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The 12th Internet Governance Forum (IGF) comes at a time when inclusive multistakeholder approaches to internet governance are both mainstreamed and precarious at once. National and regional IGF initiatives (NRIs) are growing, but they are also struggling to achieve legitimacy and sustainability as inclusive platforms for debate and collaboration and to translate multistakeholder approaches into actual policy shaping and making on issues that impact how the internet is used, run and developed. Some governments remain skeptical of the multistakeholder approach, adopting it inconsistently, if at all. Some continue to demand the establishment of a multilateral/intergovernmental agency or mechanism to coordinate or oversee internet-related public policy. This is evident from submissions to the Working Group on Enhanced Cooperation of the Commission on Science and Technology for Development. Non-governmental forums such as the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) continue to evolve, but being influential in ICANN requires a degree of effort and consistency which is difficult to sustain.
The global IGF remains a unique and vibrant forum, producing valuable intersessional work that is being used in other forums. However, even in the IGF the fragility of the multistakeholder approach is evident as participation from governmental and business actors appears to be tailing off. The absence of a government volunteering to host IGF 2017 is a symptom of this broader condition.
Inclusive and participatory spaces for policy development are continuously being challenged and are not to be taken for granted. IGF enthusiasts and IGF skeptics should work together to maintain and strengthen the annual event and its intersessional processes. There is no substitute for it. This does not mean that convenors should be complacent. Just the opposite: as internet governance is not a finite process, new internet policy-making challenges and issues will continue to emerge, intertwined with old ones, and a more dynamic, inclusive and outcome-oriented IGF is needed to respond to the changing climate. The IGF remains the only global forum where different stakeholders can engage with one another in the same space, building common ground, but also engaging in debate, thereby understanding divergences in approach and interests in a way that contributes to more effective internet-related policy and development.
2. Reflections on the IGF agenda
The overall theme for IGF 2017 is “Shape Your Digital Future!”, which makes it fitting that more workshops are forward-looking, falling under the “New Technologies & Emerging Issues” subtheme (26), than under any other sub-theme. Admittedly there is quite a bit of overlap between sub-themes, but the appetite for bringing in hot topics to the IGF is clear, with a large number of workshops on artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), big data, blockchain, virtual reality, cybersecurity platform regulation, and fake news. The fact that the IGF agenda responds to some of the most pressing internet-related public policy issues is good news and its critics should take note, as this clearly demonstrates its relevance. Issues that have steadily gained traction at the IGF over the years, such as gender and internet shutdowns, are also prominent on the agenda, included in main sessions for the first time. A large number of workshops focus on access, inclusion and diversity (21) and on multistakeholder cooperation and governance (25). Though less trendy and perhaps not as exciting as emerging technologies, they are every bit as important to shaping the digital future, so it is encouraging to see them still receiving the attention they deserve at the IGF.
IGF 2017 is taking place amid a time of political turmoil and a surge of regressive actions concerning internet policy and human rights and social justice more broadly, in many parts of the world. Taking place on the heels of a decision to repeal net neutrality in the United States, and a number of alarming developments over the year ranging from severe restrictions on access to and use of the internet ahead of the Catalan referendum to the arrest of two IT consultants in Turkey under anti-terrorism laws while they were participating in a workshop with human rights defenders, the current political climate is likely to colour the nature and dynamics of discussions at the IGF.
Another factor that we expect to impact on the climate at the IGF is its location. Taking place in Geneva comes with advantages and disadvantages. Given that Geneva is home to a number of international organisations that are increasingly dealing with internet-related public policy issues, having the IGF in Geneva this year will make it easier for the IGF to carry out two parts of its mandate: facilitating discourse between bodies dealing with different cross-cutting international public policies regarding the internet and discussing issues that do not fall within the scope of any existing body; and interfacing with appropriate intergovernmental organisations and other institutions on matters under their purview. It may also help to attract the participation of states that are typically under-represented at the IGF, from small and developing countries, which have limited travel budgets but have permanent missions in Geneva. In fact, having the IGF in Geneva is an opportunity for diplomatic missions, which may deal with aspects of internet policy within their own purview, but do not typically have the chance to engage with a broader set of internet issues that impact their work.
On the other hand, the extremely high cost of travelling to and staying in Geneva, at any time of the year, but especially just before the holiday season, may mean that participation from the global South, and from civil society in particular, is more limited this year. This is no small matter, as barriers to participation at the IGF, which is meant to be open to all interested stakeholders, is a persistent challenge. However, it is important to remember that the IGF is not an event, but a process. Intersessional work carried out by the Best Practice Forums (BPFs), Dynamic Coalitions and others, as well as NRIs, deserve recognition for facilitating multistakeholder participation in internet policy processes throughout the year.
