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The substantive agenda of the first meeting of the Internet Governance Forum

Summary of the discussions and contributions

The preparatory process for the Convening of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) started a broad-based discussion on the substantive agenda. This paper aims to produce a short synthesis of the discussion as well as the contributions posted on the IGF website (http://www.intgovforum.org). It is an attempt to give a cumulative overview of all statements and contributions made with the aim of facilitating the discussion at the next round of open consultations, scheduled to be held in Geneva on 19 May 2006.

First round of consultations

At the first round of consultations, held in Geneva on 16-17 February 2006, participants were invited to list the top three policy issues they would like the first meeting of the IGF to address. 

After the consultations, a short synthesis of the public policy issues discussed during the meeting and also reflecting responses to a questionnaire was released by the IGF Secretariat (http://www.intgovforum.org/brief.htm). 

This synthesis included:

  • A recognition of an emerging consensus that the activities of the IGF should have an overall development orientation.
  • A recognition of an emerging consensus that capacity building to enable meaningful participation in global Internet policy development should be an overarching priority.
  • A recognition that meaningful participation included both assistance to attend meetings and training in the subject matter of Internet governance.
  • A listing of the ten most frequently mentioned public policy issues in the consultations:
  • Spam
  • Multilingualism
  • Cybercrime
  • Cybersecurity
  • Privacy and data protection
  • Freedom of expression and human rights
  • International interconnection costs
  • Bridging the digital divide: access and policies
  • Bridging the digital divide: financing
  • Rules for e-commerce, e-business and consumer protection.

Contributions submitted in March and April

Based on the call for comment, a total of 43 contributions were submitted by governments, private sector, civil society, the academic and technical community as well as intergovernmental organizations. The contributions addressed a wide variety of public policy issues.  Many of them included not only a description of a public policy issue, but also included an expanded discussion on the importance of the issue, the actors involved in the issue and an explanation of reasons why the issue should be included in the agenda of the first IGF meeting.

The emerging consensus, originally reported after the February consultations, that the IGF needed to maintain an overall development orientation was reinforced by many of the contributions. One proposal – by the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) - recommended that the major issues be combined within a framework of a development agenda on Internet governance.

Capacity building was the most frequently addressed issue.  It was presented not only in terms of the growing consensus for its priority in enabling meaningful participation but also as a specific policy issue.  When looking at capacity building it was pointed out that access to education, culture and knowledge was a recognized human right.  Other authors pointed out the necessity of fostering the ability of all stakeholders from all countries to participate in the process of Internet governance.  The discussion of capacity building also extended to consideration of technical standards and the need that they be developed in such a way as to not hinder capacity building.  One contribution offered concrete programs that could be explored to foster open educational resources that could be made available over the network. The Coordinating Committee of Business Interlocutors (CCBI) and the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) in their contribution suggest focusing on capacity building as the basis for progress on all other issues in the IGF and as an essential element to effective Internet governance.

The next four issues had similar levels of support and were the next most frequently discussed in the contributions:

  • Privacy and data protection with its relation to human rights and digital identity
  • The security related issue of spam viruses and phishing
  • Issues of freedom of expression and human rights
  • The concern for equitable and transparent management of critical Internet resources.

On the issue of privacy and data protection several contributions discussed the evolving concept of digital identity.  It is predicted that these new technologies will allow a greater degree of public trust once policy deliberation has clarified the benefits and risks of on-line life.  Another issue discussed under this category concerned protection of the privacy rights of Internet users and website owners. Several of the contributions brought out the linkage between privacy and data protection and governance and human rights.  

The next issue concerned spam.  Frequently the discussion of spam was combined with discussions of other network problems such as viruses and phishing, as spam is the major vehicle by which such security risks are delivered to Internet users.  Because of this linkage, the issue was closely allied with the issue of cybersecurity by many of the contributions. The importance of finding a solution for these problems focused on the need for a safe and reliable Internet.  It was also mentioned that if the Internet is not secure, or if a large percent of email consists of spam, viruses and phishing attacks then users will not trust the Internet, which in turn will decrease the usefulness of the network.

