WSIS Report on Internet Governance released
  Strong on human rights and inclusion, clear against U.S. control
  18 July 2005. The WSIS Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG), set up after the first summit failed to agree on the future governance mechanisms of the Internet, has released its report on Friday. Though it contains strong language on human rights protection and help for developing countries and other stakeholders, the group has failed to agree on a suggestion for the future of ICANN and the oversight of the technical core of the Internet. But it unanimously calls for an end of unilateral U.S. control. The report is being discussed in Geneva today, comments and proposals will be accepted until 15 August, and full-blown negotiations will start at PrepCom3 in September.

The WGIG, which had been set up under the auspices of UN secretary general Kofi Annan last fall, had been given a broad mandate from the Geneva WSIS summit. Its task was to

  1. develop a working definition of Internet governance;
  2. identify the public policy issues that are relevant to Internet governance; 
  3. develop a common understanding of the respective roles and  responsibilities of governments, existing intergovernmental and international organisations and other forums as well as the private sector and civil society from both developing and developed countries;
  4. prepare a report on the results of this activity to be presented for consideration and appropriate action for the second phase of WSIS in Tunis in 2005.

The definition of what Internet governance should mean looks like the easy part, while in fact, this had been the subject of long discussions and wrestling inside the WGIG. A narrow definition would only have included the technical core and functioning of the Internet as a packet-transmitting network of networks, while a broader understanding of Internet governance would encompass applications and usage-issues like intellectual property or freedom of speech. The definition of WGIG is more generic and therefore consensual. But by doing this, the group has avoided tackling the question of what internet governance should be and what not. It reads:

Internet governance is the development and application by Governments, the private sector and civil society, in their respective roles, of shared principles, norms, rules, decision-making procedures, and programmes that shape the evolution and use of the Internet.

Still, from the issues dealt with in the report, one can tell what the WGIG saw as "Internet"-related and what not. Free Software, for example, is mentioned extensively in the accompanying background report, but is lacking any mentioning in the report itself. But other aspects that go beyond the pure technical protocol matter are included in the report, inter alia human rights, interconnection fees, developmental aspects, privacy and consumer protection and cybercrime. The full list of issues includes the administration of the root zone files and system, interconnection costs, Internet stability, security and cybercrime, Spam, meaningful participation in global policy development, , capacity-building, , allocation of domain names, IP addressing, intellectual property rights, freedom of expression, data protection and privacy rights, consumer rights, and multilingualism.

Human Rights on the Internet

Following the WSIS declaration of principles, where the heads of state had after fierce negotiations agreed on reaffirming the "universality, indivisibility, interdependence and interrelation of all human rights and fundamental freedoms", the WGIG report puts a strong emphasis on human rights. This definitely was an outcome of the active participation of civil society members in the WGIG. The report takes this attitude one step further and underlines the importance of protecting and human rights in fighting crime and addressing security problems. This is a more than needed statement, especially in times of the global "war on terror" and the numerous attempts of security policy fearmongerers to extend the surveillance systems already in place throughout most of the world. The WGIG report, in contrast, asks the WSIS - under the subtitle "Freedom of expression" - to

ensure that all measures taken in relation to the Internet, in particular those on grounds of security or to fight crime, do not lead to violations of human rights principles.

As privacy and personal data protection are among the most endangered human rights on the Internet and in the context of the "war on terror", the report includes a series of recommendations for this field. It states that

efforts should be made, in conjunction with all stakeholders, to create arrangements and procedures between national law enforcement agencies consistent with the appropriate protection of privacy, personal data and other human rights.

The report also recommends to introduce privacy and data protection legislation in all countries. This is directed at many developing countries that still lack such laws, but is also a clear hint towards the United States that so far have relied on the self-regulation of the private sector. The report recommends to

encourage countries that lack privacy and/or personal data-protection legislation to develop clear rules and legal frameworks, with the participation of all stakeholders, to protect citizens against the misuse of personal data, particularly countries with no legal tradition in these fields.

The WGIG also recommends strengthening international cooperation and development of global standards for consumer protection.

U.S. control challenged, but no agreement on future model

The biggest challenge fort he WGIG had been the question of who should run the Internet - as is was framed in the popular mass media. More specifically: Who should control the core resources of the Internet - the root zone file, the distribution of IP addresses, or the introduction of new top-level domains? This question had almost lead to a failure of the summit in 2003, where governments could not agree and in the end the only compromise was to delay a decision and install the WGIG. The group in its report acknowledges that "for historical reasons", the United States government has a central role here. But the WGIG consensually agreed that this should definitely change in the future:

No single government should have a pre-eminent role in relation to international Internet governance.