3. Priorities for IGF 2017
APC will be concentrating our engagement on access at the IGF this year on community-based and local access infrastructure, building on the momentum of a robust programme of activities on this subject at the IGF last year, and our newly launched “Local Access Networks” project. Innovations in low-cost communications technology have created new possibilities for the development of affordable, locally owned and managed communications infrastructure. A growing number of communities and small local and regional operators are using off-the-shelf low-cost commodity networking equipment to provide themselves and others with Wi-Fi, GSM and fibre connections.
These innovative bottom-up initiatives are still relatively rare. They generally face overwhelming regulatory and financial hurdles and require technical, economic and regulatory support to meet scaling and sustainability challenges. They are also hard pressed to exchange experiences and learning systematically. Therefore, we are looking forward to using the IGF as an opportunity to explore with the IGF community whether local access infrastructure models are a viable alternative to connecting the unconnected, and if so, what are the circumstances that make them successful? And what are the benefits to the local community in terms of well-being, gender equity and social or economic development where connectivity infrastructure is locally owned? We will participate in relevant workshops and sessions, including the Dynamic Coalition on Community Connectivity.
In addition, APC is actively involved in IGF discussions on gender and access (see 3.3) and we will continue to participate in relevant sessions like the Dynamic Coalition on Public Access in Libraries to advocate for ending digital exclusion through addressing the underlying barriers concerning market access and network provisioning models, spectrum use, content controls, and public access.
3.2 Human rights
As with previous years, human rights will continue to be a priority for APC at the IGF. In addition to our Day 0 event on cybersecurity and human rights (see section 3.4), our priorities for human rights at for the 2017 IGF are:
Encryption and privacy enhancing technology: The crackdown on the use of secure digital communications in many parts of the world is very concerning, posing a threat to freedom of expression, privacy, freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and a range of associated rights, especially for persons at risk. A number of governments, including Australia and the United Kingdom, are threatening to legislate backdoors for law enforcement in encryption standards, which would substantially weaken security for everyone while increasing the likelihood of damaging attacks from bad actors. Recently, Turkey arrested IT consultants for professionally imparting their skills and knowledge around technical matters to human rights defenders. APC, ARTICLE 19, IFEX, Access Now, Greenhost and Aspiration will organise an evening of lightning talks and informal discussions around this disturbing trend at our 4th annual Disco-tech to raise awareness and share strategies for pushing back.
Freedom of expression: Attacks on freedom of expression online come from a range of actors, including the state through repressive legislation, non-state actors through harassment and trolling, and sometimes a combination of the two, when organised attacks take place with some level of endorsement or tacit approval from the state, given the level of impunity that follows. APC will launch two publications relating to restrictions on freedom of expression in Asia. The first, “Let the mob do the job”: How proponents of hatred are threatening freedom of expression and religion online in Asia”, examines freedom of expression and religion practices online in Bangladesh, India, Malaysia and Pakistan, taking a multi-layered approach that considers political, economic and social structures, the impact of inequalities in societies and individual agency to help explain why the internet has become a tool for mobilising hatred and inciting mob violence in these four countries. The second, “Unshackling Expression: A study on laws criminalising expression online in Asia”, brings to light the problematic trends in the use of laws against freedom of expression in online spaces in six Asian states – Cambodia, India, Malaysia, Myanmar, Pakistan and Thailand – in a resource that civil society, internet policy experts and lawyers can use to understand the legal framework domestically and to reference other jurisdictions.
Network shutdowns: As internet shutdowns continue to be imposed with disturbing frequency and duration, APC plans to draw attention to the impact of shutdowns on a wide range of rights through our participation in the main session on “Local Interventions, Global Impacts: How Can International, Multistakeholder Cooperation Address Internet Disruptions, Encryption and Data”. While there is growing international consensus that network shutdowns are not an acceptable policy option, thanks to the contribution of civil society efforts, we observe a trend of governments caving to international pressure when they first impose shutdowns, but reimposing them once the international outcry fades away. This is the case in Togo, where the government first shut down mobile internet services in the country for six days in September. The government grudgingly restored services after six days of blackout when met with widespread condemnation from internet freedom groups across the globe, but then continued to shut down or constrict access repeatedly for the following few months. Local protests continued but the international outcry did not.
