Athens, 6 Nov (Riaz K. Tayob) -- The Internet Governance Forum's inaugural meeting that took place last week in Athens ended with cautious optimism about its experiment in "multi-stakeholder dialogue" on internet policy issues.
The forum closed without making any recommendations and the Chairman called the meeting a "scoping" experiment. While no agreement was reached, the Forum provided a venue for various players involved in the internet to voice their views and to share experiences. Several NGOs also used the opportunity to organise workshops as well as to set up "dynamic coalitions." The next meeting of the IGF is scheduled for 12 to 14 November 2007 in Rio de Janeiro.
The 4-day forum discussed 4 topics in plenary - Openness, Security, Diversity and Access. Some side events were also conducted and reports from these were made to the plenary.
The plenary discussion on Openness focussed on freedom of expression, the free flow of information and ideas. Some delegates raised the question of state censorship and major corporations' complicity, focusing mainly on China as an example.
Other delegates said discussion should not focus on developing countries only and that there were major problems in developed countries, like the US Patriot Act, which were not being addressed. The moderator was accused by some of facilitating a "China bashing" exercise.
The panel on Security discussed why there was no baseline security level on the internet and why existing institutions wee not adequately addressing this problem.
Security risks in any region could negatively impact the entire Internet community.
Many participants called for a balance that was needed between the need for identification and privacy.
The session on Diversity identified the linguistic divide as a contributing to the digital divide. A multilingual internet was needed to broaden internet use and access. The importance of implementing Internationalised Domain Names was also scrutinised with some criticism being levelled at the role of ICANN (Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers) in the process.
The plenary session on Access discussed internet connectivity issues in relation to policy and cost. Access to the Internet needed to include related infrastructure because of the constraints in many developing countries, who pay far more for access.
Nick Gowing, a presenter at BBC World, moderated the session on Openness. He put questions to the panel on enhancing democracy while protecting the rule of law, asked about the best practices related to openness, whether the massive bargaining power of major corporations should be used to expand freedoms in particular countries. And he mentioned the tension between the consumer and content producer over intellectual property rights.
Gowing was accused by some participants of allowing several other participants to engage in "China bashing" during the session. The moderator pursued queries, for almost half the session, about China's policies and the role of corporations like Microsoft and Cisco.
Those criticised tried to defend themselves. Yang Xiaokun, of the Chinese Mission to the UN in Geneva, said China had no principle on the "restriction to openness." He said however that criminals had been arrested, and that this had nothing to do with freedom of expression. Consequently, delegates raised the issue of "China bashing" and why Northern countries' policies were not being examined.
Fred Tipson of Microsoft said he would not "accept the accusation that we are colluding" to repress expression in China. He explained that "the condition of doing business in a country is to abide by the law in the country." Art Reilly of Cisco said "it's the same equipment that we sell in every country around the world." He explained that it is "the same technology that's utilized by parents and by libraries to ensure that they have the ability to control and filter what their children can see." Anriette Esterhuysen of the Association for Progressive Communication (APC), said "we need a holistic approach to openness, or otherwise you do provoke a defensiveness. When it comes to the limitations of freedom of information on the Internet, that happens not just in developing countries; it happens in rich countries.
And there are other forms of social exclusion and silencing of critical voices than through censorship." She added that ultimately the responsibility lay "with lawmakers, and with citizens" in ensuring that freedoms exist.
Niels Elgaard Larsen, a delegate, said "It seems like we Europeans are taking the high ground when in fact freedom of expression is under a lot of attack in the European Union, and specifically Denmark and Sweden and so on", with specific reference to Danish police monitoring of VoIP calls.
Carlos Alfonso, Technical Director of RIT in Brazil, asked "what is the responsibility of network operators, which we are not talking about?" He said they are not regulated by any international agreements currently.
Jamie Love of the Consumer Project on Technology called this a "China bashing session" and sought to add balance to the discussion. He said China was also doing positive things, such as at the WTO where it had submitted a proposal in the Technical Barriers to Trade committee to address the issue of the relationship between standards in trade and its relationship to intellectual property.
China, he said, "raised the issue that countries are using intellectual property rights as barriers to trade; the China initiative has been widely applauded by people that are seeking more openness." Adam Peake of the International University of Japan said "we could have looked a little bit more at how developed countries are also [repressive] when, in fact, the Patriot Act is also duplicated in many European countries. So we can forget about hitting China and also look at some of our northern countries." Hanne S. Greve, former judge of the European Court of Human Rights, said that, "it's erroneous to think that human rights moves one direction all the time. It's ups and downs in every field of human rights... Social and economic rights are human rights as well." Catherine Trautmann, member of the European Parliament, said the European Parliament agreed last July to a resolution on this issue, because there are sometimes technological means that are not repressive, per se, but can be used to a repressive end by various governments.
