakeholder Advisory Group (MAG), the IGF Secretariat and United Nations Division for Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) are:

  • Renewal of the IGF. The forum has demonstrated its value and will be needed for many years to come as the internet continues to develop and change. Its link to the United Nations system ties it to established intergovernmental processes. It is this connection between an established intergovernmental organisation and a new, open and inclusive multi-stakeholder forum that makes the IGF unique and, in spite of the many other important initiatives in multi-stakeholder internet governance (e.g. NETmundial), the most appropriate platform and location for long-term coordination, an information clearinghouse, capacity building, and networking related to internet governance.

  • That the IGF Secretariat and the MAG engage professional facilitators with expertise in planning large participatory events. The current format of main sessions with very large panels, and too few workshops that allow audience participation, simply cannot continue. Many people and institutions invest massive resources in the IGF. The additional cost of working with professional facilitators and planners will be minimal in comparison. We make more specific recommendations on format and process below.

  • That all session facilitators include scanning the twitter feed, incorporating questions and comments, as a means of widening opportunity for remote participation.

  • That human rights be routinely profiled and given prominence at the IGF through a main session, or a roundtable that does not clash with other main or focus sessions.

  • That the IGF process (at global, regional and national levels) encourage cross-institutional dialogue, by actively engaging key institutions involved in various aspects of internet governance ahead of IGF 2015 in Brazil (for example, the Human Rights Council, the International Telecommunication Union and ICANN, to mention just a few).

  • That inter-sessional activity take place under the IGF “umbrella” to build on discussions at this IGF, and that widespread discussion of the NETmundial principles be promoted ahead of the IGF in Brazil. We believe that the IGF community should work towards adoption of the NETmundial principles for internet governance at the 2015 IGF.

  • Alternative and parallel forums such as the Internet Ungovernance Forum held during the 2014 IGF in Istanbul should be encouraged. They can add value and diversity to the overall IGF experience, particularly in contexts where there is insufficient opportunity to challenge restrictions placed on internet rights and freedoms by specific countries at the main event. However, having critical issues raised alongside the IGF should not be done at the expense of raising them during the IGF itself.

  • APC's recommendation is that rather than limit critical discussions of host governments, or of any other government at the IGF, the MAG and the Secretariat focus on facilitating these discussions so that they give fair hearing to all voices, including the voices of concerned governments.

2. What worked well

2.1 Highlighting access as a continued priority

Access issues drew deserved attention, including in the focus session on the topic, which affirmed the continued need for public access – one of APC's key policy concerns. Other APC priorities were also discussed, such as infrastructure sharing, rethinking universal service funds, and the need to open radio spectrum, such as TV white space (TVWS), to more unlicensed and innovative use.

2.2 Discussions on ICANN accountability and the IANA transition

Workshops on accountability in ICANN worked well because different workshops on the issue complemented one another. This was mostly because of coordination among organisers. There has been a lot of pressure on ICANN to consult beyond its community on accountability and the IANA transition process. The quality of the ICANN sessions at this IGF is a reflection of this and most of the credit for opening up discussion so effectively should go to the Non-Commercial Stakeholders Group.1

2.3 Recognition of the IGF as a convening space with a critical role in the internet governance ecosystem

The IGF is up for renewal by the UN General Assembly (UNGA) next year.2 We were heartened to see a range of stakeholders join together to issue a statement calling for UNGA to renew the IGF3 with an open-ended mandate. The statement pointed to ongoing initiatives to strengthen the IGF, such as the IGF Support Association4 and the dozens of national and regional IGFs that have taken off in the last few years.5 The uniting of a such broad range of groups around the renewal of the IGF is a strong affirmation that there is simply no other opportunity for such a wide range of views, people and stakeholder groups to come together to talk about the internet. The value of this a) for stakeholder groups to work on their own at pre-meetings, for example, b) for different stakeholders to engage one another, and c) as an opportunity to gain useful knowledge, should never be underestimated.

2.4 The IGF as a platform for reflection and follow-up on NETmundial

It was noteworthy that the Brazilian government and the Brazilian Internet Steering Group (, the hosts of NETmundial and of the next IGF, used Day 0 of the IGF as an opportunity to reflect critically on NETmundial and build on its outcomes. This event included a presentation of preliminary research6 on lessons learned and the launch of a new book, “Beyond NETmundial: The Roadmap for Institutional Improvements to the Global Internet Governance Ecosystem”.7 Actors involved in NETmundial shared their views, often divergent ones, on the process and its impact.