Sexual rights: APC carried out our third EROTICS Global Survey to collect data on and map trends concerning sexual expression online, and the impact of the internet on the rights of LGBQTIQ people and sexual rights activists. We plan to share the findings of the survey at the IGF. The goals of the survey were twofold: one was to map how sexual rights activists use the internet to advance their work; the second was to document and provide insights on the types of risks, harassment, content regulation or censorship they deal with, and how they respond to them. The findings illuminate the connections between internet surveillance, online sexual sociability and expression, and how gender and sexuality markers, among others, mediate access to and meaningful use of ICTs. They provide evidence to help explain the impact of internet regulation on sexual rights activists’ work, and make inferences about the exercise of gender and sexual rights in the contemporary online/offline continuum. Insights from the EROTICS survey might also help explore strategic ways for sexual rights activists to address digital security and advocate for gender and sexuality issues among internet rights activists.
This year the IGF will have its first ever main session on gender, specifically on “Gender Inclusion and the Future of the Internet”. The fact that this session is taking place is a testament to the visibility and importance that gender issues have attained over the last few IGFs. At the same time, the debates within the IGF Multistakeholder Advisory Group (MAG) over the relevance and desirability of such a session, which included disparaging and misogynistic remarks from a MAG member, demonstrate why now more than ever, efforts are needed to ensure gender equality in meaningful access to and use of the internet. The main session on gender, which APC’s representative on the MAG is co-organising, will address key issues and challenges, including women’s rights, intersectionality, access, online gender-based violence, education, and new and emerging technologies, as well as mechanisms and structures for gender inclusion in internet governance processes.
APC views barriers to meaningful access to and use of the internet as reflecting discrimination faced by women in society, be it based on location, economic status, age, gender, racial or ethnic origin, social and cultural norms, education or other factors. These barriers may manifest themselves as lack of affordability of internet access, harassment and violence online, or discrimination built into algorithms that shape search results. Inhibitors to ICT access and use on the basis of gender should be addressed as part of the state’s obligation to respect, protect and fulfil all human rights and as part of the private sector’s responsibility to respect human rights. At IGF 2017, APC is prioritising:
Online gender-based violence (GBV) and discrimination: APC is co-organising a workshop to explore best practices in countering online GBV and to explore the risks and opportunities that emerging technologies like artificial intelligence present for gender equality. In addition, we are participating in the annual Latin America in a Glimpse event, organised by APC member Derechos Digitales, which will focus this year on the intersection between gender politics and the internet. The event will discuss the main challenges that Latin America is facing regarding women's rights online. Issues like discrimination, online GBV, online harassment, social media moderation policies, local legislation, and how to create safe spaces on the internet will be addressed.
Gender and access: Throughout the year, APC has been co-facilitating the Best Practice Forum on Gender and Access, which this year examined the specific barriers faced by specific communities of women – including women with disabilities, refugee women, young women, elderly women, LGBTIQ women, women in rural areas, and indigenous women. The BPF’s previous work has indicated that the initiatives and literature available on women’s ability to access and use the internet largely tend to approach women as a homogeneous group and fail to truly account for the unique way in which contexts and circumstances might impact women’s ability to access and use the internet. The survey conducted by the BPF highlighted lack of infrastructure, insufficient local and relevant content, and social and cultural norms as major hindrances to internet access for refugee women, indigenous women, queer women and young women. The BPF session will discuss the preliminary findings and recommendations for further exploration, and the ways in which stakeholders can support the work in addressing barriers to meaningful access faced by specific communities of women. In addition, APC will be speaking at a number of sessions on women’s meaningful access to the internet.
Sexual surveillance: Surveillance through the collection of population data has historically functioned as an oppressive tool to control the bodies of women and other marginalised groups. Today, “big data”, metadata and the technologies used to collect, store and analyse them are, similarly, by no means neutral, and come with their own biases and resultant exclusions. Building on an APC issue paper on “Big data and sexual surveillance” and using the Feminist Principles of the Internet as a framing, APC will host a workshop on the connection between “big data”, surveillance and sexuality in the gathering and exploitation of data relating to internet users’ online identities and behaviours. The session will explore the evolution and normalisation of surveillance through “big data” and its relationship with the growing reliance on algorithmic decision making, particularly at the level of the development and implementation of public policy.
With cybersecurity threats more frequently becoming front page news, and responses to such threats often undermining people’s human rights and security, APC decided to co-organise a Day 0 event to convene IGF participants around the following theme: “A rights-based approach to cybersecurity: A pipe dream or a critical means to a secure and stable internet?”. The pre-event aims to deepen understanding of how cybersecurity policy impacts on human rights, reviewing major developments in the field of cybersecurity that impact on human rights, and mapping out future opportunities for collaboration to advance rights-based approaches to cybersecurity that bridge technical and policy approaches.
