Documentary coverage of IGF-USA by the Imagining the Internet Center

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Internet Governance Forum-USA, 2011 Workshop: A Plethora of Policy Principles

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Brief description:

This session delved into recently announced policy statements with future implications including those made by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, the U.S. International Strategy on Cyberspace, the G8 and Others – Are principles a feasible approach to underpin Internet governance? If so, which ones? Should principles be applied by codification in law, MOU, or treaty? The workshop consisted of a mini analysis of currently proposed sets of principles. Because the Internet and online services are global, the perspective of the workshop was a global view.

Details of the session:

This is a placeholder for a lead sentence that encapsulates a key point that is the lead according to panelists in a workshop on Internet principles at the IGF-USA conference July 18 in Washington, D.C.

The co-moderators for the session were Fiona Alexander of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and Shane Tews of Verisign. They hosted a session in which the following people first presented briefings on recently announced sets of principles.

Heather Shaw, vice president for ICT policy for the United States Council for International Business (USCIB), shared details of the OECD Communique on Principles for Internet Policy-Making: http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/40/21/48289796.pdf.<

Chris Hemmerlein, a telecommunications policy analyst for NTIA, spoke about the sections of the May 2011 G8 Declaration that focus on the Internet: http://www.g20-g8.com/g8-g20/g8/english/live/news/renewed-commitment-for-freedom-and-democracy.1314.html.

Sheila Flynn, of the cyber policy office of the U.S. State Department, briefed participants on the U.S. International Strategy on Cyberspace: http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/rss_viewer/internationalstrategy_cyberspace.pdf.

Leslie Martinkovics, director of international public policy and regulatory affairs for Verizon, introduced the concepts of the Brazilian Principles for the Internet: http://einclusion.hu/2010-04-17/internet-principles-in-brazil/.

Sarah Labowitz, U.S. State Department, shared details of the Council of Europe’s Internet Governance Principles: http://www.coe.int/t/dghl/standardsetting/media-dataprotection/conf-internet-freedom/Internet%20Governance%20Principles.pdf.

The introduction of the principles was followed by a roundtable discussion moderated by Iren Borissova of Verisign. Participants were:

  • Jackie Ruff, vice president for international public policy and regulatory affairs for Verizon Communications
  • Milton Mueller, Syracuse University (participating over the Internet from a remote location)
  • Jeff Brueggeman, vice president for public policy at AT&T
  • Cynthia Wong, director of the Project on Global Internet Freedom at the Center for Democracy & Technology
  • Liesyl Franz, vice president for security and global public policy for TechAmerica
  • Mike Nelson, research associate for CSC Leading Edge Forum and visiting professor at Georgetown University
  • Robert Guerra, director of the Internet Freedom program at Freedom House
  • Susan Morgan, executive director of the Global Network Initiative

For all of the Internet-focused principles laid out by the OECD, G8, U.S. State Department and the Brazilian government, the lists of tenants and guidelines, the debate at the 2011 Internet Governance Forum on “A Plethora of Policy Principles” boiled down to one question: Can the principles be successfully converted into actionable concepts?

Governmental parties, whether they are sanctioned by presidential administrations or are the result of a multistakeholder process, are seeking to list the boundaries in which they wish to act when the next contentious issue hits the web. The problem with these lists, which by themselves could perhaps act effectively within a singular cultural, regional or governmental context, stretch across all boundaries in a way similar to that of the Internet itself.

The policy principles included in the discussion, which in no way represent the entirety of idealized lists, were as follows:

-The OECD Communique on Principles for Internet Policy-Making, which is the most recent set, agreed upon by 34 member states, that seeks to promote the free flow of information, promote the open nature of the Internet, promote investment and the cross-border delivery of services, encourage multistakeholder cooperation and a litany of others, ranging from security concerns to liability issues for an affront to any of the contained principles.

