5.2.2. The First Meeting

The inaugural meeting of the Internet Governance Forum was held in Athens from 30 October to 2 November 2006. According to the Greek hosts,[1] it was attended by 1350 participants (including 152 media), from 97 countries. Approximately 40% of these were from civil society, about 35% governmental or intergovernmental, and another 25% divided fairly equally between the private sector and the media.[2] There was no cost to register for the event, with all venue expenses being covered by the hosts.

At the Advisory Group’s meeting on 22 and 23 May, and as foreshadowed following the February consultations, an overall theme “Internet Governance for Development” was selected for the Athens meeting, with capacity building as a “cross-cutting priority.” Within this framework, four themes for discussion were chosen, being described on the IGF Web site as follows:

The breadth of these themes was such that almost all of the public policy issues previously raised by stakeholders in their interventions and written contributions could be shoehorned into one or more of them, although the omission of explicit reference to Internet naming and numbering issues was notable.[3]

5.2.2.1. Submissions

Following publication of the agenda, submissions were again solicited, with those received by 2 August being included in another synthesis paper that was prepared by the Secretariat as an input into the inaugural meeting. 79 submissions were received from 45 contributors by this deadline,[4] and were reflected in the Background Paper that was released in all official UN languages one week before the commencement of the Athens meeting.[5] It dealt first with submissions on general aspects of Internet governance, then those that could be grouped under one of the four themes, followed by those that looked at the IGF as an institution.

Rather than summarising their content here, as the Background Paper did, the submissions will instead be considered as products of a process initiated by the Secretariat to fulfil the IGF’s role as a forum for multi-stakeholder policy dialogue. On this basis, the process was characterised by three deficiencies: in the substantive moderation or facilitation of the discussion, in the level of deliberation by the participants, and in the orientation of submissions towards the fulfilment of the IGF’s mandate. Taking these in turn:

The limitations of these submissions and the process by which they were solicited should be understood in the light that they were intended only as an input into the discussions that would take place in person in Athens, which had the potential to be far more deliberative and, through expert facilitation, to be directed more closely towards the fulfilment of the IGF’s mandate. Whether this potential would in fact be realised will shortly be seen.

5.2.2.2. Plenary sessions

The programme of the inaugural meeting of the IGF included nine plenary sessions:

Each session bar the last was three hours in duration, and benefited from simultaneous translation into all official UN languages, using eight translation booths staffed by twenty translators. In addition, the text of each session appeared in English on a large projection screen within moments of its translation or transcription, and was subsequently posted to the IGF’s Web site.[15]

The four thematic sessions, along with the Multistakeholder Policy Dialogue and Emerging Issues sessions, were structured as panel presentations with between eleven and fifteen panelists, and were professionally moderated.[16] No formal process of consultation was conducted by the Advisory Group in selecting the panelists or moderators, although the Group did endeavour to ensure that there was a balance of stakeholder groups and geographical diversity amongst the speakers.[17]

Although notionally all plenary sessions were to focus on the developmental dimension of their themes, and to promote capacity building as a cross-cutting priority, this was adhered to by few speakers from outside civil society, and few workshops other than those devoted to development issues. Thus Rikke Frank Jorgensen acknowledged during the security panel in Athens, “we are still rather weak when we talk about this link and what it actually means and how security play [sic] into the development agenda.”

As the plenary sessions comprised about 25 hours of discussion in all, it lies beyond the scope of this section to attempt even a cursory summary of them. For this reason, the substantive issues under discussion in the plenary sessions will not be dealt with at all here. Instead, our attention will be confined to three specific issues discussed during the plenary sessions that highlight the IGF’s own view of its role, structure, and processes, as had previously been the focus of the two open consultation meetings in Geneva.

These issues are firstly whether the IGF’s role should include the making of recommendations, secondly whether some structural evolution of the IGF would be required for the development of such recommendations, and thirdly what procedures could be employed to bring the IGF closer to a consensus of stakeholders on the issues before it. The discussion of each of these issues will be outlined in turn.

First, as to whether the IGF’s role extended to the making of recommendations, this was accepted most readily by the Forum hawks of civil society[18] and developing country governments,[19] and resisted most strenuously by the Forum doves of the OECD governments[20] and the private sector and technical community.[21] A representative exchange between the two camps on this issue occurred on the first day during the session on “Multistakeholder Policy Dialogue—Setting the Scene.”