In addition to the Day 0 event, APC will speak at the main session, “Empowering Global Cooperation on Cybersecurity for Sustainable Development and Peace”, as well as a pre-event organised by the Global Commission on the Stability of Cyberspace and the BPF on Cybersecurity session, both of which we have been contributing to over the course of the year. This year’s BPF on Cybersecurity focuses on the implications of cybersecurity for achieving sustainable development.
APC’s main priority around internet governance is fostering inclusive, participative and bottom-up internet policy and development processes. A significant barrier to these priorities is the fact that the global internet is resource intensive (Geneva being a good example of an expensive destination for many actors in the global South). National and regional IGF initiatives (NRIs) have been increasingly gaining visibility and traction, in part to address the barriers to participation and to addressing local issues. The diverse and distributed nature of NRIs means that they have different strengths and weaknesses, making it difficult to draw many useful conclusions from the 100+ NRIs in existence. It is no longer possible to view the IGF and the evolution of internet governance without also considering the role and impact of NRIs, and it is in this context that APC is publishing two editions of Global Information Society Watch (GISWatch) that focus on NRIs this year. One is the annual GISWatch report, which provides critical and analytical perspectives, primarily from civil society actors, in 40 countries. The other is a companion publication, “Internet governance from the edges: NRIs in their own words”, which tells the stories of the creation, evolution and future perspectives of these initiatives.
Another internet governance priority for APC at the IGF is preparing for the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Plenipotentiary Conference next year, in order to set the stage for planning and strategising around Plenipot by understanding key internet-related policy discussions happening at the ITU, and what is at stake for next year’s big meeting.
Capacity building in internet governance, one of the IGF’s greatest outcomes, needs continuous, long-term effort and investment. APC is pleased to be part, for a second year, of the IGF Academy project with iRights and LirneAsia that will bring fellows from eight countries from Africa and Asia to Geneva. They are all involved in building national inclusive, rights-based internet governance processes, and being at the global event will be both a reality check and an inspiration.
Overall, it is impressive to see how the IGF process, particularly through NRIs, continues to act as a platform for building knowledge and confidence. It gave rise to schools of internet governance, and one of APC’s priorities for the 2017 IGF – in its capacity as convenor of the African School on Internet Governance (AfriSIG) – is to share experience with other schools and develop a strategy to ensure their sustainability. APC conducted a tracer study to gain knowledge of the longer-term impact of AfriSIG and will share the results in Geneva.
3.6. Intermediary liability and/or responsibility: To regulate social media platforms or not?
APC, along with others who developed and endorsed the Manila Principles on Internet Intermediary Liability, consider it very important for freedom of expression and association and the right to privacy that intermediaries do not interfere unduly with the content that they host. However, the nature of the relationships, use and behaviours of users and platforms is changing.
The community guidelines and terms of service agreements of social networking platforms now often set guidelines related to content. The behaviour of search engines, and how they retrieve and display results, constitutes a form of sub-editing and layout by algorithm.
Have some of these platforms become “news sources or distributors”? Does this mean that they are more than intermediaries? What are their responsibilities in this regard? Does advertising on these platforms need to be regulated in a different way from traditional regulation of advertising? Is existing regulation being applied to online advertising and does it have the desired effect? Does the “right to be de-listed” (more commonly known as the “right to be forgotten”) as it is implemented in various jurisdictions turn search engines into arbiters of the public’s access to information? Or does it give meaning to the right to privacy at a time when people’s entire lives may be captured online?
While the hype about fake news might just be hype, the issue of whether these platforms need to be regulated or not is real and needs to be discussed with the platforms, media practitioners, human rights defenders and policy makers in the room, without risking reducing their value as platforms for expression, and without legitimating undue restrictions or rule making. This is why at IGF 2017, APC will be actively involved in discussions on this topic, including the session organised by the Dynamic Coalition on Platform Responsibility.
3.7 Measuring change and progress: GISWatch and the UNESCO internet universality indicators
APC’s GISWatch publication series assesses the state of the internet and an inclusive information society in different topical areas every year. Editions of GISWatch that will be launched at the IGF in Geneva have already been discussed above.
APC will also be involved in a new and significant effort to measure change and progress related to the internet at this year’s IGF. UNESCO launched its concept of Internet Universality in 2013 and presented it at a pre-event at the Bali IGF. In 2015, UNESCO’s General Conference endorsed the concept, which embraces four principles (now known as the ROAM principles) that should be fundamental to the development of the internet and its role in advancing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs):
R – that the Internet is based on human Rights
O – that it is Open
A – that it should be Accessible to all
M– that it is nurtured by Multistakeholder participation.
