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Future of the IGF - Revisiting "Tunis Compromise"?

The Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Sharm El Sheikh, and most of the Internet Governance (IG) policy in 2010 will focus on the future of the “Tunis Compromise” on IG reached at the 2005 WSIS. The “Tunis Compromise” introduced the Internet Governance Forum as a halfway point between those who opposed any change in the current ICANN-centreed regime and those who argued that the Internet should be governed through an intergovernmental arrangement.

What has happened between the end of WSIS in November 2005 and today? Are the policy parameters the same? Have has the IG field evolved? Is the “Tunis Compromise” still valid?


About “Tunis Compromise”

Let us start by refreshing our memory about developments at the 2005 WSIS in Tunis. In the last hours of negotiations, the compromise was achieved grosso modo by reconciling two approaches to Internet Governance. On one side, so the called “pro-ICANN” group, under the banner “do not fix what is not broken”, argued that Internet governance works well already and there is no need for any change. They insisted on maintaining the status quo with ICANN as the main player in the field of management of Internet names and numbers. This was the position of the United States, the business sector and quite a few governments from developed countries.

On the other side of the policy spectrum, there was an “anti-ICANN” group arguing that Internet governance must follow the development of the Internet. The Internet is a global facility and its governance should be global, with an intergovernmental process at its core. This group involved many developing countries, but the most prominent actors were BRICs (Brasil, Russia, India and China). When it comes to the level of government involvement, this group did not have a unified position. Some argued that the Internet should be managed by the ITU. Others argued for the establishment of a new organisation – an International Organisation for the Internet. Yet others insisted on international and governmental oversight of ICANN.

Besides these two poles in negotiations, many other countries and actors such as civil society, tried to find a middle space by creating a ZOPA (zone of possible agreement). Ultimately a ZOPA was created mainly by the EU and civil society. The ZOPA created a space for compromise and the establishment of the Internet Governance Forum. It was accepted as a solution by both sides. For the “pro-ICANN’ group it did not effectively change anything in the way the Internet governance regime is managed. They gave in by allowing IG-issues to be discussed in a multilateral arena such as the IGF. The “anti-ICANN’ lobby gave in on their radical request to replace ICANN by the ITU or another similar organisation. At the same time they gained ground by having IG issues discussed under the UN umbrella. This compromise was not just the outcome of a simple negotiation around a table. It had its genesis in the efforts of the Working Group on Internet Governance and civil society lobbying for the establishment of a multistakeholder body.

The other, less important, element of the “Tunis Compromise” is enhanced cooperation, which has not gained any ground, even today. For the analysis of the WSIS and “Tunis Compromise” please consult Alex Sceberras Trigona’s video-analysis, delivered one day after the conclusion of the Summit (and still valid!):

In the meantime, since the end of the WSIS in November 2005, there have been many developments which will be of high importance in discussing the “Tunis Compromise”. Is this compromise still valid? Has the policy context for this compromise changed? The answer may be found by focusing on three sets of issues:
• performance of the IGF over the last 4 years;
• changes in the broader field of Internet governance and policy;
• changes in global politics.

Each of these three aspects will affect any decision about the future of the IGF.


Performance of the IGF over the last 4 years

Like every compromise, the IGF involved different expectations. Some perceived the IGF as the ultimate form of Internet governance. Others saw it as a lull in the battle towards some other, mainly intergovernmental arrangement. These different perceptions affected the IGF from the very beginning. The differences were very clearly reflected in the discussions about ICANN-related issues and the outcome of the IGF (whether it should produce reports/recommendations). Apart from this inevitable political tension, the IGF must be considered a great success. It provided a high level of awareness-building, involving many policy makers. It was particularly important for bringing developing countries into the IG process. The IGF also went a long ways towards connecting previously separated policy areas. Prior to the IGF, issues such as privacy, intellectual property and disabilities were discussed in unconnected fora. The IGF provided them with an umbrella, which opened a space for new alliances and different ways of looking at problems and solutions. The IGF is also a unique success in management. And the IGF has achieved all of this with – for UN standards – modest resources.

The IGF has also had a strong multiplier effect by triggering many national and regional IGFs. Another area of the IGF’s particular achievements is in capacity building, where close to 1000 young people, mainly from developing countries have become involved in different training activities related to IG.


Changes in the Broader Field of Internet Governance and Policy


Let us zoom out a bit and see what the evolution of Internet governance and policy debate has been since 2005. One clear tendency is the increasing relevance of cyber security and child safety. Back in 2005 security/safety was just one of the issues. The other more prominent issues involved access, infrastructure and ICT for development. Over the last 4 years, governments have become increasingly aware of cyber-vulnerabilities and cyber-driven risks for the critical infrastructure of modern society. Cyber-security is one of the highest priorities of the Obama administration. There is a similar situation with other governments and international organisations. One could even argue that the cyber security/safety issue surpassed the ICANN-related issues as the core issues of the Internet governance debate recently.

