My closing session statement at the Nairobi IGF

Madam Chair, your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I address you as co-coordinator of the Civil Society Internet Governance Caucus, which is an open and diverse group of civil society stakeholders who believe in an inclusive, people centered and development oriented approach to Internet governance. As such our members were amongst the earliest and strongest proponents of the IGF, which together we have all shaped into a forum which embodies those values.

One of the recent developments in Internet governance most remarked upon at this meeting has been the flourishing of statements of principles of Internet governance from various stakeholders, including governments and intergovernmental organisations. This is a welcome development, because it demonstrates that those stakeholders understand the value of soft governance of the Internet, which the IGF also exemplifies. Several of the stakeholders who have developed statements of principles have also placed them before this meeting of the IGF for discussion. This is another welcome step, because it shows their commitment to developing policy through multi-stakeholder consultation, and the IGF is the perfect place for this.

Continuing this process, the next step that many in civil society would like to see is for the IGF to be used as a venue for each of the stakeholders to contribute these statements of principles, to a process by which we draw out common elements, and build consensus, towards the development of a multi-stakeholder framework of principles which we can all own together. If such a joint statement of principles could be produced during the current term of the IGF’s mandate, this would have far more weight and legitimacy than any of the individual statements could ever hope to possess on their own. It would also establish beyond question the IGF’s ability to contribute tangible and lasting outcomes for the guidance of policy makers.

On the part of the Internet Governance Caucus, we intend to participate in the development of a set of principles for civil society, using an open and transparent process, as our input into the process of developing a common framework of principles. We hope to present this civil society statement of principles at the next meeting of the IGF and at other Internet governance meetings in the meantime.

If we are to work towards an IGF framework of principles, this exercise should be undertaken not merely in a stakeholder-organised workshop, but as a plenary body, involving all participants, and taking full advantage of the improvements to the IGF’s processes that we expect the CSTD Working Group will propose. Amongst these improvements, we hope, will be a way to involve remote participants, particularly from the global South, as equals. After all, e-participation, both during meetings and throughout the year, is one of the best ways in which we can promote multi-stakeholder values of inclusion, transparency and openness.

It will also be very useful for the next IGF meeting to adopt a theme that provides a suitable context to focus on the various statements of principles and explore commonalities. An appropriate main theme for this purpose is human rights and Internet governance.

One of the other debates for which this IGF meeting will be remembered concerns one possible model by which the non-binding policy options developed by multi-stakeholder means at the IGF, could feed into a higher level process where a choice between those options is made. Very often, an appropriate such high level process already exists, and whilst it can and should be enhanced in line with the multi-stakeholder model, a new process or institution may not be needed. But we should also remain open to discussing cases in which there is not already an appropriate and inclusive high-level process to resolve particular policy issues, perhaps because no existing institution has a mandate to decide on those issues.

It is for such cases that the Tunis Agenda directs all stakeholders to consider possible mechanisms for enhanced cooperation. As civil society we look forward to discussing with any democratic government, and with the private sector and technical community, whether new processes are needed, in what circumstances they may be needed, and how we can guarantee that they do not detract in any way from the rightful role of the IGF, nor from the entitlement of all stakeholders to participate fully in Internet governance.

Thank you and I look forward to continuing to collaborate with you all in this exciting time for governance and the Internet.

