WGIG will Reassess - or Reassert? - Governments' Role in Internet
Date: Tuesday September 21 2004, @09:55AM
Topic: WSIS

The United Nations consultation exercise on the WGIG attracted a surprisingly large number of governments. About 250 people attended the event, including delegations from most of the world's governments. The consultation was held in Geneva's Palais des Nations. Nitin Desai of India, the Under-Secretary-General for economic and social affairs who presided over the meeting, announced at the end that it "has been more constructive than expected."

South Africa either was absent or completely silent but Brazil, one of the key critics of ICANN and a driver of the creation of the WGIG, clarified the rationale underlying its push for a UN working group (see story inside).

On Tuesday Brazilian diplomat J.M. Nogeuira Viana explained his country's rationale for pushing for the WGIG:

"Internet governance is more than identifiers. Data protection, spam, multilingualism, interconnection costs, intellectual property protection, digital divide all are internet governance issues. In most of these areas the main responsibilities lie with govts. Yet they lack the means to coordinate policy at the international level. Brazil proposes the creation of an intergovernmental forum where governments can discuss these issues. Its purpose is not to substitute for existing agencies, but to provide a venue for govts to express their opinions and coordinate with each other. There is a need for a multilateral forum to allow for the representation of sovereign states on equal conditions."

Brazil's more provocative Monday intervention assailed what it called "five myths" of Internet governance:

1. It is a myth that there really is such a thing as independent, private sector management of the internet addressing system. In fact, ICANN's MoU with the U.S. Department of Commerce reveals that it is closer to a government.
2. It is a myth that governments have a say in ICANN's activities via the GAC. GAC is advisory, the influence of governments is comparable to the influence of nonshareholders in a private company.
3. It is a myth that an intergovernmetnal approach will jeopardize the free speech on the internet. Free speech is endangered when one government controls the system, not when all do.
4. It is a myth that any attempt to regulate management of the internet might stall innovation. The premise is false - there is already regulation, what is lacking is an approach to it grounded in the public sector
5. There is no well organized "international conspiracy" to control management of the Internet. Brazil favors a democratic, transparent and multilateral system, including the private sector, civil society, and international organizations.

Brazil and several other governments are particularly unsatisfied with the role of ICANN's Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) in the governance of Internet identifiers. The GAC itself, it is worth recalling, was an after thought, an addition to ICANN's governance structure made as a concession to the European Union. As originally conceived, ICANN was to have no governmental involvement at all. Privately, they criticize GAC for being ineffectual as well as poorly organized. In terms of concrete proposals for change, expect ideas about the role of GAC to circulate during the WGIG consultations.

Brazil was far from alone. Speaking on behalf of an "Asian group of states," Pakistan said that "Internet governance includes technical and public policy issues. Policy authority is the sovereign right of states." China, Algeria, Saudi Arabia either expressed similar sentiments or explicitly endorsed Pakistan's statement. This group of states also argued for making the WGIG "open-ended," which some interpreted as a code word to mean that no specific group of people should be charged with the drafting of the report, but that meetings should be held in which any government could participate.

The push of developing countries for a stronger role for governments is difficult to reconcile with the growing movement among NGOs, policy advocates, intellectuals, the scientific, academic and technical communities, and developed world governments for more influence for "civil society." Indeed, this contradiction seems strangely characteristic of the entire World Summit on the Information Society. In addition to giving voice to dissatisfied governments and an opportunity to reassert governments' role in Internet governance, WSIS has also strengthened the determination, organization and conviction of the civil society advocates to play a larger role. Academics William Drake, Jovan Kurbalija and Milton Mueller framed the debate in the early stages of the meeting with analytical contributions about the definition of Internet, Internet governance and the scope of the WGIG. The Association for Progressive Communications' Karen Banks and Olivier Nana Nzepa of Cameroon voiced concerns of civil society as well. Banks called for turning the DoC's policy authority over the DNS root to the UN Secertary General as an interim measure. Various governments praised the contributions of the civil society commentators, noting, in the words of the Canadian representative, that "they demonstrated the value of broader consultation and the merits of civil society input." The WSIS-CS Internet Governance Caucus's co-chair Jeanette Hoffman presented a well thought out proposal regarding the composition and structure of the WGIG which also impressed several governmental delegates, including EU and Canada. The caucus called for equal representation on the WGIG for civil society, governments and the private business sector, whereas most governments were asking that half the WGIG be made up of governmental representatives. The Internet Society also impressed many delegates with its description of the open and "bottom up" nature of the IETF and the history of this method in building up the Internet.

The push by some in civil society to detach the working Group from the WSIS process, in order to make it less intergovernmental in nature, was soundly rebuffed by governments and the WGIG secretariat. In the words of the Cuba delegate, "the [WGIG's] basic purpose is to facilitate a decision in the (WSIS) summit." The Secretariat adopted a schedule for the WGIG's group that made the WGIG process completely subordinate to the WSIS Phase 2 schedule. The WGIG is expected to complete its report by late June 2005, in order to be able to put it in front of governments in time for the July 2005 Prepcom.

There was widespread agreement that internet governance is more than identifiers and ICANN. China, Brazil, and the Asian states all agreed that issues such as cybercrime, spam, IPR. In summarizing the proceeding, Nitin Desai made five points:
"1. The contributions from civil society, the internet community and few from corporate sector all recognize the role of public policy. They just want us to also recognize the role they have played in building the internet over the years. There is remarkable convergence on some key ideas. There is a general belief that internet governance should be treated from a broad perspective, to include management of internet resources, spam, cybercrime, multilingualism, etc.

2. WGIG should be based on a multistakeholder approach. This should be reflected in its composition and the way it works. Desai didn't "sense any dissent from this point of view.

3. WGIG membership mst be balanced. This means regions, development, political points of view, gender, etc.

4. There must be an open, transparent and inclusive process. WGIG will not be a classical UN group of experts, which, once named, goes away for 10 months and submits a report. It must hold consultations regularly. People must be able to influence things at an early stage. The consulations cannot be limited to people who can physically attend, but must use electronic methods. (Jim Fleming and Jeff Williams, fire up your keyboards!)

5. finally, Desai noted the difference between those who advocated an "open-ended group," and those who promoted a smaller drafting group. This difference may be smaller than it sppears, because in any large group someone must do the drafting, he said.

In the end, Desai asked, whose report comes to you in july? Is it a report of a core group, consulting widely, or a report of states to themselves, which is then rubber-stamped in wsis? These differnces, he concluded, are "relatively bridgable."

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