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IGF 2009 Editorial by Meryam Marzouki, HR expert

Interesting editorial by Meryam. Reminds me that we should be thinking about participating in the agenda-setting for IGF 2010. I have started a Diplo @ IGF 2010 Group so we can work on it!!!

ENDitorial: IGF 2009: the Forum is the Message (and the Massage as well)

2 December, 2009

Internet Governance Forum or Internet Governance Fair? One might still wonder what the IGF acronym stands for, after the closing of its fourth annual meeting in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, on 18 November 2009. As usual, the IGF featured a number (111 over 4 days!) of so-called multi-stakeholder panels and workshops, exhibition booths, launching events and other happenings. One might still equally wonder what 'Internet Governance' means in the IGF context: apparently, any and all Internet issues, roughly categorized under 7 headings: Access, Diversity, Openness, Security, Critical Internet Resources, Development and Capacity Building.

The new comer finds it hard to understand the difference between discussion formats: main session (though run in parallel with up to 9 other events), workshop, open forum, best practice forum, dynamic coalition meeting: what's the exact difference in the end? The veteran is still waiting for the 'round-table' format, that is, a more output-oriented format for issues that have reached a certain level of maturity, that one would have expected as a result of the February and May 2009 IGF consultation meetings. But 'outcome' seems a banned concept, if not a jinx, at IGF. Marshall McLuhan would probably have liked it: the Forum is indeed the message and the massage altogether. However, some participants have a precise agenda to advance for better or worse.

The Association for Progressive Communication (APC) took further steps on its joint initiative with the Council of Europe and UNECE towards a "Code of Good Practice on Transparency, Information and Participation in Internet governance", which builds on the principles of WSIS and the Aarhus Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and the international Public Voice Coalition were instrumental in making privacy a key and crosscutting issue at this year IGF, most notably by moderating the main session on "security, openness, and privacy" and by convening high quality informative workshops to put privacy in focus in emerging contexts such as cloud computing, behavioural targeting and social networks. IGF was indeed the perfect opportunity for the Public Voice Coalition, of which EDRI is a main actor, to campaign on and collect more signatures to the recently adopted "Madrid Civil Society Declaration on Global Privacy Standards in a Global World".

On the worrying side, no less than 3 workshops were explicitly dedicated to the promotion of the Council of Europe (CoE) Convention on Cybercrime through CoE (privately co-funded) projects. While these projects claim to include data protection and privacy in their objectives, this would certainly be better achieved if the CoE (as well as private companies) were dedicating comparable resources to the promotion of the CoE Convention 108 for the Protection of Individuals with regard to Automatic Processing of Personal Data, together with its 2001 additional Protocol regarding supervisory authorities and transborder data flows. Another preoccupying issue is the promotion by many governments, but also by other stakeholders including some NGOs, of regulations and public-private initiatives to fight the "dangers" of the Internet through content regulation measures that have shown, till now, more harm to human rights and especially the rights to freedom of expression, to privacy and to access to knowledge, than effective protection of vulnerable groups.

Human rights are not simply a discussion topic: they form a set of international state binding standards. Active campaigning and uncompromising on the softening and dilution of basic universal principles seems to be still required from the civil society side. While APC and some other participants seem to consider that human rights are gaining prominence at the IGF, it remains to be proven that, beyond endless discussions, the realization of human rights in the digital environment is making effective progress thanks to the IGF... or even AT the IGF one should rather say: during an event organized by the Open Net Initiative (ONI) to launch the book entitled "Access controlled", a promotion poster was taken down by security personnel on the grounds that it showed the following sentence: 'China's famous "Great Firewall of China" is one of the first national Internet filtering systems', a display which was claimed to violate UN policy.

Should the IGF continue, then? Almost all stakeholders, including civil society ones, advocated in favour of the continuation of the IGF in the written comments they submitted as well as at the main session dedicated to the desirability of the Forum continuation after the expiration of its first 5-years mandate in 2010. Particularly and unanimously praised were the capacity building feature of the IGF and its ability to facilitate open dialogue among different stakeholders and different viewpoints. Governments are divided, though, on whether the IGF should lead to negotiated and/or binding outcomes: Canada, USA, and the EU presidency strongly stood against such idea, rather favouring IGF continuation in its current form. Others, like Brazil, Kenya and Switzerland, advocated for more concrete but not negotiated outcomes. China was the most clear and direct: "without reform to the present IGF, it is not necessary to give the IGF a five-year extension", advocating for a more classical UN style discussion. All developing countries highlighted the need for better inclusion and involvement of participants from the Global South. Since the IGF will probably be continued, the fact that the IGF 2011 will be held in Kenya might bring some improvement on this last issue. Next year's IGF meeting will be in Vilnius, Lithuania, on 14-17 September 2010.

Internet Governance Forum, with workshops list and main sessions transcript (15-18.11.2009)

APC's project for a code of good practice in Internet governance

EPIC and The Public Voice workshops on Privacy (15-18.11.2009)

The Madrid Privacy Declaration (3.11.2009)

Council of Europe Projects on Cybercrime

EDRi-gram: The 2001 Coe Cybercrime Conv. More Dangerous Than Ever (20.07.2007)

APC's assessment of IGF 2009 (26.11.2009)

ONI's poster taken down and related videos, including UN Statement on the incident (15.11.2009)

(Contribution by Meryem Marzouki, EDRI-member IRIS - France)

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