NETmundial recommended that the IGF take forward the discussion of controversial issues such as network neutrality. This happened in different ways and while consensus was not reached, what worked really well were the connections made between activists who are working on net neutrality in their respective countries. Debates clearly underlined how complex and multi-dimensional the issue is, and highlighted that network neutrality issues are often the result of closed markets, and these have very different dynamics when comparing the developed world and the global South.

2.5 Best Practice Forums

The 2014 IGF introduced the idea of Best Practice Forums.8 These forums gathered expert input from government, business, civil society and the academic and technical communities before the event, using open mailing lists and online virtual meetings to aggregate best practices on developing mechanisms for meaningful multi-stakeholder participation and establishing and supporting computer emergency response teams (CERTS). These forums benefited from a degree of inter-sessional work prior to IGF 2014, and are expected to continue their work during the year leading up to IGF 2015. We found this to be a constructive way of bringing forward debates on key issues and linking work done between the annual IGF meetings.

2.6 Increased awareness of internet rights at the IGF and beyond

APC approached internet rights at the IGF in the context of the IGF's overall maturing and the increasing acceptance that the same human rights which apply offline must also apply online.

The quality of IGF discussions is improving and human rights groups who were not present previously are now coming and participating, including those focusing on indigenous peoples and sexual rights, as well as traditional human rights groups such as Amnesty International. Strong regional rights streams are also emerging, with both the Latin American and Caribbean and the African regions making significant contributions to the IGF main themes, showcasing new regional and sub-regional internet rights research and tools. There is also new participation from the Southeast Asia region, particularly among APC members and networks.

There is also clear evidence that the full range of human rights are relevant to the internet and internet governance, including economic, cultural and social rights, sexual rights, and the right to be free from discrimination (including violence and harassment). An increasing number of workshop discussions are also testing how best to promote and protect the rights of specific groups (such as children) and documenting more complex rights violations (such as violence against women online as a violation of women's rights to freedom of expression and to be free from discrimination). We see these developments as evidence that the IGF has critical contributions to make to human rights theory and policy making beyond the IGF.

Key achievements for APC at IGF 2014 include:

2.6.1 African Declaration on Internet Rights And Freedoms

More than 40 people participated in the launch of the African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms.9 This regional declaration is the first of its kind. The launch of the Declaration at IGF 2014 is an excellent example of the ways in which the IGF provides a space for developing new collaborative initiatives and links regional and global initiatives.

2.6.2 Focusing on governance, ungovernance and internet rights in Turkey

APC and Hivos published a special report on internet rights in Turkey that shows that as 2014 comes to a close, there is a sense of urgency to repeal many regressive internet-related laws that have been passed in Turkey this year.10 We experienced Turkish internet censorship first hand. Many websites of organisations attending the IGF, including, were blocked at times due to efforts by hotels and service providers to comply with Turkey's controversial Law No. 5651.11

What worked well at IGF 2014 were initiatives that raised awareness of the situation in Turkey and provided opportunity for IGF delegates to interact with Turkish internet rights advocates. These included the Internet Ungovernance Forum (IUF)12 and Disco-tech13 (organised by APC, Tactical Tech, Web We Want and Hivos). The IUF complemented the official event by creating space for critical voices from Turkey and Disco-tech brought together Turkish activists with the international IGF community in a relaxed atmosphere where experiences of censorship – and how to circumvent it - in various parts of the world could be shared.

APC invited five activists from Turkey's LGBT and feminist movements to participate in the IGF, providing them with an opportunity to understand internet governance better, and to share their struggles for gender and sexual justice in Turkey.

2.6.3 Encouraging cross-institutional dialogue on human rights

We seized the opportunity of the large number of workshops related to the “internet and human rights and enhancing digital trust” sub-theme to organise a roundtable bringing together organisers of relevant workshops to discuss the outcomes of their sessions as well as the upcoming panel on the Right to Privacy in the Digital Age at the UN Human Rights Council (HRC). Participants in the roundtable agreed on a message coming out of the IGF to the HRC,14 which APC delivered in Geneva the following week. The message highlighted key concerns relating to privacy that were discussed at the IGF, including widespread privacy violations and the need for transparency, clear privacy standards and procedures for protection. The message also urged the High Commissioner for Human Rights, HRC members, member states and human rights institutions to participate in multi-stakeholder discussions on the right to privacy, including IGF 2015, which will take place in Brazil. We view this output is significant for marking progress in fulfilling the IGF's mandate to encourage cross-institutional dialogue. We make further comment on this below.