Joichi Ito, of the Creative Commons, said "it's very important to understand the repercussions that laws and technologies that we are creating to protect assets have on other countries." He pointed out that the US has "a strong lobby both for software patents, and Hollywood in terms of content." He added there are many laws and technologies that "will inhibit the ability for people to freely share content. It's very difficult in some of these developing countries and emerging democracies to have free speech without some level of anonymity and it is very difficult to implement digital rights management and copyright without anonymity." Simon Qobo of South Africa said that Digital Rights Management (DRM) has the power to erode the legal exceptions and limits available in the Berne Convention.
He said DRM could lead to the, "inhibition to access to knowledge and information, retard innovations and development, in particular in Africa." He called for a solution that balances copyright protection with access to knowledge and information and to prevent further erosion of exceptions and limitations.
Esterhuysen said we need to "rethink copyright" which means "looking for alternatives like Creative Commons, which gives the owners of content an opportunity to decide how they share." She added, "But I think it's more than that ... we need to make very sure that in terms of access to knowledge and access to information, the Internet is conceived of and regulated as a space that can provide access to an Information Commons." Love, Estherhuysen and others called for support for a treaty on access to knowledge. Esterhuysen described it as "a new concept, a new right...the Right to Share." Andrew Puddephatt of the Ford Foundation pointed out that "copyright's a relatively new invention in human history... The danger is we will see the growth of the Internet as an excuse to privatize even more information." The next session on Security was moderated by Kenneth Cukier, of the Economist, who asked why after so many years, the issue of security remained unsolved.
David Belanger, chief scientist of AT&T, clarified and said security on the internet is about the availability of the network, the integrity of the transmissions and confidentiality in the face of an intelligent adversary.
Gus Husein, of the London School of Economics, asked what was the meaning of international cooperation in this area as crimes in one jurisdiction may not be crimes in others, or law enforcement agencies may not be open with one another in why information is sought.
He added that some security measures may undermine the confidence in the Internet. He said when it was disclosed, "that the data from ISPs across Europe could be sent to the US, people were concerned. That actually created a lack of confidence in European Internet policy, and that's a problem." Prof. Henrik Kaspersen, President of the Council of Europe Cybercrime Convention Committee, opposed the Internet Drivers License, which requires users to always have an identity when online.
He said such "severe measures are really endangering the privacy of the persons.
There must be a balance. Is it really necessary to know at all times who is doing something or is it only necessary if someone is doing something wrong." Rikke Frank Jorgensen, of the Danish Institute for Human Rights, pointed out that, "threats come not only from criminals; they come also from the state." He pointed out the issue of general data retention, where data was kept without a concrete suspect.
Richard Simpson, Director General of e-Commerce, Industry Canada, said the problem is about electronic authentication and identity management online. He added that "the private sector responds very much to public demand" and to "leadership as it may be reflected by governments." Arcady Kremer, Chairman of the Russian Association of Networks and Services, said standards were important to guarantee interoperability. But there are thousands of standards, and "true standards" should be adopted and used. The World Telecom Standardization Assembly should discuss this further.
Jorgenson questioned whether developing countries were really participating in standards setting bodies, notwithstanding that these bodies are open to their participation.
Frederico Neves, of CERT.br, said governments are usually the biggest users of IT services. They could set some standards through federal CERTs (certification authorities).
Regarding the holding of authentication keys (for encryption and identity verification), Vasilis Maglaris, a delegate, asked "how would third trusted party functions like authentication and authorization infrastructures be influenced by the private sector and is it really the function of the private sector to set standards and operate third trusted parties?" He asked whether the UN, IGF or civil society could perform this function.
Elena Baueva, of the Russian Federation, said the Shanghai Association has been set up to deal with security challenges on a regional basis and would be in a position to report to the next IGF.
Christiaan van der Walk, Vice President Compliance Trustweaver, said that the EU, UN and UNCITRAL frameworks for authentication need to be revisited. He said the overall existing regulatory framework is "definitely no longer up to the need from the marketplace." The discussant Howard Williams asked whether the latest security downloads should not be global public goods freely available if we are to have an inclusive Information Society that includes developing countries. Lamia Chaffai, Director General of the Tunisian Certification Authority, said that open standards offered opportunities for developing countries.
Kremer said the ITU has been asked to coordinate the work to create a secure Internet. He said this can be done in 3 ways. Firstly, finding the methodology which would help us at the regional level to give a national solution. Secondly, how to harmonize the work undertaken to guarantee that the legislation prepared will be coherent. And thirdly to find a way to exchange best practices.