ISOC’s President Lynn St Amour affirmed ISOC’s reluctance to cede a role in governance to the IGF, even if its multi-stakeholder model were fully realised, on the grounds that “that’s actually embedding today’s political models and trying to put it on top of a development that just doesn’t naturally fit.” She stated frankly:

I don’t think the Internet Governance Forum is a place for decisions or for recommendations. I don’t think the process is nearly inclusive enough. I don’t think it’s got the right level of participation. ... I think it needs to go back to national level, local level, participation in the forums that are available to you, that are important to you as an individual.

Karen Banks from the Association for Progressive Communications took issue with this, saying that

to make the connection between the national and the global is a really, really tough task, and it requires a lot of work. And I think if the IGF is going to add value, that this is one of the ways that it can. I think there are definitely issues that need to be addressed here that aren’t addressed in other spaces adequately, in line with the mandate. ... [W]e can look at the IGF ... as something where we not only have a good discussion, but we think about leaving ... with some sense of working forward around concrete activities and possibly ... recommendations.

As for the second issue of note from the plenary sessions, regarding the compatibility of the IGF’s structure with a recommendation-making role, there were three basic views expressed; in this instance, not running cleanly along the lines of the hawk and dove camps. The first view was that since the IGF did not have the structural capacity to pursue a work programme, this should instead be taken up by other institutions in the regime who did possess that capacity.

Thus for example Jean-Jacques Massima Landji from Gambon cautiously agreed with Karen Banks that “We can start perhaps drawing up recommendations on the various points commonly approved,” but saw considerable difficulty in bringing the stakeholders to that point, since merely by “discussing this in a forum, you can’t actually come to a ... common position.” He suggested instead that

UNESCO, as a specialized body, certainly can deal with this, would find the time to come to some sort of compromise and arrangement which would suit all parties. But a forum like this, which cannot take any sort of binding decisions, well, we can’t have a recommendation here.

The same suggestion was made independently during the session on diversity by Divina Frau-Meigs of the University of Paris, who called for the formation of a multi-stakeholder working group on issues of cultural diversity and IDNs, not within the IGF, but instead within an intergovernmental body such as UNESCO.

Those who took the second view agreed that the IGF lacked the capacity to take forward a substantive work programme, but for them the solution was different: it should forthwith develop that capacity, through the formation of dedicated working groups. Thus, for example, Rikke Frank Jorgensen of the Danish Human Rights Institute suggested during the panel on security that the IGF should form a multi-stakeholder task force on security and privacy; and in the final day’s session on “The Way Forward,” former French diplomat Jean-Jacques Subrenat was amongst those who suggested that a structure based on the IETF model could be employed by the IGF, implying the creation of formal working groups within which decision-making would take place by rough consensus.

The third view on this issue was first voiced during the session on access, at which Georg Greve announced the formation of the IGF’s first multi-stakeholder “dynamic coalition,” on open standards.[22] Such dynamic coalitions could work towards producing some of the concrete outcomes sought by Forum hawks, yet being voluntary and self-organised, would require neither the assent nor the participation of other IGF participants.[23] This view soon came to draw broad support, with a number of participants in “The Way Forward” session speaking for the use of dynamic coalitions (possessing, as Thomas Schneider of the Swiss government underlined, “not formal links but very narrow links with the IGF”), in the place of formal working groups.[24]

The third and final issue which has been isolated for mention from the discussions in the plenary sessions of the Athens meeting is the question of what procedures might be required to bring the IGF’s diverse stakeholders closer to consensus on the substantive issues before it. As Carlos Alfonso of the Information Network for the Third Sector, a Brazilian civil society organisation, put the problem during the plenary session on openness, “We know that child pornography is a consensus, but what are other aspects of freedom of information ... which can be accepted universally?”

Andrew Puddephatt, also of civil society, gave a specific example of the kinds of difficulties likely to be encountered:

there are countries where the state and symbols of the state and nation are protected. And ... if you attack or criticize that country or nation, you’re accused and tried for defamation. That would be unacceptable in many other jurisdictions where defamation only applies to individuals’ personal reputation. The idea that you could develop a standard on defamation as an agreement among states at the moment I think would be extremely fraught.

