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

By EDRi · December 2, 2009

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Deutsch: [ENDitrorial: IGF 2009 – das Forum ist die Message (und auch die Massage)| http://www.unwatched.org/node/1615]

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

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

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)

Madrid Declaration

Council of Europe Projects on Cybercrime

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

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)