Debate about the future of Internet governance has recently gained great currency and pierced the Twitter sphere. Over the past year, major developments in the internet landscape have brought the global internet governance ecosystem firmly into the spotlight. Internet governance issues are now in the mainstream of international policy concerns and there is a growing realization among ordinary individuals that the management of the internet concerns them and that, as a collective resource, they have a right to understand its use.
Against this backdrop, representatives from across the spectrum of business, government, civil society, and the internet technical community are converging in Bali this week for the 8th Internet Governance Forum (IGF) to tackle a number of vital issues that define the agenda.
Born of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), the IGF was established to enable multistakeholder discussion on internet policy – something that’s integral to helping this diverse community reach common goals and progress policies that protect and strengthen the internet.
But since the multistakeholder community last convened in Baku, Azerbaijan, for IGF 2012, the world has come to understand more clearly than ever the important role that governments play in shaping the global internet.
In a landmark move away from United States oversight of the internet’s infrastructure, key organizations from the internet technical community are now calling for more cooperation between groups as a way to establish a more globalized, inclusive governance process around the internet. Stressing the importance of globally coherent internet operations, they have also warned against the fragmentation of the internet at national level and against the undermining of the trust and confidence of users through monitoring and surveillance.
This development reflects the reality that the management of the internet today is under deep scrutiny and we must work together to ensure it continues to serve the public interest. At a time when we are witnessing a change in the dynamics between governments and other stakeholder groups, we need to promote greater cooperation amongst all organisations. I also see a need to promote the understanding that management of the internet does not belong to a few, but that every one of us who uses the internet has a stake in its future. This is the basis on which the IGF exists.
As senior policy manager for ICC’s BASIS group, which represents global business interests at the UN-linked forum, the IGF, and other global processes, I am keenly aware of the need to better articulate the benefits of the multistakeholder model. Business agrees that engaging global governments in internet policy discussions is essential. But equally it recognises that achieving sustainable outcomes requires a respectful and informed balance of interests among all stakeholders and all groups.
So now, more than ever, is the time to re-energise the multistakeholder governance debate, and to build its concept and practice at national, regional and international levels. This year’s IGF will facilitate open debate on topics that will continue to pose crucial questions for policy as the internet further evolves – questions extending from infrastructure deployment and mobile innovation, to surveillance, the role of government, security and data protection and user rights.
The policy-making community must use this week’s workshops and sessions to underscore the very real dangers of not doing enough to advance policy that promotes the social and economic value of the internet.
We all have a shared responsibility to support the internet in this role, and cannot afford to shy away from addressing challenges to the free and open internet from which business – and wider society – continues to thrive.
Ayesha Hassan is Senior Policy Manager at ICC BASIS (International Chamber of Commerce, Business Action to Support the Information Society).