The United States is careful with the image that it presents to its citizens and the rest of the world about its support for the multi-stakeholder governance model for Internet governance. In a 2011 strategy document on cyberspace policy it expressed full enthusiasm for that model, and has revealed its reservations only indirectly, for example through its attempt to prematurely terminate the work of the CSTD Working Group, and its retention of unilateral oversight of ICANN through a permanent Affirmation of Commitments following the expiry of its earlier Joint Project Agreement.
But the United States, and other countries too, feel more freedom to depart from their expressed multi-stakeholder principles when they can do so in a manner that allows them a degree of distance from their actions. The main way in which they can do this is by means of forum shifting to less inclusive intergovernmental organisations, or by entering into new bilateral or multilateral agreements that provide limited representation of other stakeholders.
In a sense, the efforts of governments to create a home for Internet policy development outside of the IGF cannot accurately be described as forum shifting, since as explained in the first section of this paper, the IGF is not yet a forum capable of usefully contribute to the process of developing such policies, having been held back from acquiring that capacity as explained in an earlier post. The main exception is in the case of intellectual property policy, which already has a natural, and relatively broadly consultative, home in WIPO. As such the attempts of business and governments to use bilateral trade negotations, as well as multi-lateral negotiations such as TRIPS, ACTA (the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) and the TPPA (Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement) to develop and promulgate intellectual property norms and raise enforcement standards have been well studied as examples of forum shifting, and are also a good example of the multi-stakeholder principle in decline.
Less well studied to date, and the focus of attention here, are three more directly Internet-related intergovernmental policy-making institutions which governments have favoured as loci for Internet policy development in recent months, but which in comparison to a potential empowered IGF or a future fully multi-stakeholder enhanced cooperation framework, lack openness to either multilateral or multi-stakeholder input, or both. These three institutions are the ITU, the G8 and the OECD.
The intergovernmental forum in which governments disenamoured of the multi-stakeholder model have most loudly voiced their views is the ITU. The ITU formed a government-only working group in 2007 to review whether any reforms to its own structure were required in order to bring it into compliance with the multi-stakeholder standard set at WSIS. Although ITU membership and meetings are almost completely closed to civil society, the review concluded in 2009 that no changes were needed.
At its plenipotentiary conference in 2010, renewed calls were made by some delegates for the ITU “to take on itself a leading role in internet governance within the scope of its competence”, though as with earlier similar efforts to shift Internet governance roles into that forum, these failed. However at the same meeting the ITU did confirm that its Dedicated Group on international Internet-related public policy issues would be maintained as a body “limited to member states, with open consultation to all stakeholders.”
Whereas WGIG had rejected the ITU as a suitable institution within which for governments to address Internet governance issues, largely because of the deficits in its accessibility to civil society as noted above, alternative institutional options have since emerged that are more open to the participation of other stakeholders, but in a more controlled way than at the IGF, and possessing a clearer intergovernmental mandate for policy development.
One of these is the G8. In 2009, European Commission Vice-President Vivian Reding had called for the establishment of a “G-12 for Internet Governance,” being “a multilateral forum available for governments to discuss general internet governance policy issues.” She got her wish in 2011, when the G8 under the Presidency of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, convened an invitation-only e-G8 Forum in Deauville, from which civil society was largely excluded. The meeting notionally provided non-governmental delegates an opportunity to contribute their views to the formal G8 summit (though in fact the Deauville Declaration eventually issued at the summit had been drafted beforehand).
According to one commentator who was present, Sarkozy “sees the role of the e-G8 very much in the same context as the national CNN (Conseil National du Numérique, composed only of business): create a space for business and states to start a conversation, but not a real advisory body and not multi-stakeholder.”
Falling somewhere in between the open yet ineffectual multi-stakeholderism of the IGF and the tokenism of the intergovernmental e-G8 stands the OECD. Since 2008, the OECD’s Committee for Information, Computer and Communication Policy (CICCP), which is attached to the intergovernmental OECD Council, has taken advice from a Civil Society Information Society Advisory Council (CSISAC). It stands alongside two similar advisory committees for the business and technical communities.
In June 2011, the CICCP endeavoured to reach agreement between the Council and its advisory committees on a Communiqué on Principles for Internet Policy-Making. Although the communiqué expressed support for “multi-stakeholder co-operation in policy development processes,” and contained a number of other provisions to which CSISAC had contributed and with which it agreed, in the end CSISAC chose not to endorse it on the grounds that
several of these principles are not compatible with CSISAC core values including respect for fundamental human rights and freedoms and, the rule of law, promotion of access to knowledge, promotion of open standards, Net Neutrality and balanced intellectual property policies and regimes.
In itself, this indicates no failure of the multi-stakeholder model, nor can be cited as evidence of that model in decline. But if consensus could not be reached between civil society and the other stakeholders, a full commitment to the multi-stakeholder process would have seen the OECD retracting its communiqué of principles altogether, or at the very least honestly acknowledging that those principles did not represent the views of all of the stakeholders consulted. But in fact, the withdrawal of civil society from endorsement of the communiqué has been treated as an inconvenient fact to be quietly ignored. For example, as the facts were presented by US government representatives in a Washington Post op ed:
The recent meeting called by the OECD (the international economics policy standards organization) assembled leaders from 40 governments, business and the Internet technical community. It produced a set of broad principles for safeguarding the open Internet that address three key international threats to the seamless, interconnected Web.
Not only is civil society’s abstention not admitted, but indeed civil society is not mentioned in the story at all. It as if civil society simply did not play any role in the process. The OECD cannot be regarded as adhering to the WSIS principles on multi-stakeholder participation in Internet governance if one stakeholder group’s participation in that process can be trivialised in this manner.
This post is excerpted from a forthcoming paper and presentation of the author to be titled Arresting the decline of multi-stakeholderism in Internet governance.