Japan Broadcasting Corporation's (NHK) Yoshinori Imai moderated the Diversity Session which also focussed on multilingualism and the internet. Prompting the discussion, he said some 90% of 6,000 languages used in the world today are not represented on the Internet.
Andrzej Bartosiewicz, chairman of the International Domain Names (IDN) group at the ITU, said "IDN's are the key issue allowing non-English-speaking people to create their addresses, names, especially domain names, and in the future the whole e-mail addresses, in their languages." Patrik Faltstrom, a member of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF - one of the few ICANN recognised standards bodies), said "unfortunately, it is the case that no language and no script and no person will be happy with the definition of identifiers... Everyone will be unhappy. We just have to find a standard that makes people as little unhappy as possible." Divina Frau-Meigs of Paris University, said she welcomed internationalisation "but each time new difficulties emerge, we start moving towards very heavy, cumbersome solutions." She added there were biases in the system: towards the English language as the Internet was developed by millions of English-speaking researchers, and the "question of ownership and the proprietary nature of certain names and how ICANN swings in with this." Elizabeth Longworth of UNESCO said diversity means "the ability of users and participants on the Internet to express their culture, to reflect their culture and their identity. Diversity has notions of being representative." Without diversity on the Internet, you cannot have access," she added. Numerous speakers mentioned the importance of identity and its link to language.
Nurul Kabir, CEO of Spinnovation of Bangladesh said that his people had fought for the right to express themselves in their own language.
Alex Corenthin, President of Internet Society in Senegal, said that people who do not use the Latin alphabet have great difficulty getting their information online.
Senegal alone had 13 local languages. He said language was closely linked to identity and a means had to be found to give them expression on the internet.
Qiheng Hu, Chairperson Internet Society China, said the world of Internet should also try to preserve diversity of cultures and languages, but "Internationalized Domain Names cannot resolve the issue of diversity entirely." The session on Access was chaired by Ulysse Gosset from television station France 24. Gosset said Access was an issue because, "the bad news is we have five and a half billion people who can't reach the Internet. The good news is that the digital divide is reducing. But for access to broadband, the divide is enormous.
Mouhamet Diop, Secretary General of the Internet Society in Senegal, said that in his country and others the interconnection was provided by Somitel, a French company. "All these countries pay for the telecom connection but they also pay for access to Internet through local transit in France. So all this is going out of Africa for a service which remains in Africa." Pierre Dandjinou of UNDP questioned the international private sector role and asked what can we do for local suppliers "in order not to reduce them simply to becoming sellers of equipment." Kishik Park, chair of the ITU-T Study Group, warned that if only competition is stressed, many in the world would be excluded because they cannot pay.
Parminder Jeet Singh, IT for Change India, said public investment was needed.
Willie Currie of the Association for Progressive Communications wondered whether there is a problem of the local loop of connectivity or backbone infrastructure that is missing. He raised the issue of the costs of international Internet connectivity, and suggested a possible "international agreement on reducing the cost of Internet." Another participant gave an example of the high cost of establishing infrastructure in developing countries. For the same amount of funds spent on infrastructure, the volume of data that can be transmitted between London and New York is about 60 times higher than that transmitted (for the same distance) within the Latin American region.
Iranian Deputy Minister for ICTs Mr. Riazi said that the WSIS Geneva Declaration of Principles recognised that access is directly linked with the question of the Internet as a global facility. Its governance depends on a multilateral, democratic, and transparent management of the Internet. "This entails access to Internet governance mechanism, in particular for developing countries that are left out of the existing governance system" he said.
George Greve of the Free Software Foundation European (FSFE) advocated access to free software since software was a constraint on access. He said a dynamic coalition was being established on Open Standards and urged delegates to join it.
During the penultimate session of the IGF, Emerging Issues, youth representatives made a wide range of inputs. Gbenga Sesan from Nigeria warned that the Digital Divide could get worse. He said, "The reason is simple. A young man or a young lady in the global south pays so much for access, and the access is not even fair or even good enough." Antonios Broumas, an attorney studying postgraduate law on the Internet, said "The question who controls knowledge, information and culture and the question who has access to it are the questions that determine the power relations in our Information Society." The final session of the IGF was chaired by Nitin Desai, Special Advisor to the UN Secretary General on Internet Governance. He said that the IGF was "more like an open meeting rather than a fixed membership group...it's not possible to speak of anything as being a product of this meeting." He added that while there was a lot of work that needed to be done, "in a broad sense it has worked." Also invitations were made for delegates to join a number of dynamic coalitions, made up of multi-stakeholder representatives, on Access to Knowledge, Internet Governance and Privacy. The forum will have links to these coalitions on its website.