Issues involved in freedom of expression and human rights were also a major focus of the statements received.  Some of the issues that were brought up include content policies and filtering as well as the relationship between intellectual property rights and access to knowledge.

Another frequently discussed issue involved the transparent and equitable management of critical Internet resources.

To a lesser but still substantial extent, there were other issues that were proposed for the first meeting of the IGF in Athens.

  • Cybercrime was also linked to cybersecurity and the need for a safe and reliable Internet to ensure access and reliable use.
  • Access, policies and financing to bridge the digital divide.  This is an important issue to the developing countries. 
  • Multilingualism and local content in the Internet.
  • Rules for e-commerce, e-business and consumer protection. Those who recommended this topic pointed to the Internet's role as a key public infrastructure for economic activity.  In this category there was also discussion of consumer rights and a suggestion that the IGF define the consumer rights involved in on-line purchases and in commerce in digital goods.
  • International connection costs and their effect on access, in particular in developing countries.  This topic was also related to financing efforts for bridging the digital divide.

Two contributions recalled the Open Regional Dialogue on Internet Governance (ORDIG), which had carried out a survey of stakeholder views on Internet governance priorities throughout the Asia-Pacific region. This project of the United Nations Development Programme’s Asia-Pacific Development Information Programme (UNDP-APDIP) was conducted in 12 major regional languages. The survey, the largest to date on Internet governance, received over 1,200 responses from 37 countries and representatives of all major stakeholder groups. The contributions recall that the following issues emerged as top priorities in the Asia-Pacific region: connectivity and access, multilingualism, spam and viruses, and cybercrime,

   

A number of issues were mentioned by a small number of contributors.  These issues included:

  • The promotion of open standards and non proprietary development methods
  • Emerging issues in technology and their governance.  Some of the issues explored included network neutrality, Voice over IP (VOIP) and peer-to-peer technologies.
  • A suggestion that the IGF discuss the rights and duties of users of the Internet
  • A recommendation on the use of effective methods for Internet  governance
  • A suggestion for sharing best practices in current Internet governance arrangements and for encouraging the adoption of methods and mechanisms that reflect the spirit of the WSIS principles.

Several contributions made reference to the public nature of the Internet and of the need to explore issues of public interest, the public domain, public infrastructure and the public good in the context of the Internet.

Preliminary Conclusions and Questions

A cumulative listing of priority issues since the beginning of the preparatory process would appear to confirm the top issues listed in the first synthesis paper. Capacity building, spam, cybercrime, privacy and data protection and multilingualism appear to be the most frequently mentioned items. It should also be noted that the Group of 77 and China in their submission put a great emphasis on issues related to the access to the Internet, such as international interconnection costs and the affordability and availability of the Internet, as well as issues related to bridging the digital divide.

There are a few open questions however that the meeting on 19 May 2006 may wish to address.

- There will be a need to establish some division of labour between the IGF and the general WSIS follow-up. Some access issues, such as international interconnection costs, would appear to fall under the remit of the IGF, while other “digital divide issues” might better be dealt with in the WSIS follow-up and implementation framework.

- There appear to be two different approaches to the agenda: one approach favours a focus on one or at the most a small number of issues to be dealt with in depth, while another approach favours a broad discussion on any issue that is considered to be important. As it might prove difficult to reach a common understanding on any one of these possible approaches, there might be some merit in combining the two. There could be a vertical axis with workshops that would deal in depth with two or three priority issues and a horizontal axis allowing for a broad policy debate. Such a debate could include an “open microphone” session.

- The undisputed priority given to the issue of capacity building raises the question of how this should be dealt with. Should it be dealt with as a horizontal issue, that is should all priority issues have a capacity building aspect? Or should it be dealt with as a separate issue, maybe identifying the various areas where capacity building is most urgent and necessary?