Rebuilding the trust of Internet users

While reaffirming the need to strengthen the multi-stakeholder approach to Internet governance, the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), which took place from 22-25 October in Bali, Indonesia, concluded with an acknowledgement that surveillance is the major emerging issue of the year. In the context of the recent revelations about government-led Internet surveillance activities, the Forum discussed the need to ensure better protection of all citizens in the online environment.  

The theme of this 8th Forum was ‘Building Bridges – Enhancing Multistakeholder Cooperation for Growth and Sustainable Development’. The annual IGF has become the unique multi-stakeholder platform for discussions on all policy issues related to the Internet. Nearly 1,500 delegates from 111 different countries participated.

Any Internet surveillance practices motivated by security concerns should only happen within a truly democratic framework.

Surveillance practices and democratic framework

Discussions also explored how to reach a proper balance between actions driven by national security concerns and the respect for internationally recognized human rights, such as the right to privacy and freedom of expression. Several focus sessions and workshops touched upon these issues, thus generating a truly multistakeholder dialogue, focused on the need to rebuild the trust of Internet users, which has been seriously affected by these actions. It was underlined throughout the week that any Internet surveillance practices motivated by security concerns should only happen within a truly democratic framework, ensuring their adequacy, proportionality, due process and judicial oversight.

Mr. Thomas Gass, Assistant Secretary General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs in UN DESA attended the opening ceremony of the Internet Governance Forum and addressed the audience, on behalf of Mr. Wu Hongbo, Under-Secretary General for Economic and Social Affairs, underlining the importance of the IGF as the “premier multistakeholder forum for policy dialogue related to Internet governance issues” and reaffirmed the support of the United Nations for the multistakeholder model for Internet governance that the IGF embodies.

Human rights on the Internet

While maintaining the traditional IGF thematic discussions, the 8th IGF introduced new formats and refocused some of the forum’s traditional issues, in an attempt to keep the Forum in line with the evolving landscape of Internet governance discussions. The meeting featured for the first time a focused plenary session dedicated to human rights on the Internet and also included cross-cutting  discussions on principles of Internet governance and the multistakeholder governance model of the Internet, principles championed by the IGF inspired by the Tunis Agenda. The Bali meeting also strived to produce some more tangible outcomes or ‘take-aways’ for participants and those following remotely. Each of the plenary sessions addressed specific policy questions and aimed to analyze both convergent and divergent views on the various topics.

The various sub-themes for the Forum included: Access and Diversity – Internet as an Engine for Growth and Sustainable Development; Openness – Human rights, Freedom of Expression and Free Flow of Information on the Internet; Security – Legal and other Frameworks: Spam, Hacking and Cyber-crime; Enhanced Cooperation; Principles of Multistakeholder Cooperation and Internet Governance Principles. 135 focus sessions, workshops, open forums, flash sessions and other meetings took place over the event.

How to best utilize the Internet in development

Throughout the week delegates’ exchanged information and shared best practices with one another on a wide variety of Internet governance issues, as the forum aimed to facilitate a mutual understanding of how to best utilize the Internet in development efforts and also mitigate risks and challenges that might arise as a result of emerging technologies.

The Internet Governance Forum has met annually since the 2006 World Summit on the Information Society to foster a common understanding of how to maximize Internet opportunities and address emerging risks and challenge. The IGF (which is not a decision-making body) is also intended as a space for developing countries to be granted the same opportunity as wealthier nations to engage in the debate on Internet governance, as well as to facilitate their participation in existing institutions and arrangements.

The annual IGF has become the major multi-stakeholder platform for discussions on all policy issues related to the Internet. It is a neutral space that provides all stakeholders an equal footing. Each year it prepares the grounds for negotiations at the highest levels in other institutions.

 

For more information on the IGF and to access the archived transcripts and webcasts from the meeting, visit the IGF website: http://www.intgovforum.org/cms/