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FORUM: One Internet - many policy angles

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on November 18, 2014 at 11:07:35 pm




Malcolm Johnson, Deputy Secretary-General elect  & Director, Telecommunication Standardization Bureau, ITU
Yi Xiaozhun, Deputy Director General, WTO
Flavia Pansieri, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, OHCHR
Christian Wichard, Deputy Director-General, Global Issues Sector, WIPO




Preserving one Internet involves different policy processes. More than 50% of global Internet policy is discussed and decided on in Geneva: telecom infrastructure, human rights, e-commerce, digital intellectual property are just a few of the areas. This high-level panel will discuss different policy angles, and ways in which cross-cutting Internet policy can be developed. High officials from the ITU, the WTO, and WIPO will discuss potential synergies among their activities of the relevance for the Internet.


Session notes



FORUM: One Internet – many policy angles


Preserving one Internet involves different policy processes: telecom infrastructure, human rights, e-commerce, and digital intellectual property are just a few of these areas. Diplo’s A Journey through Internet Governance, visualising these processes through a ‘subway map’ with seven lines, 40 issues or stops, and many intersections, served as a backdrop for the high-level panel discussion.


This high-level panel discussed different policy angles, and ways in which cross-cutting Internet policy can be developed. High officials from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the World Trade Organization (WTO), the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) presented and debated potential synergies among their activities of the relevance for the Internet.


Malcolm Johnson, Deputy Secretary-General elect and Director of the ITU’s Telecommunication Standardization Bureau presented the oldest international organisation in Geneva, one that will celebrate its 150th anniversary in 2015. Operating through its three main sectors (radiocmmunication, telecommunication standards, and telecommunication development), the ITU’s work started with addressing problems related to ensuring international connectivity, beginning with telegraphs. Its mission is still the same, although technology has changed progressively. One of the ITU’s core functions is standard setting, for example setting standards for fibre-optic networks or for broadband access. It is strongly connected to and collaborates with not only international and national bodies, but also with industrial sectors, such as the energy or health sector. Lately it has also been accepted that telecommunication issues are linked to climate change and that the collaboration of different international organisations with the ITU is a must. Johnson gave a practical example showing the implications for mobile phones where technical standards come together with other questions such as property rights, stressing collaboration among the various bodies: spectrum is allocated by the ITU; the video codec is an ITU codec; the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) develops the standards for Wi-Fi; the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) has the TCP/IP protocol; and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has HTML and XML standards. Collaboration was and is crucial. 


Yi Xiaozhun, Deputy Director General of the WTO, in his introductory remarks presented the trade policy perspective and explained to the audience what the WTO has done till now and what it is currently doing. He highlighted the WTO’s multidisciplinary approach since the very beginning of e-commerce, be it in helping open up a market for e-negotiations in 1995‒1997 or the application of various WTO agreements since 1988. According to Xiaozhun, this multidisciplinary approach can also be seen on a working level within the WTO, of which the close collaboration of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights(TRIPS) and WIPO is only one example. Regarding the present, Xiaozhun went on to explain, most importantly, that discussions on the Internet today not only appear in the e-commerce sector but have become daily business in the regular work of all bodies within the WTO.


Flavia Pansieri, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, OHCHR, discussed the implications for Human Rights and their protection in terms of the Internet and communication technology. After presenting the positive impact communication technology can have on development, Pansieri went to show the risks of these same technologies to Human Rights. (1) Digital divide: As we have more and more access to digital technology, there is a risk of leaving those who are deprived of this access increasingly behind. (2) A tool for control: While the Internet and telecommunication technology can be a force for democracy, as seen with the Arab Spring, it can also be used to monitor and control individuals. (3) A Big Brother society: There are increasing concerns about surveillance and a lack of privacy protection. Paniseri showed the connection between Human Rights and other fields in IG, explaining that any discussion of IG should be underpinned by Human Rights concerns. Internet issues related to Human Rights include cybersecurity and cybercrime as well as the respect for the freedom of opinion and expression by states. Referring to the recent resolutions of the Human Rights Council, Pansieri emphasised that ‘people online have the same exact rights as people offline’ and states have to respect these rights online as much as offline. She also stressed the right to privacy, which is often at risk by new platforms on the Internet and by practices such as governments collecting data from the private sector. She said the right of privacy was so important, that in December 2013, the UN General Assembly asked the High Commissioner for Human Rights to prepare a report on how to protect privacy in light of domestic and extra-territorial surveillance. The report, published in June, concluded that global political, economic, and social life were increasingly reliant on platforms such as the Internet and that these platforms are not only subject and vulnerable to mass surveillance, but it is their very existence that facilitates this surveillance. In order to address the risks and challenges to Human Rights, Pansieri believes that a multistakeholder approach is needed, including helping companies to respect Human Rights. She concluded by saying that technological development does have an impact on the way we live and interact and that it is important to think of Human Rights from the beginning when new technologies are introduced.


WIPO’s work in the field of internet is not only about treaties – this was one of the main messages Christian Wichard, Deputy Director-General, Global Issues Sector, WIPO, delivered to the GIC audience. Of course, this traditional approach on a treaty level is very important for WIPO; noting and remembering for example, the conclusion of the Marrakesh Treaty on library and archive in December last year. The other approach taken by WIPO is a rather practical and technical one and includes even more stakeholders from all different spheres. In the context of the Accessible Books Consortium for example, WIPO consulted with organisations representing publishers, actors, and printers. Depending on the issue, either the traditional or the (newer) practical approach could, or better said, should, be taken. One of the main challenges for WIPO is the fact that most of the content on the Internet is still easier to get from illegal rather than legal sources. Another challenge is the need to adjust territorial systems to reflect the global nature. This is a task that goes far beyond normative issues and the solution to the problem is only possible through dialogue among multiple stakeholders.


The forum continued with a discussion about practical approaches envisaged by the participants. Pansieri explained that a common language that is understandable to Human Right experts, IT developers, and business entrepreneurs is necessary. This needs dialogue and discussion. She also gave the example of the focal point on cybersecurity that is bringing different actors together as one way of reaching this common understanding. Johnson explained that the ITU is open to different actors, also non-members, by inititating focus groups in which anyone can participate and discuss issues on an equal footing. According to Xiaozhun, the challenge for the WTO is to find a balance in governance-related issues, for example between free trade and protection of consumers. 
The forum ended with a questions addressing different issues such as the existing of an international framework, surveillance, intellectual property or the participation of developing countries, to give a few examples.

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