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Within the recent Internet Governance debates, I have been amazed, bewildered, disappointed and confused by the way things have flipped and slipped out of the hands of various stakeholders over a bit of gossip and disoriented discussions triggered after the United Nations led consultations on Enhanced Cooperation and Improvements to the Internet Governance Forum once the mandate is renewed.
These closed intergovernmental working group meetings resulted in media reports claiming that the United Nations could take over the Internet or was attempting to regulate it which was more or less a bunch of ho as there are working groups talking about it in intergovernmental silos without full multistakeholder participation and these governments at the moment have little or no power to do so. They may only have some capability to regulate the IGF at the most and from my experience, the governments lack participation within the IGF and the ones that do so are not representatives of all the governments of the globe.
One thing for sure that the IGF has no powers to interfere or stimulate any Internet policy whether global, regional or at any country level. It remains a fact that despite there are a lot of discussions in IGF main sessions and workshops around Internet related issues prevailing within developing and developed countries including topics concerning anything from Internet public policy, access to openness, security, critical Internt resources, Internet Governance for Development, cybercrime, cross-border information sharing, child protection, human rights, information intermediaries, ICANN, ITU and so forth, the forum is just a space with the mission for encouraging "discuss," "facilitate," "advise," "identify," "promote and assess." and thats about all that happens there. There is no power in this system. Its not even a fully developed system.
A process that has no International Treaty or Multilateral Negotiated Agreement to mandate the provision of power to regulate or control anything to any body including the United Nations cannot do anything and such is the IGF today despite all the Enhanced Cooperation facilitated by as many working groups meetings and negotiations that can ever happen.
I have a very simple way of viewing the world. I see things by examples. Show me a basic example where these governments have agreed on one common principle of human understanding and respect?
If I just look at what the world including UN member country governments have done so far with recognizing and implementing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) that was adopted and proclaimed by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 10, 1948, I wouldn't worry at all about the same folks trying to control the Internet.
They cannot do it. They could not sit together to accept, recognize and implement the UDHR throughout these 62 years and we see them everyday continuing to violate basic human rights throughout the world in virtually every country and still someone would expect people to believe that today they would sit together and discuss and agree together to control the Internet? Yeah, right! Really, this is totally hilarious! Thumbs up to all the media that reported all this UN domination of the Internet news in the first place, you folks really don't follow developments in the Internet Governance world as you used to, right?
In my personal opinion, I see the Internet to have been built by human beings, not governments. Human beings continue to build and use the Internet today, and yes, its a result of sheer human intelligence and human potential. I would like to point you to what one of the father's of the Internet, that is, Vint Cerf, recently said on his blog while fuming over these UN working group proceedings here that:
"The beauty of the Internet is that it’s not controlled by any one group. Its governance is bottoms-up—with academics, non-profits, companies and governments all working to improve this technological wonder of the modern world. This model has not only made the Internet very open—a testbed for innovation by anyone, anywhere—it's also prevented vested interests from taking control." - Vint Cerf.
This disappointing and confidence shattering move by the United Nation's Commission on Science and Technology (CSTD) has been severely condemned by the Internet Governance Caucus of Civil Society Organizations (IGC), the Internet Society (ISOC), the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) and tons of other organizations resulting in the publishing and forwarding of a joint letter here to the United Nations and Chair of the CSTD as well as an online petition here to mobilize global opposition and to send a message to the CSTD ensure that Internet governance remains open and inclusive.
All these stakeholders have joined hands to ask the Secretary-General of the United Nations to set up a working group on Internet governance, in an open and inclusive process that ensures a mechanism for the full and active participation of governments, the private sector and civil society from both developing and developed countries, involving relevant intergovernmental and international organizations and forums, to investigate and make proposals for action. I believe in and support this call as the IGF was set-up as a multistakholeder driven forum and not an intergovernmental setting.
In response to this joint letter, Mr. Fédéric Riehl, the Chair of this silo working group responded that:
“Thank you for your mails in which you express your concern about the decision on the composition of the Working Group of the Chair of the CSTD on IGF improvement.
First of all, please let me correct you in the following: The meeting on Dec 6 was not a meeting of the Bureau of the CSTD, but it was a meeting to which all members of the CSTD were invited. Attached you find a summary of this meeting which has now been made publicly available on the CSTD website (http://www.unctad.org/cstd).. As you can see in this summary, there was a very clear majority in that meeting that led to the decision which was taken.
What the meeting of Dec. 17 in Geneva is concerned, this meeting is a part of the CSTD intersessional meeting and will be open not only to the members of the CSTD, but also to other states and to civil society and business representatives who have been accredited to WSIS. For other business entities not accredited to WSIS but wish to participate, please get in touch with the CSTD secretariat for further information.”
Despite the above letter, we currently stand at the following text and structure reported by one of the participants from ICANN present at the working group meeting on 17th of December 2010:
The Chair of the CSTD establishes a Working Group of 15 member states plus the five member states which hosted the IGF meetings plus the two member states which hosted WSIS. This Working Group will seek, compile, and review inputs from all member states and all other stakeholders on improvement of the Internet Governance Forum in an open and inclusive manner throughout the process
The Chair invites the following stakeholders to interactively participate in the Working Group, bearing in mind the the established rules of procedure of the ECOSOC, who will remain fully engaged throughout the process:
- 5 Business community
- 5 Civil society
- 5 Technical and academic community
- 5 Intergovernmental organizations
The report of this Working Group will be adopted by consensus."
So much for multistakeholderism and the approach of having 5 people from a stakeholder group as representatives of all the voices of Internet users, consumers, producers and surfers from all the continents and countries of the world.
It can be noted for future reference that the IGF has so far met five times around the globe from Athens, Rio de Janeiro, Hyderabad, Sharm El Sheikh, this year within Vilnius but it has never been allowed to share messages, give recommendations or facilitate any kind of policy formulation for the control, regulation and .governance of the global Internet. It also remains as a factual message to both the United Nations and the governments that they should all ensure an Open and Inclusive Approach to Internet Governance and stop day dreaming about controlling it!
The CSTD literally has no powers. It can talk and talk making resolutions but there are hardly any substantial proof of outputs from this forum. I have been there, I have given a speech there last year to a full forum that originally had come to believing that Mobile Phone Technology was the best thing that ever happened to the world giving them all their citizenry all the basic facilities of life etc and I must say, these CSTD folks really have to get their act together and understand what Multistakeholderism is and what it really means to the world and IGF stakeholders.