27 May 2005. The European Union had meetings with civil society on different levels recently. The WSIS rapporteur for the European Parliament met with Civil Society Caucus representative Jean-Louis Fullsack in Strasburg, and the High-Level Internet Governance Group had a successful meeting with several caucus members in Brussels on Tuesday.
WSIS and Millennium Development Goals
Jean-Louis Fullsack, the civil society caucus' liaison person to the European Parliament, met with Catherine Trautmann, Rapporteur on the WSIS, on 6 May to discuss her draft report and give her civil society's views on it and the general WSIS process. The parliament is also aware of the problems for human rights in the summit host country Tunisia, but plans to participate in the summit with a delegation. They also discussed problems related to implementation and follow-up to the WSIS - areas that still are pretty fuzzy at the moment. Jean-Louis Fullsack especially emphasized the need for funding and the importance of new ideas that have been developed by civil society groups in this area. He also recalled the common civil society position (including African NGOs) on this topic, which had been presented at PrepCom-3 of the Geneva phase.
Fullsack expressed his disappointment about the absence of any reference to the WSIS in the recent debate about the European development policy for achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and in development related documents such as commissioner Michel's paper on "Speeding up progress towards the Millennium Development Goals" from April and MEP Glenys Kinnock's report on the role of the EU for achieving the MDGs. This strongly disappoints civil society groups CS committed in the WSIS, particularly since the summit process has recently moved from being a self-centred Summit to being part of the MDG process.
Catherine Trautmann in turn mentioned the need to get a consensus for her report to be adopted by the parliament and some coordination work still to be done with the Commission. The WSIS within the EU lies within the area of competence of several Commissioners: (Information commissioner Viviane Reding, Development and Humantarian Aid commissioner Louis Michel, and more.). Trautmann promised that financing issues will be dealt with in the report, and that it will include proposals on this.
The meeting concluded with an agreement to meet again to prepare the MDG+5 summit in New York and the WSIS PepCom-3 events.
Developmental Aspects of Internet Governance
Earlier this week, the European Union's High Level Group on Internet Governance (HLIG) had invited civil society representatives to a meeting in Brussels. Six activists and experts participated, among them members of the UN Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG) Karen Banks and Wolfgang Kleinwächter. On the EU side, 14 member state governments and the Commission had sent delegates. ICANN's vice president Paul Verhoef was also present.
Karen Banks in her introductory remarks suggested using the Internet governance discussion to think more about developmental aspects. Instruments for this could be promoting open access, open content and open source agendas, mobilising existing resources and improving communication, information sharing and cooperation between agencies and mechanisms that deal with ICT and development issues. Capacity building for developing country participants in Internet governance processes is also an important issue, she said. In order to have a fair and levelled dialogue and policy-process on internet governance, it is very important to assess the capacity of different stakeholder groups - particularly governments, the private sector and civil society from developing countries - to participate fully and effectively in the governance processes of relevant intergovernmental and other international organizations. This, according to Banks, is particularly relevant in the field of ICTs, where participants in international discussions are working in a fast moving technological environment that makes it
difficult to keep abreast of new developments. Lack of knowledge or obsolete knowledge can be a serious impediment to meaningful developing country participation by governments and other stakeholders.
The government delegates' reaction was more reluctant. They do not want to expand the mandate of WGIG too much and want to keep expectations lower, in order to be able to agree on some common ground in the end. France especially considers the Digital Solidarity Fund and other outcomes of financing mechanisms process to be the venue for any discussion around access/development issues. France did acknowledge the need for capacity building of developing countries in Internet governance processes, and also the questions of legitimacy of existing governance mechanisms like ICANN, which still is under heavy fire from the South because of its unilateral dependency on the US government.
Human Rights in Internet Governance
Rikke Frank Joergensen, co-chair of the WSIS civil society human rights caucus, then addressed the importance of enforcing human rights in the information society. Governments have made formal commitments to human rights values in the WSIS Geneva Declaration and elsewhere, but must now move from commitment to effective implementation and enforcing these standards. The big question, according to her, is: How do we move from formal commitment to effective implementation, where citizens can claim their rights? Internet governance inevitably includes important human rights aspects like privacy, freedom of speech and communication rights. Prominent examples that are being discussed internationally are the "Whois" database for domain name registrations that currently does not meet EU privacy standards; the problem of "take down"-notices and practices, where internet service providers infringe on users' freedom of expression without due legal process; or the risk of ubiquitous identification and geo-location with the embedding of internet protocol numbers in many human artefacts with RFID and IPv6. The Luxemburg presidency assured the participants that they got the human rights message and will bring it to the next full HLIG meeting.
The following discussion centred on the practical steps to achieve human rights enforcement. Germany asked if global governance coordination mechanism based on private sector actors can provide human rights compliance. The UK delegate said that whois problems are not there in Europe, as e.g. British law is very strict on privacy. Milton Mueller from the Internet Governance Project replied that the UK example is not relevant because it is not part of the ICANN regime. No UK-based registrar would be able to offer such guarantees of privacy. The problem, according to Mueller, is that human rights have been reinvented and are being reinvented online, and the enforcement mechanisms are changing because of the international nature of the Internet: "When you sign a domain name contract you commit yourself to a globalized dispute resolution system that redefines the trade-off between free speech and trademark; you also commit yourself to exposing private contact data."
Towards a New International Mechanism?
The discussion then quickly moved to the question of appropriate international mechanisms for internet governance. The UK delegate mentioned the risk that we reinvent the real world for the cyber-world, as we can not divorce those two worlds. The basis should still be national laws. Wolfgang Kleinwächter replied that there are already many forums that act beyond national law, and the main challenge lies in coordinating them all in a coherent and inclusive manner. Francis Muguet from the civil society "scientific information" working group argued that there is therefore a need for international public law which supersedes national law.
ICANN's vice president Paul Verhoef then gave a presentation on ICANN and the current issues and perspectives. According to him, the Internet is controlled by the users. The tricky question is: What happens to governments under this system of user empowerment? ICANN has been trying to achieve the status of a transnational organization with global relevance, where all stakeholders are represented. Verhoef also recognized that the US control over ICANN is an issue. His reply to the German delegates' question was particularly interesting: What if we shut down ICANN tomorrow, what impact would it have on the Internet? According to Verhoef, the Internet would not break down, but the registries and registrars contractual relationships would devolve to the US government. This would start over another 10 year process of developing ICANN with a much larger group of stakeholders involved, which would be very risky. Therefore, according to Verhoef, it is better to talk about the evolution of ICANN. Italy and some others picked up on this, arguing for more governmental power inside ICANN through the governmental advisory committee. Germany also complained about the growth of ICANN, while in 1998 the stated reason to keep governments out was that ICANN was a small, technical coordination body. Not, it is employing more and more people, but the bottom-up approach is still not working. Milton Mueller added that the imbalanced constituency and representational structures make it difficult to change representational mechanisms within the current ICANN structure.
It became clear in the meeting that, contrary to a 'wait and see' approach, the EU is committed to engaging seriously with practical, achievable recommendations. This can and probably will include a reform for ICANN, as the EU has also made clear during the April WGIG consultations.
A report of the meeting will be made to the next full meeting of the High level Group on 6 June. Civil society probably has a chance to give some more written input into this.
From what could be heard from participants - civil society, governments and EU commission -, everybody was happy with the open and interactive nature of this meeting. It certainly helped the officials to understand civil society's concerns better. The European Caucus will certainly try to arrange one or two more face to face meetings before PrepCom 3 in September.