Ninth School of Internet Governance: A Review

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Raquel Rennó is a current student in Public Knowledge’s Open Internet Course. The blog post was originally published here.

The Ninth South School of Internet Governance (SSIG) took place at Fundação Getúlio Vargas in Rio de Janeiro during the first week of April 2017. Directed by Olga Cavalli and Adrian Carballo, SSIG aims to strengthen the representation of Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) region where Internet Governance (IG) is discussed and defined; it is also a goal of SSIG to create a space for education of a new generation of professionals that participate actively in the IG.

Since the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Tunis, 2005, sponsored by the United Nations, the term Internet Governance has increased in popularity, bringing together numerous stakeholders such as the public and private sectors, civil society, technical and academic experts, to formulate and apply norms, principles, programs and decision making policies regarding the evolution and use of the Internet. It is not the purpose of this post to discuss the definition and history of Internet Governance; a complete introduction and further reading material can be found in the Module 5 of the Open Internet Course by Public Knowledge.

SSIG 2017 introduced talks and roundtables about the most relevant subjects for the Internet Governance Community. It also followed the multistakeholder format, as found in various Internet Governance Forums in the world. Almost 200 students from Latin America, many with a full scholarship from SSIG – a very important support that guaranteed the diversity of LAC countries to be represented in the event –  gathered to discuss and listen to experts in areas as diverse as blockchain, domain names, access and eCommerce (the complete program of activities can be accessed here). Although the attendees of the course were mostly young people, the audience was very qualified and some of the questions and ideas raised by the students were crucial in exposing paradoxes and complexities from the Latin American context. The videos of all SSIG activities can be found in the FGV channel on Youtube.

Not only subjects traditionally discussed in Internet Governance forums were presented, but also new and complex themes as algorithm governance and the challenges of Internet of Things were touched upon. Those subjects are a clear example of how the ¨three layers of the internet¨ – as defined by Law professor Yochai Benkler regarding IG: physical infrastructure layer, code or logical layer and content layer  – seem to overlap. When algorithms and AI organize and sometimes directly interfere in the way a society receives and produces information, the regulation and policies, which normally follow general culture and practices of a community, have to be discussed sometimes before or during the introduction of a new tool or technology. These are some of the innovative subjects that the new generation of Internet Governance leaders will have to deal with. In the case of Latin America, things become even more complicated since emergent topics as regulation and management of IoT co-exist with basic issues that are part of social economic disparities and in many cases, fragile democracy, as the low Internet access and gender, linguistic, and racial diversity (that, according to the post from Hudson Ribeiro, one of the students attending the course, was an issue even inside SSIG 2017).

In general terms, the event is very recommendable and important for any student, professional and researcher interested in the heterogeneous visions, power tensions and sometimes difficulties of the multistakeholder model regarding the Internet. SSIG organization and FGV encourage networking and engagement among the group, which makes it also a personal positive experience. Most of the speakers are open to further discussing specific topics that a student would like to develop in his or her professional work in ways that, according to my experience as workshop coordinator in forums as the Internet Governance Forum, is not always possible due to the lack of time of the speakers and intense agenda of the meetings. The final result is a stronger group of people that can contribute to the definition of a more open and free Internet in the Latin American context.

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