The US Government has already dismissed any reform of the current ICANN regime even before the report was released. This will certainly lead to another heavy round of negotiations and conflicts at PrepCom3 in September. Civil society members in the Internet Governance Caucus are afraid that this stalemate can lead some countries to setting up alternative rot servers for the Internet's name space. In a statement the caucus has prepared for today's discussion of the WGIG report in Geneva, it warns that this "could impact negatively on the Internet's security, stability and interoperability" and "lead to the fragmentation of the Internet".

The WGIG could not agree, however, on how exactly the Internet should be governed then. It agreed on the need for a discussion and policy dialogue forum and makes extensive recommendations here, but could not reach a consensus on the oversight and decision-making structures it wants:

The WGIG recommends the creation of a new space for dialogue for all stakeholders on an equal footing on all Internet governance-related issues.

This forum "should preferably be linked to the United Nations". Though it looks like a continuation of WGIG by other means, the report explicitly contradicts this view. The forum should instead be more open and not have a limited and hand-picked membership, therefore resembling more the open consultations WGIG has held.

Besides this "forum function", the WGIG presented four models for the "oversight function":

  1. Putting ICANN under the United Nations umbrella and merging the roles of the U.S. Department of Commerce and ICANN's current Governmental Advisory Council (GAC) into a new "Global Internet Council". This model would mean a multilateralization of ICANN under the U.N. model, with governments taking the lead. 
  2. Leaving ICANN as it is, with an enhanced role of the GAC, but no special oversight organization. It mainly would mean setting ICANN free of U.S. control without replacing this by U.N. or other control mechanisms.
  3. Creating an "International Internet Council" with a leading role for governments. This would replace the functions of the GAC and the U.S. government. In addition, it should be accompanied by a host country agreement for ICANN, ensuring that the government of the country where ICANN is incorporated can not unilaterally control it. This model would mean an internationalization of ICANN without a necessary link to the United Nations.
  4. This model suggests three layers: A "Global Internet Policy Council" (GIPC), an intergovernmental body that would oversee a reformed "World ICANN" (WICANN), and a Global Internet Governance Forum (GIGF) that would take the role of the abovementioned "forum".

Civil society activists in the Internet Governance Caucus in first reactions agreed that the current unilateral control by the U.S. government is a problem and should be changed. They did not, however, agree on one of the models above, but suggested further discussions and negotiations to merge good ideas from all four models. Civil society members certainly won't agree to any model that is dominated by governments alone, but prefer an enhanced role of participatory models of governance that today are possible in online and offline environments.

Internet Governance and the Developing World

The WGIG report also addresses the lack of meaningful participation of developing countries and disadvantaged communities in current Internet governance mechanisms. It therefore puts strong emphasis on ensuring that developing countries are supported here by easier and less expensive meetings (ICANN meetings often take place in fancy five-star hotels in popular holiday resorts) and by capacity-building. The WGIG report specifically calls for funding to enable all stakeholders from developing countries to participate in a meaningful way.

The WGIG also recommends further work on internet interconnection fees that currently are at the disadvantage of remote regions and locations. The report calls for the establishment of more regional backbone connections and Internet exchange points.

The group also ask for further work on internationalized domain names and support for multilingual Internet addresses. Policy development in this field should be done bottom-up and transparent, the report says.

Further Discussions and Start of Negotiations

The WGIG report is currently being discussed at open consultations in Geneva. The civil society Internet Governance Caucus has developed a number of detailed statements and has presented them in Geneva today. Other first reactions came from the Internet Governance Project, a consortium of different academic researchers from the United States and Europe.

The WSIS executive secretariat has invited all stakeholders to submit written comments and proposals on Internet Governance (to by August 15. A compilation of these contributions will be forwarded to PrepCom3, together with the report of the WGIG.

Negotiations on specific language on Internet Governance for the Tunis summit documents will start at PrepCom3 in September. It is currently unlikely that the PrepCom will reach an agreement on the most contested issue - the final control of the Internet's core resources. The U.S. government has made clear it dies not intend to give up its role here, while the WGIG and most other governments are opposing this form of unilateralism. A likely outcome of the second WSIS summit therefore could be the creation of a "forum", as recommended by the WGIG report. There, furute Internet governance models can be discussed with more time and more specifics. The WGIG report has


UN Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG)

Home Page:

WGIG report in English:

WGIG report in other languages:

Lengthy background report (to be translated into French soon):

WGIG Press Release:

CS Internet Governance Caucus

Internet Governance Project: statement on WGIG report coverage of Internet Governance in WSIS

Upcoming events

19 July 2005, 10:00-18:00
Workshop on Internet Governance at the national level
Geneva, Switzerland, Palais des Nations (Registration deadline was 15 July)

20 July 2005, 10:00-13:00
Informal Open-ended Consultations on Internet Governance
Geneva, Switzerland, Palais des Nations, Room VIII
Convenor: Ambassador Masood Khan, Chair-designate of PrepCom-3 Sub-Committee 2A on Internet Governance
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