2.6.4 Global Information Society Watch 2014

A key event was the global launch of the 2014 edition of the annual Global Information Society Watch (GISWatch) report,15 dedicated to surveillance and human rights. The book includes 53 country reports and eight thematic reports. The launch was attended by more than 100 people.

2.6.5 Sex, rights and the IGF: Fewer taboos and deeper understanding

APC facilitated the participation of sexual rights activists at the 2014 IGF and organised a full-day pre-event, attended by over 40 people, including journalists, government personnel and APC members - on sex, rights and the internet. Our research16 shows that human rights defenders working on the rights of people of diverse sexualities face aggressive and systematic digital harassment. One objective of this pre-event was to build understanding of how these experiences are relevant to internet governance. Participants were able to meet, learn about IGF processes, discuss the Feminist Principles of the Internet (see below) and plan their participation in the 2014 IGF.

For some, this was their first IGF and for most the first opportunity to explore the linkages between women's rights, sexual rights and internet governance. Feedback indicated that this was a positive experience, providing participants with an opportunity for networking with new communities, applying advocacy strategies, and learning about the intersections of privacy, security and sexuality.

2.6.6 A rights-based approach to child online protection

At a well-attended workshop on child rights, there was general consensus that blocking and filtering is not effective for protecting youth – instead there needs to be more focus on education and empowerment for digital safety.

2.7 Increased focus on gender, women's rights and internet governance
2.7.1 Launch of the Feminist Principles of the Internet

Responding to a recommendation from the Gender Dynamic Coalition at the 2013 IGF, APC working with over 50 women's rights and internet rights activists, drafted a set of Feminist Principles of the Internet (FPI)17 which was launched at the 2014 IGF. The response was very positive and we received helpful comments for improving them.

2.7.2 A dynamic Gender Dynamic Coalition

The Gender Dynamic Coalition held a workshop18 on Day 1 of the IGF that allowed panellists to share experiences on working on gender and ICTs in very different sectors, from government to working with sex workers. Concrete proposals were made to strengthen intersessional networking and project activity. The Coalition also agreed on the need to establish Women’s Internet Governance Schools and create stronger relationships with the media in order to mainstream awareness of women's and LGBT communities' internet governance concerns

2.7.3 IGF issue & Gender Report Card

APC's produced a special IGF issue19 with many thought-provoking articles, interviews and report-backs. As with previous years, APC monitored women's participation as speakers on panels and in workshop audiences, as well as the bringing up of gender issues in the panels. A report will be produced in the next few weeks.

2.8. Enhanced participation? Yes, but not enough

It was a large IGF and being in the fantastic city of Istanbul added to the event's richness. It appears that IGF 2014 was attended by more internet developers, progressive techies and “traditional” human rights groups than previous IGFs. International organisations were also well represented, and many of them organised workshops. This indicates that the IGF is serving its purpose as a space for civil society to share experiences and network with people from business and governments.

In spite of the presence of the World Economic Forum, which we welcome, we are concerned that there were relatively fewer people from the business sector. As previously, we would like to see more government participation as well. It is this mix that makes the IGF valuable.

2.9 Social media

The IGF secretariat invested far more effort into providing guidance to those following the IGF on social media than in previous years. It worked.

3. What did not work that well at IGF2014

3.1 The format and methodology of the IGF

As in previous years, the 2014 IGF suffered from a number of event design problems:

  • Many workshops running in parallel makes the event and the themes difficult to follow, particularly for newcomers. While not advocating for fewer workshops, we think the flow and sequence can be improved by linking workshops and creating opportunities for synthesising related discussions.

  • Some of the main sessions, called focus sessions this year, had too many speakers and were not facilitated well enough.

  • Session organisers frequently make assumptions about their audiences and run workshops like insider clubs. Acronyms are not explained, contexts are not set, and participants are addressed by their first names without being asked to introduce their roles and institutions. This makes it extremely difficult for first-time attendees to engage.

  • APC proposes that workshops be tagged to make it clear whether they are aimed a) at the introduction of an issue, b) at people already familiar with the basic debates, or b) at people with advanced knowledge of the issue. We also recommend that more effort be made to schedule sequences of sessions on a theme that allow for a progression from the introductory to the advanced levels.

