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FORUM: How do actors cope with the complexity of Internet governance

Page history last edited by Mary Murphy 8 years ago



Robert E. Kahn, CEO and President, Corporation for National Research Initiatives (one of the fathers of the Internet)
Hon. Helena Dalli, Minister for Social Dialogue, Consumer Affairs and Civil Liberties, Malta
Richard Samans, Managing Director and Member of the Managing Board, World Economic Forum

Parminder Jeet Singh, Executive Director, IT for Change, India
Marília Maciel, Researcher and Coordinator, Center for Technology and Society, FGV Brazil




With more than 50 Internet policy issues addressed in hundreds of various forums, many actors face difficulties in following Internet governance. Some governments, such as China, the USA, and Germany, have introduced cyber and Internet ambassadors as a way of covering foreign digital policy. Many countries started a national Internet Governance Forum in order to integrate the wider technical, academic, and business communities in Internet policies. For business and technical communities, following IG requires covering non-technical issues such as human rights (e.g. privacy). For civil society, in particular small organisations, covering the IG field is becoming very difficult. At the same time, due to the inter-connection of IG issues, many actors cannot afford not to use a comprehensive approach including technical, legal, and human rights aspects among others. Panellists will present different experiences in covering Internet governance and suggest some practical solutions. The session is planned to end with a list of concrete suggestions that should help various actors to deal with the complexity of IG.


Session notes


Inclusive space(s) for IG: Make it complex or make it simple?


Internet governance is complex. No wonder, that with more than 50 Internet policy issues addressed in hundreds of various forums, many actors face difficulties in following IG. Panellists from different sectors – government, business, technology and civil society – presented their experiences in covering IG and suggested some practical solutions how to find the way through the jungle.



Robert E. Kahn, CEO and President of the Corporation for National Research Initiatives (and also known as one of the fathers of the Internet) opened the forum. The mind behind the TCP/IP protocol which is an example of ‘simplicity making a great impact on society’ was asked how we can deal with complexity in a simple way. According to Kahn, the original Internet itself was about figuring out how networks and information systems that already existed could work together using protocols and procedures. It worked because it abstracted everything below so that the technological base could continue to expand. This can be done by focusing on the Digital Object Architecture, i.e., being able to identify information and manage it independently of the machine it is on. Protocols help find this information and make it available, thus mapping the identifier process. Kahn underlined the most important aspects - comparability with today’s Internet, Internet security and inoperability - to ensure that different networks and information systems can work together.


He reported that many countries want to embrace such a system but they do not want it to be tied to a company in the USA. The bottom line after discussion was that a non-operational foundation in Geneva to oversee this would be the best solution: this foundation would give a number to organisations that can, in turn, create identifiers starting with this number. The DONA Foundation is a a technical, non-political group, set up earlier this year, with a diverse range of stakeholders around the world and four initial administrators. It provides an important contribution and its biggest issue is how to ensure collaboration while securing it and enabling efficient implementation.



Hon. Helena Dalli, Minister for Social Dialogue, Consumer Affairs and Civil Liberties, said that Malta brought a rather sociological perspective into the discussion. She reminded participants at the very beginning of her speech, that for her, it is all about improving the lives of people. Therefore, one needs to address the pros as well as the cons people face due to the emergence of the Internet. In regard to human rights for example, we nowadays face almost unlimited opportunities to express ourselves – on the one hand. On the other hand, defamation, hate speeches, or cyber bullying have come up. Especially when it comes to children, one of the most vulnerable groups, it is important to address this issue. Dalli explained that her country, Malta, is doing so by working with the Education Ministry on raising awareness on cyber-bullying, and informing and alerting parents and educators about those risks linked to Internet use. Also when it comes to consumer protection and e-commerce, consumers (and companies) have more opportunities on the one hand, but face challenges on the other. More cooperation is needed, before consumers starting losing faith in e-commerce. Also in this respect, Dalli highlighted the importance of information and training and cooperation on several levels. In order to improve and protect the lives of people, so she stated, technology must match politics – not only on a national but also on an international level. 



