13 May 2004. The Working Group on Internet Governance that the WSIS summit decided to set up after fierce conflicts is slowly becoming o working entity. The secretariat will start working in Switzerland by June 1st. Recently, Swiss "e-Envoy" Markus Kummer, who was picked by UN secretary general Kofi Annan as the coordinator for this group, had a meeting with civil society representatives in Washington DC and told them about his plans and problems.
The working group's mandate from the summit calls for a report to be submitted to the summit. Kummer is planning to prepare it before the summer break of 2005 and submitted to the final PrepCom which will likely be in September of 2005. On the overall outcomes, Markus Kummer was very clear in stating that it would in no case suggest to set up a new UN organization, nor would the UN "take over the internet", as some cyber-libertarians have been fearing. Kummer also acknowledged that there has to be a better media work in this regard.
Some of the participants were bashing regulation and touting self-regulation, to which he responded that he has sympathy for self-regulation, but he also realizes that nothing happens outside of the law. His viewpoint was that international organizations should not heavily intervene, but should set a regulatory framework. There has obviously been a lack of international governance and this will be the focus of future activity.
Kummer and his group currently have no budget, so he is going around asking for money for a trust fund. Some governments are willing to contribute, it seems, but the private sector also has been approached. Some people form governments and other stakeholders already have offered to volunteer for the secretariat or as member of the working group, but Kummer has made clear that "they can't buy their way in". The composition of the group, according to his plans, will be very diverse in order to make sure it is not the usual white male Anglo-Saxons who for example were the majority of participants at the UN ICT Task Force meeting on Internet Governance in March.
Broad and inclusive process planned
As some countries have already questioned the legitimacy of the group, Kummer wants a well-funded process with a credible result that stands the test of experts. He knows how important it will be to get the process right and that stakeholders recognize themselves in the structure and in the output of the group. Probably at the Tunisia PrepCom meeting in June, he will propose to the Secretary General the nomination of a chairperson. He will hold informal consultations setting up the group and aims to have it fully operational by October.
The process will likely be organized into three tiers:
1) discussion in the core working group,
2) less formalized hearings or some such way to address interests, and
3) open meetings with experts.
The definition of internet governance will probably be handled in a broad way, in order to take on board all stakeholders' concerns. But "we do not need to re-invent the Universal Declaration of Human Rights", as Kummer said.
On the issue of pre-existing structures and their ability to handle all of the issues, Kummer believes that governance is working fine on a national level, but that structure is lacking on an international level. The ICANN meetings are getting bigger and bigger, but they can't really cope with all loose ties in the broad field of internet governance.
Civil Society: "Internet Governance" contested
At the same time, the civil society "internet governance" caucus is having difficulties to come up with a common position. The perspectives on a broad or narrow definition of internet governance are too divergent, as are the opinions on "should the internet be regulated or not?". Recent attempts by the caucus co-facilitators, Jeanette Hofmann and Adam Peake, to start work on a common perspective have failed. This is a pity, as the caucus really could have some strategic influence here.
Our proposal, after discussions in the German WSIS coordination group last weekend, would be to start from a different angle. Instead of targeting the existing conflicts - which seem to be grounded in firm political confessions anyway and therefore hard to reconcile - it might make more sense to start from underlying values that most caucus members can agree to and that are standards for civil society anyway: Inclusiveness, accountability, and transparency of any governance structures; the need to preserve the openness of the internet; the need to deal with different layers of problems on different levels and within different ranges; and some more. This could avoid the black and white and too little complex arguing about "hands off" or "governance is needed" and make room for more sophisticated discussions.
These issues are currently also addressed at the INET/ICG global internet conference in Barcelona that ends tomorrow. Because of the ongoing crisis of ICANN and the new role of UN processes since the WSIS in December, this year's conference has a new extra track on "internet governance", with participation of some active caucus members. Let's hope the Spanish sun and food help to soften the waves and make it easier to listen closely to each other in this important field.