  • We value that the MAG had tried to improve the workshop selection process; however, the process can still be improved. We propose that initial selection be made on the strength of the concept and proposed content rather than on a confirmed list of speakers. We also think that workshops can be better supported and integrated into the overall programme by making use of professional event designers.

  • Connecting the national and regional IGF dialogues to the global forum did not work very well.

  • There did not appear to be a large media presence. The MAG should identify this as a particular challenge and address it in 2014.

As a mostly self-organised event, guided by the voluntary effort of the MAG, the IGF works remarkably well.

But it needs more.

We propose that the IGF Secretariat and the MAG engage professional facilitators with expertise in planning large participatory events. The current format of main sessions with very large panels, and too few workshops that allow audience participation, simply cannot continue. Many people and institutions invest massive resources in the IGF. The additional cost of working with professional facilitators and planners will be minimal in comparison.

We also recommend that a professional network technology group be selected by the IGF Secretariat and used to build the IGF network so that there is reliable internet access from within the venue.

3.2 Diminished “institutional” prominence of human rights

Despite the massive interest expressed in “human rights” and “digital trust” – clearly evident from the large number of workshop proposals linked to these two themes – at a macro level human rights were given less priority and visibility at IGF 2014 than was the case in 2012 and 2013.

The risk is that the ground gained after years of struggling to achieve recognition of the importance of internet-related human rights concerns in the IGF will be lost.

Without a clear mandate, human rights-related discussions will not be sustained, or will be seen as only relevant to some stakeholder groups. The IGF cannot afford to lag behind other institutions that are tackling this issue head-on, such as the UN Human Rights Council, the Freedom Online Coalition, the Council of Europe and many others. In this regard the need for cross-institutional discussion between the IGF and human rights bodies and forums is now critical. For example, it is vital that the main United Nations human rights bodies participate in the IGF and are given opportunities to draw on IGF reports and outcomes wherever possible. The NETmundial statement includes a comprehensive set of human rights principles for internet governance. Some rights groups feel they should have been stronger, but at the very least they should have been discussed at the IGF. The treatment of human rights and internet governance principles needs to improve next year and going forward.

3.3 The IGF as a space for critical discussion of national internet policy and regulation

While there was considerable support from the international community for Turkish activists and the IUF in particular, there was very little direct discussion of Turkey's restrictions on a free and open internet. In comparison with the IGF in Baku, where the government of Azerbaijan faced significant pressure from within the IGF itself, the 2014 IGF failed to directly confront the ongoing violations of human rights and freedoms in Turkey, online and offline. Immediately following the IGF, the Turkish government amended a law that tightened internet censorship and grants the Telecommunications Directorate (TIB) extensive powers to block access to websites without a court order. This is an unfortunate follow-up to the IGF.

The supposed UN principle operating here is that it is inappropriate to single out particular countries in UN forums, or “name and shame” them. It does seem, however, that this rule is not being applied very consistently. For example, the US government delegates were not shielded by protocol, rightly in our view, and were publicly challenged and called to account for US-based mass surveillance at the 2013 IGF in Bali. The same standard should be applied to any nation that violates international norms for human rights.

APC's recommendation is that rather than limit critical discussions of host governments, or any other government at the IGF, the MAG and the Secretariat should focus on facilitating these discussions so that they give fair hearing to all voices, including the voices of the concerned governments. We recommend that the IGF become a safe space for difficult discussions.

3.4 Cross-institutional dialogue on internet governance

With the International Telecommunication Union's Plenipotentiary Conference20 just weeks after the IGF, the fact that there was little formal discussion of the event while in Istanbul can be seen as a missed opportunity. Given that the ITU, as an intergovernmental organisation, is a much more closed space, the IGF would have been the perfect opportunity for stakeholders to come together and develop a message on what they would like to see in Plenipotentiary outcomes. Such opportunities should not be missed in the future.

3.5 Remote participation

As with previous years, experiences with remote participation were mixed. It was possible to watch streaming video of multiple rooms, while also following the live transcripts, providing a unique opportunity to follow multiple discussions simultaneously. Twitter was an important space for discussion, especially among remote participants who could not connect to the WebEx system. One remote participant suggested21 that Twitter hashtag streams should be part of the workshops, to create more space for dialogue and direct feedback on comments made in the session.