-The G8 Renewed Commitment to Freedom and Democracy, which isn’t solely focused on Internet rights issues, but nonetheless deals heavily with digital issues. The list segments Internet users into three groups: citizens, who seek to use the Internet as a resource and as a means to exercise human rights; businesses, which use it to increase efficiency and reach consumers; and governments seeking to improve their services and better reach their citizens. The G8 list also considers the Internet as the “public forum” of our time, with all of the associated assembly rights applied.

-President Barack Obama’s U.S. International Strategy for Cyberspace focused on the concepts of prosperity, transparency and openness. It represents an effort on the part of the U.S. government to approach Internet issues with a singular vision and seeks to establish an international framework to deal with these issues in the future. Interestingly, it was also the only list of principles discussed during the session that asserts a sort of “digital right to self-defense” in the instance of an attack on the United States’ own digital resources.

-The Brazilian Internet Streering Committee’s Principles for the Governance and Use of the Internet in Brazil differed from the other lists in that it was created after a series of discussions between interested governmental, NGO, private and scientific parties. The committee’s principles also stood for greater universality to the Internet, particularly a breakdown of linguistic barriers and a strict adherence to maintaining diversity in the digital domain. For those questioning why Brazil, given the sheer number of countries with vested interests in Internet issues, Leslie Martinkovics, the director of international public policy and regulatory affairs for Verizon, said, “Brazil is seen as an opinions leader in the Americas. … they would like to take the high ground and lead the discussions going forward.”

-The Council of Europe’s Internet Governance Principles is the product of 47 member states with an expressed focus of “affirming the applicability of existing human rights on the Internet,” according to Sarah Labowitz of the U.S. State Department. In addition to those concerns, the principles call for a clear series of planning, notification and coping mechanisms in place in the event of a cyber disaster.

Once the particulars and intricacies of the various plans had been laid out, the critiques began to fly in. Mike Nelson, research associate for CSC Leading Edge Forum and visiting professor at Georgetown University, played the self-admitted role of the skeptic.

“The first thing you do is hold a meeting, and we’ve been doing that for five years,” Nelson said, describing how meetings lead to research, research leads to a lengthy span of time, during which the public becomes discontented, after which a list of principles emerges to placate the masses.

Nelson did not seek for the topic of discussion to be “do you or do you not stand for freedom,” but instead, a fundamental  debate on so-called “flashpoints,” which are actual, specific points of policy, the results of a debate, which could result in legitimate action, as opposed to simply more principles.

Rebecca MacKinnon soon followed Nelson in critiquing the concept upon which the entire panel was devoted, noticing a trend for the principles and conclusions reached by disenfranchised groups, including those who aren’t in the post-industrial West or in the increasingly powerful emerging economies, to be at best given lip service, and at most outright ignored both by interested parties and IGF itself.

“What’s changed between 2004 and now?” MacKinnon asked. “How do people interpret these principles that have been, less or more, set in some degree of stone for quite some time?”

For the Chinese or Iranian dissident, she posited, rouge groups such as Anonymous and Wikileaks do more for their cause than institutional bodies like IGF simply because they rely entirely upon action instead of dialogue, action that is particularly focused on powerful entities.

For all of the critiques piled on the notion of principles and the efficacy of IGF, there was an equal counter of support.

“The role of the IGF is exactly what it was set out to do. There has been discussion, and it has encouraged awareness,” said Heather Shaw, vice president for ICT policy for the United States Council for International Business.

She added that many of the principles outlined in the State Department report published by the Obama administration contains many of the same concepts that were actively discussed at the previous year’s IGF meetings.

“The fact this discussion is happening everywhere points to the success of the Internet Governance Forum,” said Fiona Alexander of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. “IGF is spurring these kinds of conversations.”

But the unanswered question lingering at the end of the session’s discussion was whether those conversations, those discussions and that awareness is enough in this day and age, with the Internet’s rapid advancement now being met with an equally rapid growth in governmental interest in its inner workings.

