Why the Internet Governance Forum is Important to Us

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Last week, over 2,500 participants from around the world gathered in João Pessoa, Brazil to discuss Internet standards and policies at the 10th annual Internet Governance Forum (IGF). From November 10-13, attendees and remote participants discussed the evolution of Internet governance through the lens of sustainable development. Topics included cybersecurity and trust, enhancing multistakeholder cooperation, the impact of trade on Internet governance and regulation, and Internet and human rights.

Since the IGF’s inception at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in 2005, it has served as an invaluable space for governments, civil society, academia, the technical community, and the private sector to learn from one another, share best practices and policy recommendations, and collaborate with new partners. Over the years, Public Knowledge has welcomed this opportunity for stakeholders to come together and develop their vision for the future of the Information Society. However, the IGF’s mandate is set to expire at the end of this year and its course will be determined at the ten-year review of the WSIS (WSIS+10) on December 15-16. For this reason, Public Knowledge signed a joint statement on the final phase of the WSIS+10 negotiations to convey that it is time to do the following:

  • renew the IGF and implement recommendations for its improvement;
  • preserve the multistakeholder model of governance; and
  • promote access to an open and inclusive Internet.

Platforms like the IGF are a crucial venue for open and collaborative multistakeholder dialogue that will help shape the future of the Internet. Extending its mandate will be a step towards achieving a secure and open Internet. Over 100 organizations and individuals have already signed on to the joint statement, and we urge you to add your support as well. 

What happened at the 2015 IGF? Here are a few highlights.

Discussions about cybersecurity and human rights online were prevalent at this year’s IGF.  Public Knowledge contributed to these topics through various meetings, panels, and workshops. This included hosting a cybersecurity strategy meeting with Latin American digital rights advocates to identify venues and ways for Latin American civil society to engage in the cybersecurity debate. This effort is also tied to our forthcoming cybersecurity program to support civil society’s engagement in the development of their respective national cybersecurity agendas. To learn more about our work in this area, please see our Cybersecurity and Human Rights issue page.

Additionally, Public Knowledge’s Vice President of International Policy, Carolina Rossini, co-organized and moderated a panel entitled “How Trade Agreements Shape the Future of Internet Governance.” The session included a diverse group of representatives from civil society, the European parliament, business, academia, and the U.S. government, and the discussion focused on the impact of bilateral and multilateral trade agreements on Internet governance.

This is a particularly important topic that we believe more digital rights activists need to follow. Trade negotiations are increasingly becoming the vehicles for norm setting on Internet policy issues, such as intellectual property, domain names, e-commerce, human rights, privacy, cybersecurity, spectrum, access to telecommunications, and the free flow of information. Many of these negotiations are being held in secrecy, among governments and few private sector lobbies. The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the current negotiations of the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA) and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) are prime examples of this. The panel assessed how the inclusion of these Internet policy issues, in closed door, state-to-state agreements, impact the future of multistakeholder Internet governance and the digital rights at stake.

Finally, in an IGF pre-event, we joined the Association for Progressive Communications, the Center for Democracy and Technology, Coding Rights, and Global Partners Digital in a WSIS+10 strategy meeting to discuss the main issues at stake and coordinate with other organizations to ensure that civil society priorities are strongly reflected in the WSIS+10 review. Such priorities include aligning the WSIS+10 review with the Sustainable Development Goals, bridging the digital divide, and protecting human rights online, such as the right to privacy and access to information. Read our latest comments on the WSIS+10 zero-draft from our discussion, and for further details, see our input from our previous joint submission.

Overall, the IGF provided us with a wonderful opportunity to brainstorm ideas, strategize plans of action, problem solve, learn new skills, and develop a deeper understanding of some of the biggest challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. We believe that it is a valuable platform that allows us the freedom to imagine the future of the Internet through multistakeholder dialogue and develop better-informed policy recommendations. We look forward to its continuation in the years to come. 

For a complete agenda and recordings of the sessions we organized, moderated, or spoke at, click here.

Image credit: igf2015.br

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