Thursday, February 16, 2006

First day of consultations on Internet Governance Forum

16 February 2006
Thiru Balasubramaniam
Morning session

Today in Geneva the UN is holding two days of open consultations on convening an Internet Governance Forum (IGF) which is mandated by the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS). This mandate calls for the IGF to be a multi-stakeholder policy dialogue. The IGF is chaired by the Secretary-General's Special Advisor for WSIS, Mr. Nitin Desai. A live webcast of the proceedings can be viewed at:

Here is an official
of the morning session.

According to the IGF website,

The aim of the consultations is to develop a common understanding among all stakeholders on the nature and character of the IGF. The meeting will address the IGF's scope of work and substantive priorities as well as aspects related to its structure and functioning. It will also discuss the convening of the inaugural meeting including agenda and programme.

Tentative dates for the IGF have been recommended by representatives of the UN Secretary-General and the Greek government; they are 24-26 October 2006. A decision on the dates will be taken jointly by the Secretary-General and the Greek government in light of the Geneva open consultations of 16-17 2006.

The format of the first day was open to governments, inter-governmental organizations, civil society, businesses, academics and individuals. Unlike other UN meetings I have attended, there was no hierarchy in terms of the order of statements. The statements of governments, civil society, IGOs and others were all interspersed during the day.

The main buzz words of the day seemed to be "multi-stakeholder" and "multilingualism". However, it was not quite clear as to what different parties meant by these terms.

Both the EU (represented by Austria) and Brazil called for spam to be a discussion item at the Athens IGF.

Pakistan took the floor on behalf of the G-77 and China and called for development-oriented clarity to the discussions of internet governance.

Brazil noted that decision making internet public policy issues should be taken by world community at large and not by number of technical bodies or a single government.

They said that technical bodies were deciding upon public policy issues. They warned that this awkward situation could go on forever without causing serious trouble and as they had said before, things that cannot go on forever don't.

They wanted the IGF to be a locus for the global community at large to create the necessary international applicable legal framework for internet-related pubic policy issues.

Brazil mentioned cyber-security, cybercrime, spam, consumer protection, counterfeiting, and global public policies related to top related domain names as possible substantive topics to be discussed in the Athens meeting.

The chairman, Mr. Desai concluded the morning session on the follwoing note

Everyone accepts multi-stakeholder participation. What does this mean though? Should it be based on open consultations, however, that was a simple process. The IGF should meet around 3 days once a year. What type of structure is to be expected at Athens? Many have echoed that IGF should have a development orientation. Development country participation is important (not just govt-but CSOs as well). Can this space be a forum to discuss the digital divide? The development dimension of ICT should be there but it is much bigger-education, e-health-governance and many other dimensions. We should not load everything from Tunis process into IGF. What is that we are expecting to see in IGF? We need flexibility, shared understanding of first IGF to look like. IGF term is 5 years. My request; it's not our job to fix outcomes, it's the job of the IGF to do this. What we need to focus is how to structure the forum.

Here is a link to Georg Greve's blog of the discussions.