There are two reasons why cyber security/safety becomes so important. Firstly, the more connected the world is, the more interdependent it becomes, and society becomes more vulnerable to any Internet-based disruption. Secondly, an unruly cyberspace questions one of the cornerstones of governments as the monopoly of power over any particular territory. While most states (except failed states) have a monopoly of physical power (military and police) they have a very little control over cyberspace. We can expect that most states will try to extend their role as the ultimate holder of power, to cyberspace. This will result in more intergovernmental initiatives on the global level, and higher pressure to “statize’ the IG process. This development, emerging since 2005, will inevitably influence the future position, purpose and role of the IGF.


Changes in the Global Politics

If we zoom out even further, we will see a third main development - a change in global politics. In only 4 years, we have seen substantive changes. The main change was the arrival of Obama’s government. The strong global suspicion towards the USA back in 2005 has lost its focus. Instead of shouting and giving orders, the US is listening. It is increasingly difficult to package any policy initiative in anti-US trappings, as was possible during Bush era. Another change is that the USA is not as powerful as it was back in 2005. The financial crisis has made a huge shift in global wealth. The US, like many developed countries, now has to address structural issues. One of the principal unknown factors is how the new US government will address the question of ICANN, which is becoming highly emotional in the US national debate.

Over the last few years another important development has been the emergence of BRICs (Brasil, Russia, India and China) as a new group of players with economic, political and military clout. The change in the financial distribution of power has already been acknowledged by the establishment of the G-20. The changes in economic power will gradually be followed by changes in the global political scene. An increasing number of issues will be discussed in the framework of the G-20+. Internet governance will be affected by it as well. It is very likely that BRICs will try to readjust the “Tunis Compromise” by shifting the IGF towards an intergovernmental organisation. This could take various forms, including a different position of governments in comparison to other actors, as well as a stronger decision-making power for the IGF, including the possibility of drafting “soft law” instruments. These efforts will be in parallel with a push to reform ICANN.


Future Negotiations

These three elements
• performance of the IGF over the last 4 years;
• changes in the broader field of Internet governance and policy;
• changes in global politics.

will set the backdrop for the re-negotiation of the future of the IGF. While it is difficult to predict the outcome of this process the following developments are likely:

• continuation of the IGF, based on the highly efficient and broad IGF-process over the last 4 years;
• stronger influence of governments on the IGF (possible two-tier structure)
• strengthened decision-making structure by having resolutions and other “soft law” instruments as outcome of the IGF-processes.

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Comment by Godfred FRU NGANG on September 11, 2009 at 4:05pm
Jovan, I agree totally with you. For as long as the UN remains the inter state institution it is, the states will never accept the civil society as a frontline negotiator and decision maker . Each state may accept that its position on each of the issues be a compromise,taking into consideration the different voices expressed by civil society. In the public arena, the civil society organizations are expected to toe the line and defend their national interests. The civil society may be involved in IG and when the overseeing of IG shifts into an institutionalized UN agency, there the state parties will brandish their voting rights and their powers to persuade and coerce.
Comment by Deirdre Williams on September 11, 2009 at 3:50am
Dear Jovan, how naive is it to imagine that governance itself is evolving and that the IGF is an early form of - mutation? Is it so unreasonable to envision that all the benefits of the Internet which are so earnestly discussed might in fact be happening, and influencing people and the way they behave? I have been thinking about this ever since I read your paper yesterday, about the disconnect between government and governed, in the context of a BBC news item about the train that left Hungary - twenty years ago? - and broke the Berlin Wall, reunified Germany. Who would have expected that that was what would happen?
I very much enjoyed reading what you wrote. Thank you. De
Comment by Jovan on September 10, 2009 at 12:16am
5) Do you think that civil society will be able to have real conditions to influence the IGF review process of will the governments decide everything on the backstage?

JOVAN: Civil society cannot be decision-maker, but it can be decision-shaper. For example, prior to the WSIS-Tunis, civil society shaped decision which were adopted by governments in Tunis. Most of ideas, including the proposal to establish the IGF came from civil society and academia. In the meantime, governments improved their IG-expertise. Comparing to 2003-2005 (WSIS), civil society and academia will have less exclusive role today. Civil society should focus on the success of the IGF and try to reduce space for governments “horse trading”.
Comment by Jovan on September 10, 2009 at 12:11am
4) Do you think that the BRICs would really gain from creating this two-tier structure? In Brazil for instance, the intelligentsia about Internet issues is not in the government, so they would have to start co-opting people to start working for the government in order to be able to support their positions internationally. In addition, as States are mostly not interested on that they consider "low politics" there would be a considerable impoverishment of the issues that are part of the global agenda.