UNESCO intends to adopt a framework of Internet Universality Indicators to assist governments and other stakeholders to assess their national internet environments and develop policies to advance these principles. In 2017 they partnered with APC and a consortium of researchers to develop these indicators, and to do so in a way that is open and consultative. The draft indicators, released in early December, are intended for use by stakeholders in interested countries where resources can be mobilised for the necessary research. They are not intended to rank countries in comparison with one another. UNESCO and the APC consortium will present the draft indicator framework at the IGF in Geneva and seek critical feedback from the broader IGF community.
3.8 Strengthening the IGF
IGF 2017 is the first IGF in its new 10-year mandate. In the last, it has been encouraging to see intersessional efforts to strengthen the IGF, including MAG working groups such as the Working Group on Multi-year Strategic Work Programme, and the Working Group on IGF Improvements, which APC co-chairs. We see value in these groups to work in synergy, with recommendations for improvement feeding into the IGF’s multi-year work programme. We encourage these groups to revisit the recommendations that were inputted into the IGF retreat, and to focus on clarifying the mandate of the MAG. We see a lack of clarity of what the IGF’s institutional identity and capacity are, which can impact on it engaging in collaborative activities with other entities. Finally, it is critical for the IGF to invest in intersessional work, in particular the BPFs, which have produced valuable outputs that are being used in spaces outside the IGF. But support from the IGF Secretariat is key for sustained engagement, for example, by setting regular meetings, documenting discussions, and being familiar with formats and processes.
4. APC’s activities at the IGF
Events hosted and co-organised by APC.
APC member participation in events at the IGF 2017.
5. Follow APC online at IGF 2017
We will be sharing updates on:
Twitter: @APC_News and @GenderITorg
Our Facebook page
Flickr (send us your images to the group)
Media contacts: email@example.com in English, Spanish or Portuguese (off-site), and firstname.lastname@example.org in English and Spanish (on-site).
For GenderIT.org contact email@example.com in English.
Check in-depth resources on our publications page.
Updates on gender and ICT policy on GenderIT.org.
GISWatch 2017 - National and Regional Internet Governance Forum Initiatives (NRIs)
2017 GISWatch Special Issue: Unshackling expression - A study on laws criminalising expression online in Asia
6. APC members and staff at IGF 2017
Members at IGF 2017: Carlos Afonso (Nupef, Brazil), Veridiana Alimonte (Intervozes, Brazil), Roger Baig (Guifi.net, Spain), Arturo Enzo Bregaglio (Asociación Trinidad/Radio Viva, Paraguay), Julian Casasbuenas (Colnodo, Colombia), Stéphane Couture (individual member, Canada), Bishakha Datta (Point of View, India), Jessica Dheere (SMEX, Lebanon), William Drake (individual member, Switzerland), Nicolas Echaniz (AlterMundi, Argentina), Htaike Htaike Aung (Myanmar ICT for Development Organization/MIDO, Myanmar), Yatanar Htun (MIDO, Myanmar), Bardhyl Jashari (Metamorphosis Foundation, Macedonia), Anja Kovacs (Internet Democracy Project at Point of View, India), Michel Lambert (Alternatives, Canada), Serene Lim (EMPOWER, Malaysia), Mohamad Najem (SMEX, Lebanon), Lillian Nalwoga (Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa/CIPESA, Uganda), Juliet Nanfuka (CIPESA, Uganda), Nadim Nashif (7amleh, Palestinian Territory), Leandro Navarro Moldes (Pangea, Spain), Maria Paz Canales (Derechos Digitales, Chile), Liz Probert (GreenNet, UK), Renata Aquino Ribeiro (individual member, Brazil), Reza Salim (Bangladesh Friendship Education Society/BFES, Bangladesh), Gayathry Venkiteswaran (individual member, Malaysia), Montserrat Vidal (Instituto DEMOS, Guatemala), and Sharolina Villalta (Instituto DEMOS, Guatemala).
APC staff, interns and volunteers at IGF 2017: Karen Banks, Maud Barret Bertelloni, Valeria Betancourt, Deborah Brown, Kathleen Diga, Avri Doria, Anriette Esterhuysen, Shawna Finnegan, Chat Garcia Ramilo, Mike Jensen, Jac sm Kee, Leila Nachawati Rego and Carlos Rey-Moreno.