16 February 2005. Before spending the rest of the week in closed meeting, the WGIG offered an additional round of open consultations to governments and stakeholders today. Though conflicts still are clear, there seems to be some convergence and openness emerging.
The meeting was opened by a presentation of ITU on the technological background of ICT topics and problems. Here again, you could witness how different the definitions of "Internet Governance" still are. In contrast to the ITU delegate who was talking of "Next Generation Networks" when describing the future of the internet, Robert Kahn stressed that he sees "Internet" as an all encompassing frame term for a global information network. The technology underneath may change, but one does not have to change the name.
While government interventions this morning did not seem to add many new notions to the issues that were discussed yesterday, participants of civil society came up with several notable contributions.
The Stanford Center for Internet Society presented its recently launched website NetDialogue which collects all available online sources related to Internet governance. By this means it intends to offer a mechanism to "promote transparency and public dialogue in international net governance."
Bertrand de la Chapelle of WSIS-Online.net presented to the group a proposal for a working definition which would describe Internet governance as "set of principles, procedures, regimes and programs enabling optimum development and functioning of the internet through collaboration of all stakeholders".
Milton Mueller from the University of Syracuse responded to several government statements of the day before, which wanted to separate issues like intellectual property rights and multilingualism from the WGIG process. Their argument was that there are already existing bodies like WIPO and UNESCO dealing with these issues sufficiently. Mueller reminded the group that it is not so easy. The deposition of domain name data at ICANN and the different "whois" databases for example also includes issues of privacy, intellectual property protection and human rights. The international organizations preferred by many governments however are not open to civil society, which makes them inappropriate to deal with the public policy issues related to internet governance. In Mueller's view, the WGIG is the only institution which is able to take a holistic view on the matter and deal with such cross-cutting issues in an open process providing participation of all stakeholders.
Civil Society emphasizes basic principles for Internet governance processes
These fundamental issues guided the discussion of this day as several governments like Norway, Singapore and India again stressed the notion of openness and multi-stakeholderism, good governance, fundamental freedoms and focus on development.
Adam Peake (Center for Global Communications in Tokyo) in the afternoon read a statement on behalf of the Internet Governance Caucus which also strongly supported the WGIG's multi- stakeholder approach. Stressing the desire to place greater emphasis on basic principles such as human rights, freedom of expression, openness and innovation, the caucus demands two outcomes from the WGIG:
- an understanding of how governance mechanisms can further these basic principles
- an elaboration of the concept of democratic internet governance in the context of the interplay between local and global decision-making.
Chairman Nitin Desai noted this effort of civil society members to bring these principles back into the process. Outside the meetings, you could hear that civil society members are unsatisfied about the fact that these issues are also completely left out of the current version of the Tunis summit documents produced by the "Group of the Friends of the Chair". This major conflict will be something the WGIG will have to deal with in its following closed sessions.
Another yet unresolved point was the role of ICANN, as governments during the day expressed a whole spectrum of viewpoints. The USA still strongly supports the position "if it works, don't fix it", meaning "don't even think of messing with ICANN". Others like Australia or the European Union mainly agree and only propose some kind of slowly evolving internationalization. At the other end of the spectrum, countries like Saudi Arabia want to focus on the search for things that in their view are broken and should be fixed. They called on the group to analyze it, to highlight the disadvantages and to propose solutions.
Rough consensus emerging?
But within these well-known trench battles, there is some convergence emerging slowly. The US government is not too opposed to looking beyond the pure market model anymore, Iran is applauding the multi-stakeholder process, and even the Chinese delegation was heard speaking of "shared responsibility" instead of insisting on national sovereignty.
There also seems to be a broad agreement now regarding the prioritization of issues which should be focused on in the WGIG's further work. These can be concluded as "names and addresses" and "root server management" with regards to the stability of the Internet, and "spam", "cyber security" and "cyber crime" concerning the user-side of the net.
Surely the debate over "intellectual property rights" will also be part of the ongoing discussion in the next days. But even here, the WGIG so far has served as a good precedent of how more open and inclusive governance processes can enrich the debate and raise the sophistication of the arguments put forward.
It remains to be seen if this only is true for the WGIG, which has a limited mandate for a report, or if it also has a longer-lasting impact on the following negotiations on the summit documents. PrepCom chairman Janis Karklins today organized a working lunch with some key players in the Internet governance discussion to get input on the further process. After the publication of the WGIG report, there will now probably be an open online consultation process and another meeting with all stakeholders over the summer. If the process goes well, the PrepCom3 negotiations in September will be a much easier task for the delegates than it was in the first phase of WSIS.