There are differences among BRICs. China and Russia use government representation. India is more "multistakeholder". As an observer from distance, I have an impression that Brazil has fine-tuned system that could easily harness diversity of different views and channel it through government representatives. Generally speaking, the less multistakeholder the IGF will be, the more reduced the quality of the policy process will be. The advantage of the policy “long tail” (getting the ideas and proposals that could be otherwise lost in various governmental intermediaries).
Comment by Jovan on September 10, 2009 at 12:07am
3) Do you think that giving the IGF some decision-making power (soft power) necessarily entails creating a two-tier structure that favors governments? I would be in favor of the first, but not of the second.

JOVAN:
It is almost impossible that governments will accept other stakeholders to participate in multilateral decision-making. So far, it has been red-line in mutlistakeholderism. I do not expect any major change.

In order to be more precise, we should use a term“multi-tear” instead of “two-tear”. The basis for “multi-tear” structure already exists in the IG definition:

“A working definition of Internet governance is the development and application by governments, the private sector and civil society, IN THEIR RESPECTIVE ROLES, of shared principles, norms, rules, decision-making procedures, and programmes that shape the evolution and use of the Internet.”
Comment by Jovan on September 10, 2009 at 12:00am
2) Do you think that the IGF could have a spill-over effect on other organization and UN bodies when it comes to its multistakeholder characteristic?

JOVAN: Unfortunately not. Generaly speaking, there is regress in multistakehoder participation. Cardoso report, as an attempt to promote multistakeholderims in the UN, is almost dead. I am not aware of any example of a spill-over effect. Inertia is powerful in diplomacy. One illustration….. IGF introduced live transcripts of the open consultations. It is a great improvement in the way diplomacy is conducted. It makes verbal interventions more serious and responsible since “scripta manent”. Although live transcripts were introduced 4 years ago, I am aware of only one example of the use of live transcripts - ITU World Policy Conference in Lisbon.
Comment by Jovan on September 9, 2009 at 11:56pm
Thanks Marilia for inspiring questions. Let me try to answer them...

1) Is the increase on the space given to security issues on the agenda been achieved in a healthy way, with equilibrium among the need for security, freedom and privacy? In Brazil many Internet bills under debate in congress put security as the main topic, but in fact between the lines they diminish liberty of expression, access to knowledge and privacy. This change in the agenda is something really reactionary and negative in my opinion.

JOVAN: Yes, it will be extremely delicate balancing act between cybersecurity and human rights. The global policy pendulum is shifting towards state-centered agenda (order and stability). Some humaniratrian and human rights concepts such as “responsibility to protect”, that were introduced during Kofi Anan’s era, have been increasingly challenged. Here is an interesting article discussing shift in the global policy atmosphere by many states. This shift will affect a delicate balance between human rights and cybersecurity.

There is one possibility, which has not been used a lot by civil society and HR-community. It is a possible role of the Council of Europe as the balancer between cybersecurity and human rights agendas. As you know, the Council of Europe provides an institutional basis for the Cybercrime Convention. CoE is also an institution with strongest credentials in the field of human rights. Human rights concepts are in the fundaments of CoE. CoE is depository of European human rights conventions; it hosts European Human Right Court, etc. CoE is almost an ideal “bridge” between these two concerns: cybersecurity (Cybersecurity Convention) and human rights (the main activity of CoE). So far, I am only aware of civil society criticism of the Cybercrime Convention. I think that they can’t see forest for the trees. Strategically speaking, civil society and HR-community should partner more with CoE in order to preserve delicate balance the between cybersecurity and human rights.
Comment by Marília Maciel on September 9, 2009 at 2:54am
Jovan, great text. A lot of questions come to my mind and I am happy we will meet soon so I can "bother" you with them over coffee, if you have the time :)

1) Is the increase on the space given to security issues on the agenda been achieved in a healthy way, with equilibrium among the need for security, freedom and privacy? In Brazil many Internet bills under debate in congress put security as the main topic, but in fact between the lines they diminish liberty of expression, access to knowledge and privacy. This change in the agenda is something really reactionary and negative in my opinion.

2) Do you think that the IGF could have a spill-over effect on other organization and UN bodies when it comes to its multistakeholder characteristic?

3) Do you think that giving the IGF some decision-making power (soft power) necessarily entails creating a two-tier structure that favors governments? I would be in favor of the first, but not of the second.

4) Do you think that the BRICs would really gain from creating this two-tier structure? In Brazil for instance, the intelligentsia about Internet issues is not in the government, so they would have to start co-opting people to start working for the government in order to be able to support their positions internationally. In addition, as States are mostly not interested on that they consider "low politics" there would be a considerable impoverishment of the issues that are part of the global agenda.

5) Do you think that civil society will be able to have real conditions to influence the IGF review process of will the governments decide everything on the backstage?

Congratulations for the instigative text!

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