I have applied to speak at the inaugural annual conference of GigaNet, a new network of Internet governance scholars. Here’s what I intend to talk about:
The Tunis Agenda states in paragraph 35(a) that “Policy authority for Internet-related public policy issues is the sovereign right of States”. It is therefore taken that governments are to lead the development of Internet-related public policy within the Internet Governance Forum, and that the appropriate roles of the other stakeholders in this endeavour – that is, the roles of the private sector, civil society and intergovernmental organisations – are merely consultative (see paragraph 68). However there is a tension here between the traditional conception of public policy governance, as a process led by governments in which public input is received through written submissions and public hearings, and the increasingly prevalent understanding that states are no longer sovereign over public policy issues that transcend their borders, and must admit other stakeholders as full co-decision makers if their governance is to be perceived as legitimate. Is it still therefore accurate to say, as the Tunis Agenda does, that the development of transnational public policy is the sole responsibility of governments? If not, was it ever accurate to say so, and if it was, how and when did this change? I propose to speak about these issues by contending that governments alone can no longer legitimately claim sole authority over the development of public policy for the Internet, due to the diffusion of their sovereignty in respect of transnational issues upward, downward and outward to other actors, who whilst not endowed with (legal) authority, are better placed to address them. On this basis it can be understood that the traditional international order of Westphalian states now shares the mantle of transnational governance with regimes in which private sector or civil society stakeholders dominate – that of ICANN, to give one obvious example. Whilst the other stakeholders can add legitimacy to the governance process – for example, the private sector that of the efficiency of markets, and civil society the moral force of the substantive values it represents – they are no more legitimate in their own right than governments are. Rather, it is as a network, in which all stakeholders collaborate, that transnational public policy can be developed most legitimately (and incidentally most effectively). The IGF is, at least potentially, such a network. To suggest that the IGF could develop public policy for the Internet, when it is neither representative nor has yet had the opportunity to develop the perception of legitimacy within either the Internet community or the international order at large, perhaps seems outlandish. And so it is – at the moment. But the potential for the IGF to develop into a legitimate and effective governance network, that is perceived as such, exists now and should not be squandered. What is required in order for this lofty objective to be realised, and to save the IGF from becoming simply another irrelevant “talk shop”? Its multi-stakeholder composition, laudable and important as it is, is not sufficient. The IGF must not only be constituted appropriately, but its structure and procedures must also support its inclusive and collaborative ideals if it is to truly become a multi-stakeholder governance network. In determining what these procedures can be, much can be learned from observing the processes of other bodies already involved in Internet governance, such as the IETF, that successfully make decisions by consensus, and from the theory of deliberative democracy which values opinion formation as much as decision-making, and which is particularly well-suited to bodies such as the IGF in which stakeholders from radically different backgrounds are involved.
We are informed today that the IGF’s Plaza has been cancelled, “for organisational reasons”. Perhaps the high cost, as previously reported, deterred would-be exhibitors. Or perhaps someone simply realised that the IGF is not a trade show.
I was a little frustrated to read this summary of an Oxford Internet Institute seminar on the IGF, apparently with the somewhat patronising title of Managing Expectations:
A common meta-theme was the problem of how to “manage the expectations” of participants given the Forum’s novelty and its ambiguous status as a governance institution. Participants agreed that Forum attendees, especially developing countries, should return from Athens feeling that something useful occurred, but opinions varied on what counted as worthwhile. Forum “doves” claimed that they would be happy if the participants benefited from the networking that takes place, acquired new knowledge of best practices, and formed new networks and communities of interest. Forum “hawks” tended to characterize the Forum as a way to achieve visibility for new, pressing issues that are not receiving enough attention in international circles, and urged it to embrace rather than avoid the unfinished business of WSIS and serve as a place for critical assessment of international institutions involved in ICT governance.
Call me a hawk, then. I know, of course, that this is the prevalent view, but what exactly is the point of another talk-shop when there are in fact real issues for which the governance of an international multi-stakeholder body is needed? To twist a phrase, if the IGF did not exist, it would be necessary for us to invent it.
A list of those who have registered to attend the first IGF meeting and consented to the public release of their names, is available on the IGF’s Web site. It is interesting reading. There are 339 delegates listed in total, divided between the stakeholder groups as follows:
- Government: 79
- Intergovernmental organisations: 18
- Private sector: 27
- Civil society: 215
Whilst these figures are a little rubbery (for example, my allocation of certain bodies to the class of either civil society or private sector could be debated), there is no question that civil society will be very robustly represented at the meeting, at least in sheer numbers. This is heartening news. Here are some other interesting facts:
- Of the governmental representatives, fewer than half are from highly developed countries.
- The civil society representatives include twelve from universities and eight from ISOC and its official chapters.
- There will be three Australian representatives including myself.
You are reading the first “official” entry of the new community discussion site for civil society stakeholders in the activities of the Internet Governance Forum. All of the entries below this one have been transferred from my personal blog, but from now on any journal entry I write relating to the IGF will appear here.