Secret civil society business

As the last post illustrated well, not everything that happens at the IGF happens out in the open. Even civil society, sometimes, meets behind closed doors – though the doors in question are generally those policymakers, rarely our own. So over the last three days, civil society representatives have had private audiences with the EU, the US and the UN on issues of mutual concern. I don’t know much about the first of those meetings, which was with the EU Parliament, because I wasn’t there. Apparently the child online safety lobby crashed that party, and the IGC coordinators found out about it only afterwards. The second of the meetings was between the IGC coordinators myself and Izumi Aizu, Assistant UN Secretary-General Thomas Stelzer, and his colleague Vyacheslav Cherkasov, to raise civil society’s serious concerns about the selection of Azerbaijan as the host country for next year’s IGF, in view of the country’s poor human rights record and the high cost of both air travel and accommodation within that country. The UN staff appeared genuinely receptive, and will look into what can be done about the cost issue, but without an alternative offer to host the 2012 meeting, it is unlikely the host country will change. Meanwhile rumours had been spread that civil society was planning a demonstration against the acceptance of Azerbaijan’s offer. As far as I know, these rumours were entirely false. However a number of people, including Chengetai of the IGF Secretariat, came up to me to urge me to have the demonstration called off, because it would result in the demonstrators being ejected from the UN grounds indefinitely. Just a misunderstanding, or white-anting by those who want to cast civil society in a bad light? Finally, this afternoon an informal private meeting was held between the US government delegation (Ambassador Philip Verveer, Dick Beaird, Jack Spilsbury, Andrew Harris, Justin Fair and Craig Reilly) and civil society representatives (myself and Izumi Aizu as coordinators of the Internet Governance Caucus, and Parminder Jeet Singh, Marília Maciel and Wolfgang Kleinwächter from the CSTD Working Group on Improvements to the IGF). We were all agreed on the success of the IGF as a discussion forum, but the civil society representatives contended that improvements to improve the forum’s output orientation were needed. The Indian proposal provided one possible template for doing this, generating a range of specific policy options that could be presented to policy makers, as WGIG developed policy options for presentation to the second phase of WSIS. The US delegates, however, feared that such improvements would result in turning the forum into an intergovernmental-style negotiation. Whilst, by definition, governments have no problem with intergovernmental-style negotiation, they contend that this would destroy the IGF as we know it. In fact I’m the last to deny this, which is why I spent so long in my book exploring techniques of deliberative democracy that can help avoid such negotiation gridlock. The fear, though, in my view, is overstated. After all, if we attempt to produce an output document and it doesn’t work, how bad can the result be? Nobody is going to die. As I pointed out at the meeting, we could easily try it as an experiment for one year, and then abandon it if it didn’t work. To paraphrase Kofi Annan (as I did both in my book and at the meeting), we need to be no less creative in developing Internet governance processes as those who invented the Internet. My colleagues spoke to similar effect, reminding us that multi-stakeholderism, and the IGF as a body based on this principle, are still young and that we should not be afraid to take measured risks and experiment until we find the ideal formula – one with a little more output orientation, but stopping short of intergovernmental-style negotiation. More to the point, all this talk about not wanting to risk getting the IGF caught up in negotiations is just a smokescreen. More frankly, the biggest fear that underlies the objection to negotiations is not that it will damage the IGF, but (and this is an exact quote) that “governments can only cede negotiating authority up to a certain point.” In fact for both governments and the private sector, the question is the same… how much of their power are they really willing to share? Another topic of discussion was this year’s “principle tsunami” (to borrow Wolfgang’s phrase, and with apologies to Izumi), with governmental frameworks of principles on Internet governance having been put forward by the G8, OECD, EU, US, Brazil, Council of Europe and more. Wolfgang’s vision is that civil society should develop its own similar statement of principles, and that we should then discuss it and the other statements within the IGF, working towards developing them into a common framework of commitments that can be agreed by all stakeholders, before the conclusion of the IGF’s next mandate term. As far as the US delegates would move during our discussion was to consider that perhaps the IGF meetings should have a particular theme around which its discussions could be focussed each year, and that main sessions and workshops could somehow develop and map policy options with respect to that theme. But they did also undertake to take all our comments on board. I don’t doubt that the delegation does take the IGF seriously. In fact Ambassador Verveer very pertinently observed, and I agree, that the most important legacy of the IGF might not be in respect of Internet governance policy issues, but rather its contribution to the development of the multi-stakeholder model of global governance.