Richard Samans, Managing Director and member of the Managing Board of the World Economic Forum (WEF), explained the organisation’s perspective on IG – a perspective which is, as he said, not solely a business perspective due to the multistakeholder approach of the forum. The Internet’s impact on business models is expanding, which is leading to a transformation of industries. As the Internet has become a very complex and urgent matter for most businesses, more and more CEOs, investors, etc., are taking an interest in it in order to better foresee the future of their companies, for example in raising the level of corporate strategy. Samans highlighted that not only at business but also at ministerial level there is a growing interest – which is not limited to information ministries. He stated that the Internet has also become a top-level political issue and has found its space in the WEF, as IG reaches a global governance level. On a more analytical level, mapping is also important. The WEF has expanded the platform for project-based exercises, such as the NETmundial initiative. It is not a normative exercise, but provides a platform for dialogue, in partnership with the Brazil steering committee and ICANN. While the WEF is not a norm-setting institution, it is a place, according to Samans, where this growing appetite can be stilled, where less experienced industries can learn from more experienced ones and where a dialogue between different stakeholders – private and public – can be held.


Parminder Jeet Singh, Executive Director at IT for Change in India, focused on the public policy aspect of complexity by presenting the situation of the governments who are supposed to be representing civil society. His answer in short to the question as to how actors deal with this complexity was that they do not deal with it at all since it either it paralyses them or they ignore it and only act in reaction to crisis in a sectoral way, comparing this to plumbing leaks. He came back to an important question discussed earlier at the conference: Is IG a sector in itself or not?  According to Singh, IG must be seen as a meta-space relating to all sectors that require institutional transformation. Creating a space for IG is challenging but necessary. He understands that IG is a space on the EU agenda. Also in India a new space is emerging. He agreed that this space is not like any other space but that it is necessary to animate governments to implement such spaces at national level. Singh also addressed the dilemma we find ourselves facing with the global expanse of the Internet. He underlined that in order to save the global nature of the Internet, developing countries need fair participation in the global IG space since they are interested in the Internet staying global. Developed countries know action is required but they do not find themselves in the position to do so. Politics prohibit them from making necessary changes. The USA has an interest to stay the centre of the global Internet as it is today, as is shown, for example, in discussions about whether the Internet should be classified as a telecommunications service. Concluding, he said that we should look at the larger public interest aspect of the Internet. We need to shed our smaller interests, and look a little higher.


Marilia Maciel, Researcher and Coordinator of the Centerfor Technology and Society at the FGV Brazil, brought in the Brazilian perspective, addressing complexity and inclusion. She proposed that complexity should not be seen as something negative that needs to be overcome, but rather as a natural state of things that has always been there, also in other sectors, a state that needs to be accepted. Maciel also warned of breaking down complexity and proposed a dynamic standpoint instead, focusing on how actors correlate, how they can associate if they have common interests.

This dynamic rather than static understanding of IG also brings in another aspect, namely traditional spaces of collaborative work and communities based on knowledge exchange that need to be included. Maciel pointed out that centralisation of IG, and centralisation in general, should not be equated with hierarchical structures but kept as separate concepts. Even though we have many layers and different actors in the field of IG which gives us an illusion of distribution, IG is less distributed than we think it is. Field companies at the infrastructure level and the big monopolised market of Internet content companies are very centralised and hierarchical. She reminded us that we need to look carefully at power relations when supporting distributive models and that we also need rules in order to ensure the protection of those who do not have the same tools and possibilities.



The business perspective, and especially the new NETmundial Initiative (NMI) under the auspices of the WEF, attracted a lot of interest from participants, whose questions addressed the representative of the WEF. For example, one query/comment was about the ‘undemocratic’ approach of the WEF – again, Samans pointed to the fact that the WEF is not a decision-making body but an informal platform for discussion. Another question was about the aforementioned WEF platform, which should give, according to Samans, the NMI better functionality.


When asked about the use of patterns, Kahn replied that when developing the Digital Objects Architecture, they were asked to file for patterns and later on used them for the public interest and also shared them online. The discussion went on to the national level as an important building block of IG, and Maciel agreed that it is an important level to foster communication, to overcome silos and offer an environment for the actors to interact. She mentioned as an example a Brazilian Internet Steering Committee, that met the challenge of being very well structured in order to be representative and insisted that we need to ensure such a structure on the international level.



We need to create space for IG; this space needs to be inclusive and well-structured to be representative. We need to ensure better direct channels of communication and cultivate a harvest of important collective actions



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