The Internet is now the backbone infrastructure of the global information and knowledge society. This was the common thread in all the discussions in the Internet Governance Forum that concluded on 02 November 2006. Speakers in nearly all plenary sessions emphasized the importance of multistakeholder cooperation. Noting the success of the Forum as an open-door and innovative modality, the participants identified some of the key issues as follows:
Access remains one of the great challenges facing the ICT community. The issue of access cannot be solved by a narrow focus on telecommunications sector reform. The nature of digital divide is multifaceted and [should be] the focal point for public policy responses. The importance of making the internet accessible to people with disabilities and older people was also underlined in discussions on access.
Another point that came out in the plenary on access was “the need to develop innovative policy measures such as universal access regimes to harness market-based solution to structural issues.” The discussion also covered the role of governments as the key stakeholder in ensuring enabling environment for greater access. The role of new emerging wireless technologies in providing increased access was also identified. In addition, the IGF was regarded as a good venue to exchange best practices in the promotion of access.
Free software advocates underscored the importance of a platform based on free software and open standards. Such software will contain free educational material that will enable people all over the world to use it [the software], modify it, so that a worldwide network of servers can be set up to enable people to access the knowledge available in that network.
While the participants views on diversity varied, most shared the opinion that multilingualism is a driving requirement for diversity in the Internet There was also a recognition that diversity extended beyond linguistic diversity, to cover populations challenged by lack of literacy in dominant languages or by disability. One participant stressed that diversity on the Internet must reflect the whole spectrum of human endeavour, both past and future. Participants also raised the issue of software, pointing out that market forces were sometimes not strong enough to provide countries with software in languages they required.
It was also emphasized that local content creation and dissemination cannot exist without freedom of expression. Citizens journalism was cited as an important contribution that ensures freedom of expression.
In the panel discussion on this topic, the participants highlighted that linguistic diversity is an essential prerequisite for enhancing content creation on the local level. In addition, it was pointed out that creation of local content is impossible without the identification of viable business motors for new media, but also for the old media in the new media world.
Human rights and the internet
The workshop on human rights and the internet organized by the Council of Europe raised the challenge of balancing freedom of expression and anonymity rights with human rights models as espoused by the 46 member states of the Council of Europe and the U.N. Charter of Universal Rights.
The workshop participants also discussed the following points:
- there is a gap in knowledge between human rights activists and ICT policymakers that needs to be addressed;
- there are concerns about the automatic retention of data under the guise of fighting the international war on terrorism, automatic filtering of web sites in some states without the referral to the rule of law, the lack of judicial oversight, and lack of transparency; and
- the rise of the Paris Hilton syndrome, wherein one of the benchmarks for success is how much attention one gets, regardless of for what, now seems to be the guiding principle for many who those who access [online] social networks.
At the workshop on the Internet Bill of Rights, the idea of creating an Internet bill of rights, which would be a document that states the rights and duties of the individual users of the internet was raised. It was pointed out that this should build on existing charters and statements of rights.
Participants at this workshop emphasized that the Information Society cannot exist without unhindered access to information in all forms and in all media. The participants also pointed out that free speech on the internet has been increasingly restricted over the recent years, jeopardizing the provisions of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They stressed that laws and rules that are applied off-line must also be applied online. There should be no new standards just because new tools emerge and the complexity of the market and the challenges linked to competition between public and private content is increasing, the report from this workshop stated.
Examining the issues of privacy and personal data protection, the participants observed that the legal concept of privacy that is closely linked to freedom of expression both online and off-line, is not fully developed, particularly since September 2001. They said that there is an urgent need to establish a balance between the right of internet users to privacy, right to anonymous cyber expression and the right of governments [to protect] national sovereignty.
Following are some of the recommendations from the workshops and the plenary sessions:
1. The IGF [advisory council] should develop a pre-established multi-year program of work which pays attention to different cultures and different approaches.
2. Establish multistakeholder cooperation among Uninted Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural (UNESCO), International Telecommunication Union (ITU), Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to address the issue of a multilingual internet.
3. Support multilingual content that is not commercially viable.
4. Enhance capacity building –focusing not only on the needs of policymakers but in enhancing the level of skills within a country.
5. Ensure greater representation from the business sector.
6. Provide funding support for the participation of developing countries, small island developing nations, NGOs and civil society organizations particularly those representing marginalized sectors.
7. [Consider the use of a] less luxurious setting to encourage more people to participate.
8. Security should again be on the agenda of the 2nd IGF in Rio de Janeiro.
9. Convene national-level Internet Governance Fora.
Ambassador Trevor Clarke from Barbados reported that the countries in the Caribbean were holding and internet governance dialogue in Grenada on the same day, 02 November 2006 and that some IGF participants were having an online meeting with that group.
Women’s Groups Form GenWin
Women’s organizations present in the 1st IGF including the Association for Progressive Communications- Women’s Networking Support Programme (APC WNSP), International Women’s Tribune Centre, Women’sNet South Africa and ZamirNet, Croatia identified a number of steps in preparation for the next IGF in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in November 2007. One such step is the formation of Gender in WSIS Implementation Network (GenWin).
GenWin is an informal information exchange and advocacy network for organizations involved in promoting gender equality in the post-WSIS process. It is one of the dynamic coalitions formed following the 1st IGF.
As a concrete next step, GenWin members present at the IGF will inform other women’s media and ICT organizations about the discussion in Athens and the in the lead up to the 2nd IGF in Rio de Janeiro. Two of the events where such information sharing will take place are the 9th World Conference and General Assembly of AMARC in Amman, Jordan from the 11 -17 November 2006 and the international meeting “Re-Engineering Development: Engendering ICTs” organized by the Center for Women and Information Technology and the Women in Global Science and Technology in Paris, France on 12-14 November 2006.
This will be followed by the development of plans and strategies to ensure more women’s representation and participation in the 2nd IGF in Rio de Janeiro in November 2007. It is hoped that gender issues and concerns will be substantively integrated in all future discussions on internet governance.