by Jutta Croll, Stiftung Digitale Chancen
The Internet Governance Forum (IGF) concluded on Nov. 18th its fourth meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, where it met from 15 to 18 November 2009. With more than 1.800 participants from 112 coutries, the 2009 Forum saw the largest attendance record since its inception in 2006. The participants reflected the diversity of internet users and came from governments, international organizations, the Internet community, the private sector, civil society and the media.
Discussions in Sharm el-Sheikh, chaired by Tarek Kamel, the Egyptian Minister of Communications and Information Technology, examined ways to improve Internet access by all and promote local content and cultural diversity; ensure the safety of the Internet and fight cybercrime; manage key Internet resources such as the root server system, technical standards, interconnection and telecommunications, the domain name system and Internet protocol addresses. The meeting also discussed new issues related to the continued growth of social networks, and the ensuing governance issues that are emerging, in particular, the need for new approaches regarding privacy and data protection, rules applicable to user-generated content and copyrighted material, and issues of freedom of expression and illegal content. Parallel to the main sessions on these issues, more than 100 workshops, best practice forums, dynamic coalition meetings and open forums were held around the broad themes of the main sessions and the overall mandate of the IGF.
The Forum, which was set up with an initial mandate of five years that expire next year, extensively discussed the issue of the future of the Forum beyond 2010, the end of its current mandate of 5 years. Sha Zukang, UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, who led formal consultations with Forum participants on the "desirability of the continuation of the Forum", stressed the centrality of the principle of inclusiveness and the need for continued discussions on public policy issues related to the Internet in some form. A report on these consultations will be presented to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, who will then communicate his recommendation to the General-Assembly.
In a chairman's summary distributed at the end of the meeting, it was noted that many speakers emphasized the usefulness of the IGF as a platform for dialogue, free from the pressures of negotiations. Most of the speakers who supported improvements would like the IGF to refocus its attention on certain points such as international public policy issues; capacity-building; participation by developing countries; improved transparency; improved communications; improved remote participation; creating a data base for best practices; more visibility for outcomes, and possibly the ability to make recommendations. Many speakers supported a continuation of the Forum as it is, that is to continue the IGF as a multistakeholder platform that brings people together to discuss issues, exchange information and share best practices, but not to make decisions, nor to have highly visible outputs. Other speakers, while supporting a continuation of the IGF along similar lines to its current form, they called for some changes. The proposed changes ranged from small improvements to major changes in its functioning, such as adding provisions that would allow it to produce outputs and decisions on a multistakeholder consensus basis. Most of those who supported the continuation of the forum would like to do so for at least another five year term.
An honorary session organized by the Egyptian Government heard a keynote address by Suzanne Mubarak, First Lady of Egypt, President and Founder of the Suzanne Mubarak Women's International Peace Movement, in which she said that positive trends in the development of the Internet had a profoundly positive impact on society, especially in terms of youth empowerment. Through its dynamic infrastructure, diverse content, and interactive communities, the Internet is playing a key role in helping young people access quality education, find employment, and enhance their participation in all fields of life. She highlighted the launch, in Egypt, of the cyber peace initiative, promoting young people as equal and active partners in solving global challenges and which aims at using Internet technology for disseminating principles of tolerance, respect, justice, and human rights across nations. The initiative is also devoted to promoting and fostering Internet safety through education, awareness raising, multistakeholder cooperation, and active community involvement.
And, of course, as we have seen in this forum, there is so much more that we can do together on the international scene.
in the afternoon session dedicated to the emerging issue of the impact of social media, participants focussed on the development of social media -- social networks, user-generated content sites, microblogging, collaboration tools --and the issues it raises regarding privacy and data protection, rules applicable to user-generated content and copyrighted material, as well as freedom of expression and illegal content. The session also addressed the importance of the 'terms of service” of large platforms, how they are developed and their relationship with emerging business models based on behavioural analysis. As representative of UNESCO, Jutta Croll stressed to importance of the question of responsibility and emphasised the need to prepare users for the challenges set by social media. Especially education for digital literacy should be available to all to ensure equal opportunities in the Information Age.
Next year's IGF meeting will be held in Vilnius, Lithuania, from 14 to 17 September.