WebEx did not work consistently for many remote participants.22 In part this was due to bandwidth, although in some cases this was due to copyright issues.23 When WebEx did work, some moderators asked for questions from remote participants, while others ignored questions from remote participants.24 Options for improving remote participation could be to have either a “tweetwall” – a display of the Twitter feed that is visible to the room – or to have a team that scans the twitterfeed and conveys questions and comments to the room.

3.6 High-level meeting organised for governments by the host government

We believe this format can be improved to allow governments to interact with one another and other stakeholders on a particular issue. The objective of such pre-events (first introduced in Nairobi at the 2011 IGF) is to increase government participation, particularly the participation of senior government officials. Is it achieving this goal? We recommend that the MAG review this format, with past host governments, and make proposals as to how it can achieve this objective more successfully.

4. Suggestions for improvements

4.1 Session formats and organisational issues
  • We recommend introducing a system of tagging sessions as introductory, intermediary and advanced sessions. Workshops should be identified as intended for people who are familiar or very familiar with topics, and background materials can be provided ahead of time.

  • MAG needs to abolish the notion of “audience” by breaking down the division between participants on a panel and participants participating from the room and remotely, and finding a way to encourage more dynamic sessions. We suggest that they consider hiring a professional facilitator to organise the IGF.

  • We suggest restructuring the workshop proposal process to better facilitate new participants, fresh ideas and more diversity. Specifically, we recommend that the MAG solicit initial session topic ideas without first needing to identify a full list of participants, a practice that sometime results in false listings. The current process can give an advantage to people familiar with the IGF, whose proposals receive higher scores, and can unintentionally exclude new participants. We also suggest that the MAG extract sub-themes based on the initial proposals submitted, allowing the programme to be guided by the IGF community.

  • If the host country is not able to provide lunch, we recommend that it alert participants to this ahead of time and suggest a list of lunch places near the venue, with a range of price options.

  • Remote participation: Focus on improving remote participation so that it is not just streaming but actual participation. Perhaps a member of the MAG could participate remotely to better represent the needs of remote participants.

4.2 Alternative forums

We encourage alternative spaces at future IGFs. We recommend that governments and private sector representatives at the IGF consider attending these parallel or alternative forums and that organisers consider this an important tactic for the success of both the IGF and the related alternative events.

4.3 Connecting regional and global forums

We recognise that the way in which the IGF process works makes it difficult to connect the regional with the global. In the past, efforts to connect the two have been unsuccessful. A particular challenge is that some regional IGFs are taking place after the global one. We recommend that the linkages be made through prioritising specific thematic areas from the beginning of a cycle – with regional IGFs discussing a topic and feeding conclusions into the global IGF.

4.4 Inter-sessional IGF activity

Best Practice Forums have proven their value. They should continue throughout the year, culminating in annual sessions, and should consider tackling challenging issues that are human rights-related, such as data protection and intermediary liability.

The NETmundial principles should be discussed at regional and national IGFs, other multi-stakeholder internet governance bodies like ICANN, and also intergovernmental forums, and put forward for adoption by the IGF community as broadly accepted principles for internet governance.

The IGF should play a role in taking forward the recommendations in the NETmundial roadmap.

5. Acknowledgements

APC extends our appreciation to the team from the Information and Communication Technologies Authority (ICTA) of Turkey for their hard work, efficiency and hospitality. APC wants to thank the IGF Secretariat for all their efforts. They are not always visible to participants, but without them there would be no IGF. Thank you also to UNDESA and other UN staff for their operational support, the interpreters who make it an inclusive event, and all those who help make remote participation possible. We also thank all those who contribute financial support, directly and indirectly (e.g. through funding participants to come to the IGF).

We want to acknowledge the work of the Multi-Stakeholder Advisory Group for organising the programme. A particular note of appreciation goes to Ambassador Janis Karklins, chairperson of the MAG. His chairing was adept and impacted positively on the MAG's productivity.

We look forward to the 2015 IGF in Brazil!

About the Association for Progressive Communications
The Association for Progressive Communications (APC) is an international network and non-profit organisation founded in 1990 that wants everyone to have access to a free and open internet to improve lives and create a more just world.

Valeria Betancourt

2UNGA resolution 65/141 ( decided that the continuation of the IGF would be considered again by member states in the General Assembly in the context of a 10-year review of the implementation of the outcomes of the World Summit on the Information Society, which will take place in December 2015.

5This statement was referenced in a number of remarks at the closing ceremony, including those of the governments of Brazil and the United States, as well as the IGF summary report (

6The research is being done by APC, Diplo and the Fundação Getulio Vargas.

« Go back