– Morgan Little

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Participants in IGF-USA final plenary panel show unanimous support for global Internet Governance Forum process

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closing_plenaryA member of the gathered audience at the close of the first-ever Internet Governance Forum-USA in Washington, D.C., Oct. 2, 2009, offered his response to the open-ended and personal question about why the IGF is important to our future.

“No matter where you’re from,” he said, “you can share your ideas.”

That particular response, however understated and simple, seemed to carry the day and serve as the main thrust of the afternoon plenary session that assessed the IGF and its future.

Panelists on the daylong conference’s closing discussion continued to echo the importance of a multistakeholder dialogue, a concept that was initially raised during the opening session and continually referenced throughout the conference.

“What is important to me about multistakeholderism is not that it’s a formalized exercise in which you have a mechanism that puts a government person and a civil society person and a business person on a panel next to each other and assume they’re all speaking for their group,” said Milton Mueller, a professor in Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies who participated by remote video feed.

“What’s important is to maintain access to all the players that have real operational or political control over Internet governance.

It’s distributed, it’s decentralized. What’s important about the IGF is the extent to which it can bring together all those people and come up with solutions to those problems.        – Milton Mueller

And open, unfettered discussions that don’t have to result in some kind of formal decree or decision have been a byproduct of putting several different opinions, ideologies and interests at the same table.

art_reilly“We recognized that the information society is an ecosystem that involves all the players and it’s built by contributions from all,” said Art Reilly, senior director of strategic technology policy for Cisco.

“The IGF has evolved. Any issue is on the table and it can be dealt with frankly and honestly. Because there’s no decision making, I don’t have to worry about at the end of the day what that sentence is that’s going to describe that discussion.

“We have the opportunity to have a very frank discussion.”

Of course, moderator Marilyn Cade, principal of ICT Strategies, didn’t want to know only how IGF impacted those in attendance. She also wanted to know what people had done to help IGF during the last three years.

She and the panelists noted the evolution of the IGF from its first international conference in Athens to its upcoming meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

beairdRichard Beaird, senior deputy and United States coordinator for international communications and information policy with the U.S. Department of State, said the U.S. government, specifically, has helped IGF during its course by supporting the organization since its inception and continuing to play an active role in its existence.

“We support the continuation of the IGF through it sessions, and we will continue to do so,” Beaird said. “We will be in Sharm el-Sheikh. Our participation is full, and we will continue to be available upon request to participate in workshops and panels.”

Beyond that, individual members of IGF have helped support the organization by offering an abundance of their time and energy toward ensuring that IGF hosts important and informative conferences.

“We have contributed significantly to shaping the agenda in the sense that we’ve been very willing to take on the controversial issues and promote the forum as a way of having a rational and intelligent dialogue about those issues,” Mueller said.

markus_kummer_IGF_USA_09While the IGF has demonstrated great progress in its effective collaboration in the last three years, all panelists agreed that room for improvement was available.

They said the critical mission of the IGF – that it remain an informal organization that holds open discussions – shouldn’t change.

But Markus Kummer, the executive coordinator for the Internet Governance Forum, observed that some questions have been raised about whether the group’s core beliefs should be reanalyzed.

We have been changing throughout but we have maintained some core principles. Should these core principles be maintained or not? Some would like to change some of the principles and reorient the IGF more like a traditional UN body. Many governments are not used to this freewheeling type of discussion. But there is danger that governments could have the last word, so there is a need for an outreach.    – Markus Kummer

Panelists and attendees ended the daylong event looking optimistically toward the global conference in Egypt and yet another opportunity to engage in an international dialogue about Internet issues.

“(The IGF) deals with global issues, transnational issues, ones that require coordination across political boundaries, and that is probably the most important thing about the IGF,” Mueller said. “We cannot deal with the Internet in a purely national context. We don’t want to put the Internet back into boxes for the purposes of regulation.”

-Colin Donohue, http://www.imaginingtheinternet.org