The IGF in transition: keeping the multi-stakeholder dream alive

12 October 2011 Author: EIFonline

The IGF this year was a special one as the IGF in Nairobi was the first event in the second cycle of the IGF, with an extended mandate for another 5-year term. As such, high expectations had been vested into the IGF this year. At the same time some key people departed from IGF, which seemed to leave a power vacuum. The EIF Breakfast Debate on the IGF provided an intriguing overview of both the internal politics of IGF and the issues at stake.

First of all, the Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD) had been tasked by the UN with setting up a Working Group to do a review of the IGF and to come up with recommendations for IGF improvements. A small group of governments felt it would be best if this working group would be composed of governments only. Although the decision was later modified to include non-governmental stakeholder representatives as guests after protests from many parties, this decision did some damage and the Working Group did not come up with their final recommendations in time before this year's IGF.

At the same time there have been calls for different 'roads' to implementation of the process of Internet policies from various sides in the debate. Multi-stakeholder participation has been particularly encouraged in the Internet Governance debate for instance by France and the EU institutional delegation. But, on the other side of the debate, the IBSA countries, i.e. India, Brazil and South Africa suggested that there should be an appropriate body in the UN system to coordinate and evolve integrated global public policies pertaining to the Internet. And finally, Russia, China, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan proposed a UN Code of Conduct for the Internet, where they reaffirmed the key role and right of sovereign states in determining Internet-related public policy issues.

Looking at some of the key issues debated during this IGF there are interesting times ahead. ICANN has gone through another phase of transformation, an Accountability and Transparency Review process; at the same time it opened up this year to the possibility for generic top level domains. As to the IP Number allocation, this year saw the depletion of the IPv4 address space and transition to IPv6 as not something in the future, but as an imminent issue. On the issue of Access there seems to be recognition that the mobile Internet is going to be the way most newcomers in the developing world will access the Internet. And we have also seen the importance of the mobile Internet early this year in the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, which showed the transformative nature of the Internet for societies. And finally on the issue of Security, Privacy and Openness, Government leaders have now realized how the Internet can be used to influence people's minds and how it is the first “man-made military domain”. Hence, we should expect the nature of the debate to shift considerably in the future, as attacks on countries cyber systems are expected to increase. What remains fundamental is that parliamentarians should help to keep the Internet an open space, and prevent the erosion of civil liberties.

We can conclude that this year's IGF in Nairobi has been a success once again and that the multi-stakeholder participation and collaboration process will be key in keeping it a success in the future.


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