Why the new site? Two main reasons. First, although there are number of community discussion sites and blogs devoted to ICANN, there are none devoted to the IGF, which is potentially of broader interest and importance. Since the IGF has foreshadowed that it will be monitoring and reporting from the blogosphere at its first meeting, this is a hole that I believed should be filled.
Second, there is little information, and still less discussion, about preparations for the IGF’s first meeting. This site is for others like me who are interested in expressing and exchanging their views about the IGF in the lead-up to its first meeting in Athens this October and November.
Although there seems to be something of a tone of forboding to the posts so far, I remain optimistic about the potential for the IGF to live up to its ideals of multi-stakeholder engagement and transparency. However, this depends in part on you helping to hold the IGF to these ideals and prevent it from slipping into familiar intergovernmental ruts.
Welcome again, and I hope to hear from you all over the coming months.
The IGF has just launched a Web forum for discussion of IGF-related issues, to which I’m the first substantive contributor, on the issue of remote participation. I’m glad of this development, because so far all planning for the IGF’s first meeting has taken place behind closed doors, and reported only very infrequently to the IGF’s Web site. For example, it has only just been announced that the Advisory Group met again in Geneva earlier this month, with the vague promise that the results of its deliberations will be made available “in due course” (and I can almost hear Sir Humphrey add “at the appropriate juncture, in the fullness of time”). So now that we have a forum on which to do so, I intend to publicly repeat the enquiries that I have made privately to the IGF Secretariat, on basic issues such as how blogs are to be nominated for inclusion in the IGF’s blogosphere report, and how and when the promised five-minute video presentations are to be recorded. Oh, wait – I can’t. The forum is configured so that only administrators can start new topics.
The expressed aim of the Internet Governance Forum’s Plaza, an exhibition to be held at the venue of its first meeting, is that of “bringing participants together, facilitating the exchange of experience and the sharing of best practices”. Well, at least between rich participants. Because the costs of exhibiting there have just been released. They range from CHF5800 to CHF8400, which is almost AUD$6200 and AUD$9000 respectively. I had been toying with the idea of putting together an exhibition with information about my research and a register where people could sign up to participate in it. Clearly, that idea is out the window.
For a while this journal will take a turn away from personal matters to focus on the subject of my thesis; the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), since the Secretariat has declared that the blogosphere will be monitored for discussion on the IGF and summary reports presented to its first meeting which I will be attending in Athens. I intend this journal to be one of the blogs monitored. The thesis will examine critically the extent to which the IGF lives up to its ideals of transparency and inclusiveness. Early signs are mixed, but I remain positive. The IGF’s Secretariat was appointed by the Secretary-General of the UN on 2 March 2006, comprised of UN staffers led by Swiss WGIG coordinator, Marcus Kummer. Not exactly a multi-stakeholder core, but the Secretariat is not a policy-making unit. Or is it? It was the Secretariat that determined the composition of the IGF Advisory Group, following a call for nominations put out on 16 March 2006, closing on 18 April. However, the selection process was neither open nor transparent, and my own nomination made on 29 March was not acknowledged. The group eventually selected, and chaired by Nitin Desai, another WGIG alumnus, was announced on 17 May. Its composition is heavy with diplomats, lawyers and executives. The Advisory Group, in turn, determined the basic agenda and programme for the first meeting, and is continuing to do so in selecting the successful applicants for self-funded workshops to be held concurrently with the plenary sessions of the meeting. They have also decided that there should be a Plaza at the meeting venue to showcase institutions and projects. There is no information on the costs associated with exhibiting in the Plaza, but watch this space.
I have just been awarded a scholarship by Murdoch University to write my Masters thesis on the topic, A Collaborative Model of Internet Legal Governance. This investigates a possible new approach to the development of Internet-related legal norms, by adapting the same grass-roots consensus-based mechanisms that are currently used to develop the Internet’s technical standards. My joint supervisors will be well-known online and privacy legal expert Roger Clarke, and Communications and Cultural Studies senior lecturer Ingrid Richardson. This link (currently inactive) will be to a Wiki which I will be using to write the thesis online, so you will be able to follow its progress and even contribute to it if you wish.
I had applied for a grant from the auDA Foundation to assist me with my expenses in attending the first meeting of the Internet Governance Forum in Athens in October and November. Today I received a letter refusing the application, and stating with regret that “the provision of funds for overseas travel expenses was not a funding priority”. Well, I can certainly understand that, given that auDA (which has four staff) spent only $154,000 on travel in 2004-2005, and has a paltry $180,000 budgeted for 2005-2006. auDA’s CEO Chris Disspain attended the IGF’s public consultations in Geneva in both February and May, and although he spoke 380 words at the first meeting, the public transcripts do not indicate that he spoke at the second. However, he was also appointed to the IGF’s Advisory Group in the obscure process referred to in my last post, and its first meeting in Geneva, held following the second public consultation, took place behind closed doors. Thankfully it seems likely that Murdoch University will provide a grant to cover my flight expenses for the first IGF meeting, but for no subsequent meetings, and accommodation won’t be covered. Of course, most people who might otherwise be interested in attending the inaugural IGF meeting won’t even be in such a fortunate position as I am. I wonder what the demographic composition of those attending will be?