By George Sadowsky (Message to Dave Farber)
Having just returned from the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Rio, I must say that the contents of Jack Chang’s article do not adequately characterize the event or the audience.
There were 1300 people who showed up, from 109 countries. Many of the were governmental and NGO representatives. The IGF is not a planning body, as Chang asserts, but a forum for discussion, and it must stay that way. It was set up as a compromise result of the WSIS (World Summit on the Information Society) conferences in Geneva in 2003 and Tunis in 2005. The negotiations over the summit statement and the terms of reference of the IGF were not the friendliest.
A major issue at this year’s Forum (the first was in Athens last year) was U.S. “control” over the Internet, The Brazilians hammered this theme until the end, and were aided by the Russians, who announced on the last day that they would introduce a process in the UN General Assembly to allow the Internet to transition to intergovernmental control. Whether that’s a credible threat is still to be seen. There was a lot of ICANN bashing, since ICANN is the embodiment of that “control.”
The deliberations ranged from serious to ridiculous. perhaps you remember the meeting we both attended at the UN at the end of March 2004; this was a continuation of the same. Political correctness was the order of the day, with “multistakeholderism” being the word that would allow disputes to be settled and problems to be solved in peace and harmony.
All of the main sessions were transcribed by the excellent team that ICANN uses, and all of the detail is on line at www.intgovforum.org. It makes for fascinating reading, and anyone who wants to protect the Internet and help it to evolve should read some of this to understand how representatives, some self-appointed, from other parts of the world view this technology and the institutions that enable it presently.
2 thoughts on “IGF: George Sadowsky reports”
Response from: Lee McKnight
I was at the IGF meeting as well, and flew down actually on the same
flight as my old pal George; I saw the meeting somewhat differently than
either the prior report or George’s.
First, I agree IGF is definitely a place for talking and discussion; and
ICANN was indeed a topic of some discussion. It would help if ICANN got
over the hyper-defensiveness born out of its own growing pains, but
that’s a separate topic.
Second, on the Brazilian position, I interpret that as playing to the
domestic audience/ tv soundbites; the surprise would be if the Brazilian
government came out saying positive thing about an entity tied to one
government, namely the US.
Anyway, not a serious threat to ICANN, ISOC, or anyone else on the net
in my opinion – and I know Brazil well, visiting most years, as my wife
and kids are all Brazilians as well as US citizens.
Third, re the Russians, that too sounds like domestic politics on the
world stage to me, no imminent threat. Bashing the US
adminsitration/Bush administration is a popular pastime here in the US,
noone shold be surprised the rest of the world vents too when they have
Fourth, mainly IGF is about workshops on a wide range of issues, I
encourage folks interested to view the agneda, tapes and docs. And
consider participating in IGF III next year in India.
Prof. Lee W. McKnight
School of Information Studies
Berkman Center for Internet & Society
Harvard Law School
Reflections from the IGF**
November 17, 2007
Thursday afternoon in Rio de Janeiro, the second Internet Governance
Forum effectively came to an end after the penultimate session. With the
closing remarks still to be delivered, most of the remaining attendees
mingled in conversation at the back of the plenary hall, ignoring the
pleas of the chairman to come to order. The next couple of speakers went
forward with their comments without the full attention of the plenary,
while the many participants that were weary of the structure pursued
their own agendas.
Close to fourteen hundred people came together for this
multi-stakeholder event representing more than one hundred countries.
Given the flagrant lack of real power placed in the hands of the IGF, it
is laudable that so many people came to share what should be doneâ€”in
full knowledge that this body could not make it happen. On the other
hand, many of us donâ€™t need much urging to visit Rio.
The choice of venue was risky with the beach less than 100 meters from
the podium. It fortunately rained for most of the forum; had it been
sunny, attendance on days three and four might have been left only to
the virtual and virtuous. I find fresh coconut milk the perfect fuel for
digesting the enormity of Internet governance, particularly in
combination with the sonorous lapping of waves. When that isnâ€™t enough,
a caipirinha can help with oneâ€™s courage of conviction.
A few of the speakers at the forum resorted to impassioned arm-waving,
but most of the proceedings were carried out in the subdued tones of
civil discourse on matters of critical import. The mode of the
proceedings was the panel, which is great at giving as many attendees as
possible a moment of discursive glory. The downside is that it is nearly
impossible to deliver a coherent message in less than 10 minutes, except
to those singing to the choir. This most often leaves us with little
more than a chance to state priorities and identify important facets of
a puzzle to be solved at a later point in time. Like the others, I
dutifully recited the table of contents of what I would have gladly
expounded upon for a full hour or two.
If the diversity of attendees or the number and range of opinions
expressed is the gauge of success, then the 2007 IGF was a huge success.
Perhaps this indeed should be the best measure of accomplishment for a
multi-stakeholder initiative, with apologies to those that cringe and
run for the door when that phrase in mentioned. Everyone who wished to
briefly share their thoughts had an opportunity to do so. The problem
was getting people to listen. I, for one, left Rio with all my
preconceptions, biases and dogmas unscathed. I suspect that most
participants were similarly immune to the words of their counterparts.
