Pilar Del Castillo, MEP and EIF Chair officiated the 11 July EIF breakfast debate, which was centered on preparations for the November meeting of the Internet Governance Forum in Baku.
Megan Richards, Deputy Director-General of DG CONNECT began by stressing the importance of maintaining a inclusive, multi-stakeholder approach to internet governance, citing Neelie Kroes' proposed Compact for the Internet. But, she continued, what good is the IGF and why is it so important? There are already, as critics are quick to point out, many other fora touching on internet governance, both within the individual member states, on the European level, and internationally. Some people, Richards noted, feel that the IGF is unstructured and lacks focus. While there are certainly ways in which the IGF could be improved, she acknowledged, the Commission holds that the IGF is the best forum in which to discuss issues surrounding internet governance. That, she explained, is why the Commission underwrites the work of the IGF. In conclusion, Richards expressed the Commission's strong desire to avoid a situation in which the International Telecommunication Union might displace the traditional multi-stakeholder governance model.
Next on the morning roster was Wolfgang Kleinwächter, Professor for Internet Policy and Regulation at the University of Aarhus. Professor Kleinwächter recounted his involvement with the IGF from its very beginning, at which time he served as part of the United Nations Working Group on Internet Governance. The perception at that time, he continued, was that while ICANN already provided a strong oversight mechanism there was a vacuum for a suitable forum in which to discuss and clarify issues prior to the decision-making process. As the IGF's initial five year UN mandate came to a close, Kleinwächter recalled, a discussion arose regarding how the institution might be improved. While some urged empowering the IGF with decision-making powers there proved to be no clear consensus. In response, the UN established a working group to consider possible improvements to the IGF. The Professor went on to praise the IGF's multi-stakeholder model, suggesting that it offers a promising alternative model to traditional intergovernmental negotiations. The outcomes of a multi-stakeholder model, he argued, are more sustainable than those emerging from an exclusive decision-making process. ACTA, the Professor continued, provides an excellent illustration of what happens when important stakeholders are excluded from policy discussions. Professor Kleinwächter described how, due to the informal manner in which IGF meetings are conducted participants are often unaware who is sitting across the table from them. For example, there is no assigned seating arrangement or colored name badges to indicate whether someone is associated with a multinational corporation or an NGO. In this atmosphere people who might never speak to each another in a more formal setting drop their guard a bit. This, he said, has the result that the underlying strength of argument takes center stage. It is the very fact that the IGF has no decision-making outputs that allow these fruitful discussions to occur and, he continued, to grant the IGF with new powers might destroy the unique value of the institution. The IGF currently has a several weaknesses, Professor Kleinwächter admitted: the secretariat is underfunded, the institution itself is unknown by many, and further outreach is needed in some regions in order to make it a truly global body. He expressed his hope that IGF participants (at the UN level) would connect with the emerging regional and national IGF bodies to further disseminate lessons drawn from global IGF discussions. Kleinwächter praised the Commission's efforts in organizing an interchange between the national (member state) IGFs during the 2012 EuroDIG conference in Stockholm. Switching gears, Kleinwächter noted that as there a number of documents along the lines of Commissioner Kroes' proposed Internet Compact presently being circulated by the OECD and various national governments there appears to be, in his view, a perceived need for something like a general framework document on internet rights and principals. Harking back to the post-war era, the Professor recounted how the UN's 1948 adoption of the non-binding Universal Declaration of Human Rights served to clarify peoples' thinking around human rights issues, which in later years served as the underpinning of a number of international treaties. This process was a gradual evolution, Kleinwächter stressed, and while the time is probably not right for an actual treaty it is, he argued, high time to begin the drafting of a non-binding framework document on internet governance. Such a draft would require input and participation of government, civil society, the private sector, and experts from the technical community. Perhaps in future, he speculated, the IGF might serve as a vital catalyst to this process.
Joseph Alhadeff, Vice President for Global Public Policy and Chief Privacy Officer at Oracle, was the final speaker of the morning. He questioned the thinking of those seeking to transform the IGF into a decision-making body. One might, he joked, choose any random three or four letters from the alphabet, combine them into an acronym, and find that there is already an existing intergovernmental decision-making body by that name. The unique role of the IGF, he argued, is that whereas with other internet governance fora people come forearmed with a preconceived negotiating position precisely because the IGF has no formal outputs there people actually talk. When, he continued, it is a forgone conclusion that, "this is the piece of paper we're going to end up with," there isn't a real exchange of ideas in the panels, valuable hallway networking opportunities are missed, and participants are generally too worried about ensuring their own interests are reflected in the output that they can't effectively pass their own ideas on an issue across as inputs to the thinking of others. Alhadeff spoke about the need to better capture and disseminate the knowledge gained after the panels are over and everyone has gone home. The IGF, he said, is great but without routine debrief meetings at the local and regional bodies participants retain all this valuable information in their own heads and its potential benefits are thereby constrained. Alhadeff acknowledged that, as Professor Kleinwächter suggested, the IGF served a valuable purpose as an early-warning system for the potential downsides to technological innovations but, he countered, there is a coequal need to point out potential unforeseen benefits, too. Alhadeff expressed his concern that, should the IGF undertake the drafting of a framework document along the lines Kleinwächter discussed, along the way it might wind up turning into yet another negotiating body. "IGF", he concluded, "are three letters that aren't like all the other three letters. Let's keep it that way!"See event