Internet Governance, Global Privacy and IGF-Rio

The global debate on Internet governance will once again gather people from all over the world at UN’s IGF, this time in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The process was started last year in Athens, when more than 1,200 participants focused on discussion of the overarching issues tied to the future of information and communications technologies, including control over the Internet architecture and numbering and naming system, security, intellectual property, openness, connectivity, cost and multilingualism.

The IGF’s innovative multi-stakeholder format, designed to grant governments, NGOs, and commerce an equal seat at the table, was praised by many as an evolution from the bounds of classical diplomacy. But the role of the IGF as a pure discussion forum — “a neutral, non-binding and non-duplicative process” as the EU presidency put it — and the absence of a more formalized output were intensively discussed by several governments and NGOs, Brazilians included. Blogs report:

Great expectations and a good dose of self criticism will surely be present at the Second Internet Governance Forum (IGF), which will take place in November in Rio de Janeiro. The occurrence of the IGF in Brazil was the result of a big effort of the local government, and the discussions will focus not only on the conventional issues related with the virtual environment, but also on the foundational purposes of the IGF process. In a significant evolution from its last meeting in Athens — which was characterized by the absence of deliberative power — the IGF in Rio will position the present Internet governance model and the IGF’s mandate as central themes of the forum.
II Forum de Governança da Internet

A revised draft program for the event, and the definition of the items of debate in each of the five thematic axes — access, diversity, openness, security and critical Internet resources — were the results of the IGF’s multi-stakeholder Advisory Group meeting in Geneva last week. A civil society appointee of the Brazilian delegation blogged about the meeting and its outcomes.

The main debate in this meeting of the multi-stakeholder Advisory Group focused on defining the items of the ‘critical internet resources’ thematic axis. The Brazilian delegation fought an almost solitary fight to include issues like interconnection costs, telecommunications infrastructure, root-servers administration, and names and numbers registry… the IGF’s multi-stakeholder format is at the same time its biggest strength and also its frailness. How to reach decisions in a meeting with actors from such different natures? And in the long run, what is the use of a forum that does not decide anything? In order to discuss IGF’s mandate and find answers to the previous questions, one of the main panels will be “taking stock and the way forward”. This was proposed by the Brazilian delegation and opposed by the “ICANN group” [who have been against the IGF’s very existence], but finally approved as part of the official programme… The third dispute was to decide if the IGF would or would not produce a final report. In this case, Brazil managed to attract the EU to its position defending that, although the IGF-Rio still won’t produce a final document [voted by the plenary], it will at least generate a report reflecting the diverse positions presented… Once again, and suffering strong opposition from the “ICANN group”, Brazil has supported the concept of an “Athens Plus” for the IGF-Rio, or a going beyond what happened in Athens 2006.
Gustavo Gindre direto de GenebraPSL Brasil

There are two other interesting issues in the UN Press Release. It explicitly mentions that the Advisory Group has been tasked to make proposals on “a suitable rotation among its members”. This reflects a concern among civil society groups who suspect that unless some rules of procedures are established the multi-stakeholder approach will degenerate into some nontransparent back-room deals by a few self-appointed buddies. The fact that the UN addresses this concern indicates a comprehensive care for the IGF’s legitimacy which includes the views of non-governmental actors. The second remarkable issue concerns the mandate of the IGF. The press release announces “critical internet resources” as an additional fifth theme on the IGF’s agenda. Similar to old WSIS days, the G-77 countries forcefully made the point at the May 23 consultations that the question of DNS and IP address management needs be tackled in the context of the IGF to fulfill the Tunis Agenda. The UN press release acknowledges this claim by referring to its widespread support. So far, the UN’s political support structure for the IGF strives to be inclusive and to balance the concerns of the various stakeholders. No major mistakes have been made.
IGF’s MAG renewed: government flex muscles?IGP

Apart from the Brazilian interest in the IGF — with preparatory events at FGV and Nupef — which in great part comes from being the host country, the event doesn’t seem to be attracting much global attention at the moment. The Italian government is organizing a preparatory event in Rome, specially focusing on Internet rights, and the Open Society Institute for Southern Africa (OSISA) is preparing to send a 20-member delegation to Rio, but that’s all we can trace on the blogosphere right now.

In regard of an event intended to hold the global dialog on Internet governance, and which has as one of its main goals reaching out for a broad remote participation, we are not seeing yet any preparation of participatory channels for the event in terms of interactive web interfaces. But, as the Brazilian government has announced efforts to assure the participation of all interested sectors of society, especially focusing on Brazil and Latin America, we are hoping to hear more about it soon.

In contrast with the almost reticent coverage of the IGF-Rio by the media and the blogs, there was an event last week that caught the attention of almost everyone involved with the Internet: Google’s call for web privacy laws. Extensively covered by all kinds of media, the venue did not go unnoticed. It was at the UN’s Strasburg conference where the company’s privacy chief Peter Fleischer choose to make his announcement. This meeting was the third of a cycle of regional UNESCO’s conferences on the ethical dimensions of the information society and was intended as a contribution to the implementation of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) and preparatory to the Internet Governance Forum. Surely, the success of an international privacy standards initiative will depend on support from many stakeholders. Some are wondering if this move by Google could be a signal that it plans to use the UN as a platform to reach out for global consensus?

He [Peter Fleischer] described a typical scenario of an online transaction, involving a French consumer that uses a North American website. This North American web page can have data processing centers in many countries and the customer service may proceed from India. “Each time a person uses the credit card, the information can cross six or seven borders”, said Fleischer mentioning the importance of reaching global patterns for privacy protection of the internauts. Asked about the reason why Google chose to propose a global privacy agenda instead of approaching Washington, Fleischer showed resignation about the North-American simplifying policies. “I honestly don’t believe that changes will occur in this Congress”, he said. “The global debate will help to motivate the debate in the US.”
Google propõe padrão mundial de privacidadeCdigitalizando

As the Internet Governance Forum continues to evolve definitions of the potential UN role in promoting the global debate on the future of the Information Age, stake-holders from small to large are also in the process of defining themselves, their agendas and their participation in the new worlds of cyberspace governance. The November meetings of IGF-Rio could be the place where many conversations and initiatives rise from blog-talk into a world view.