Andrew Keen did not convince me to shut down the cacophony of opinions
coming through my ethernet cable and spend more of my time with the BBC
and CNN. He is right that I should become a more discerning and
perspicacious consumer of online media. I continue to search the web for
guidance on that. Neither was Vint Cerf convinced by Keenâ€™s remarks:
Cerfâ€™s response was that Keenâ€™s â€œdiatribeâ€ was a lot of â€œcrap.â€ (Wow,
how many of us are envious that he can get away with that in such an
august public forum.) Yet, I have little faith that Keen has now
realized the error in his ways having been chastised by one of the
godfathers of the Internet. I do agree with Keen regarding the value of
the The New York Times. Perhaps we could join forces to get the paper to
the next 6.5 billion readers who donâ€™t read the New York Times. If only
there were a low cost way to duplicate and distribute information around
the world we might have a chance.
The IGF included almost one hundred different sessions, each with a
finely targeted topic, except that upon closer inspection, these turned
out to be the same ten or so topics. Expanding access to the Internet
was properly placed at the top of the list of priorities for most. If
innovative approaches to this issue were broached I missed it while
sitting in on a parallel panel. A session that discussed ICANN without
advertising the fact seemed to upset everyone, those who attended that
didnâ€™t want to hear any more about it, and those that missed it who
wanted to hear more on the topic, if only they had know it would be
aired out again. In another egregious error in the program, all the
panelists that spoke at the human rights and net neutrality session
agreed that net neutrality should be protected. (I believe that there
was also broad consensus that human rights are good.) Internet security
was presented by dozens of experts in twenty minutes or less, with the
number of definitions for security far outnumbering the presenters.
Others discussed how open source and propriety approaches could be
utilized to protect intellectual property online. Other panels confirmed
that cybercrime should be addressed and that children should be
protected. More on that next year.
I regrettably missed the sessions on â€˜critical internet resourcesâ€™. This
euphemism seems to intentionally lend itself to an infinitely wide
spectrum of interpretation, though most often seems to correspond to an
attack on the conspiracy to keep control of the Internet out of the
hands of the international community, who would otherwise bring order to
the chaos, and deliberate the Internet into submission. As far as I can
tell, the ICANN board did not grasp the logical justice for
democratizing the network and failed to immediately turn over the keys
to the Internet. The search for a governance body capable of restoring
civility, security and accuracy to the medium continues. If confused by
this, tell me how you feel about international hegemony and democratic
accountability in international institutions, and Iâ€™ll tell you which
side to line up on. I can also give you a few key talking points that
will induce the other side to cower and seek cover, at least for a while
anyway before they come up again firing.
Another key question of conscience discussed during the IGF is whether
technology companies should: a) govern themselves; b) follow local law;
c) be subject to binding international law; d) none of the above; e) all
of the above. By the way, the second choice is not allowed.
The intrepid Google representatives were inescapable, sitting on
innumerable panels to respond to those that question their lack of evil.
They talked about privacy, market power and their choices to compromise
with governments that would otherwise block their services. At times
they resorted to describing the numerous services that users around the
world voluntarily use for freeâ€”raising further suspicion. All agreed
before ripping into them that it was great for Google to come and take
the heat. Others were of course conspicuous in their absence.
With so many diverse and interesting opinions expressedâ€”all uttered by
expertsâ€”it seems a shame to not aggregate these into something that one
can take to the policy-makers and international negotiators. One
possible savior from the randomness of it all, Jimmy Wales, did not beam
into the freedom of expression panel as expected. We still donâ€™t know
whether to lay the blame on Skype, the poorly managed Internet, or Rio.
I looked to Wikipedia to make sense of the noise, and found neither a
concise treatment of the proceedings nor the full breadth of vision
found at the conference. (There is a link to the full text of the
plenary proceedings on the IGF website, though one must provide their
own tropical drink.) Perhaps Wikipedia has finally met its match. As for
me, I guess I canâ€™t have my complexity and simplify it too.
Removing tongue from cheek for a moment, this clearly was not a forum
for making major decisions or generating new strategies for tackling
profound questions that involved multiple trade-offs between privacy,
security and freedom of expression, or for finding the best way to
reward innovative thinkers while continuing to promote innovation. There
is inestimable value in the conversations and connections made off the
official record and unknown benefits to be reaped by the potential
future collaborations. For those who attended with the hope of moving
from talk to action, the forum may have provided a unique opportunity to
meet and converse with others who similarly inclined.
The question I am left to ponder is how the exchanges of opinions can be
aggregated and channeled into something genuinely useful. Many of the
sessions consisted of people talking past one another, all of us on
separate trajectories with no notion or appreciation of where the others
were heading. Some in pursuit of greater protection of children online,
others in search of greater internet security, others urging for greater
social responsibility and freedom from cyber crime. It is hard to argue
with any of this, until you start to consider how to get there from
here. A lingering disappointment in the IGF, and life in general, is
that so many bright, well-meaning people can not cleanly reach consensus
on how to govern the Internet. I havenâ€™t figured out yet whether this is
an indication of too much or too little coconut milk. In the meantime, I
will be embracing the chaos and looking forward to New Delhi.