Regrettably this was one issue in respect the plenary body could divine no answers. Vittorio Bertola, former WGIG member, simply offered his experience of that multi-stakeholder body which had managed to produce its report by consensus on issues so contentious that they had confounded the governmental delegates at WSIS. He said:

The only thing we can do in a true Internet spirit is to bring everyone at the same table and have an agreement, in the end, for [that’s] the way that the Internet works. The agreement is beneficial to all the people who participate in it. And that’s the way the Internet has been growing since the beginning. The technical standards of the Internet were never decided, were never formally adopted or binding either. They are just there and everyone abides by them because it’s beneficial for everyone to be able to talk to everyone. And that’s what we can get in this forum.

At the closing ceremony, the final statements of representatives of the stakeholder groups evidenced few signs of development in their views since the Athens meeting had opened. David Appasamy from ICC/BASIS observed:

Some have asked where the action is, and what tangibles have been achieved. Well, the wisdom and experience gained are of great value in and of themselves. If we go to plant these seeds at the national level and cultivate them by working with all stakeholders at this level, they are certain to bear fruit.

Jeanette Hoffman on the other hand, as the closing speaker from civil society, said it was “vital that all stakeholders recognise and adopt this new venue as an innovative place of policy making” and suggested that the forum should “encourage the development of practical solutions, both in workshops but also in dynamic coalitions that are about to form. Such practical solutions should be put on public record of the forum.”

5.2.2.3. Workshops

Despite Hoffman’s entreaty, in Athens the output of the 36 self-organised workshops that were held there could not be received into the official report of the meeting, though individual workshop reports were published verbatim on the IGF Web site.[25]

A call for proposals for these workshops accompanied the publication of the agenda, with a deadline of 24 August 2006.[26] The call specified the following selection criteria:

The process by which workshops were selected pursuant to these criteria was a closed one. As workshop proposals were not listed on the IGF Web site as they were made, many workshops on the same topics were proposed independently. The Advisory Group did not seek to amalgamate these, but in the end simply approved all of them, releasing its final schedule of workshops in October.[27] No opportunity was provided for public comment on the workshops selected, nor on their scheduling, which saw them being held concurrently with each other and with the plenary sessions.

Thus for example the topic of multi-stakeholder participation in Internet governance was the subject of no fewer than four workshops, each led by a different stakeholder group or sub-group. On the second day in Athens, both the Internet technical community and non-technical civil society held separate workshops on the topic, respectively organised by ICANN, ISOC and representatives of the RIRs and ccTLDs, and by the Conference of Non-Governmental Organizations in Consultative Relationship with the United Nations (CONGO).[28] Also on that day, a similar workshop “Enhancing Multi-Stakeholder Participation in ICT Policy Making” was held by private sector stakeholders, and on the following day, a workshop titled “Building Meaningful Participation” took place that had been co-organised by the government of Canada.

The sheer number of workshops precludes any attempt being made here to summarise the discussion that took place within them, even on procedural issues. However, some of the content of “Exploring a Framework Convention” organised by IT for Change and others, which was perhaps the workshop that examined institutional and process issues in the most depth, will be reviewed later in this chapter.[29]

5.2.2.4. Remote participation

As noted above, a recurring theme of the submissions to the consultation sessions that preceded the Athens meeting was that effective use should be made of online mechanisms for participation in the activities of the IGF. In practice, less effective use was made of such mechanisms than many stakeholders may have hoped.

In September 2006 an SMF-based Web forum was created on the IGF Web site by its Secretariat, however it was configured so that new discussion topics could only be created by administrators. At first there was only one such topic, “Remote Participation,” with subsequently the four themes of the Athens meeting being added two weeks later, and another for “Taking stock and the way forward” after the Athens meeting had concluded.

By October, it became apparent that the suggestions being made on this board on mechanisms that should be put in place for remote participation were not going to be implemented by the Secretariat, or at least not in sufficient time for the Athens meeting. No response was received to direct offers of assistance, such as an offer by the developers of the Dialog Dashboard[30] to host a free public synchronous and asynchronous discussion forum for the IGF’s use, just as no response had been made to an offer made by Geneva Net Dialogue during the February consultations to build an interactive Web site for the IGF.

The only such suggestion eventually taken on board, on 19 October, was the establishment of an electronic mailing list for those attending the Athens meeting, equivalent to that which had been established for the Advisory Group. However those who had registered to attend the meeting were not informed of the existence of the requested “plenary” mailing list and no mention of it was made on the IGF Web site, so it was not utilised,[31]

Once it had become became clear that the suggestions being made on remote participation would not be taken forward by the Secretariat, the two most active participants in the discussions on this topic, then-journalist Kieren McCarthy and the author, decided to implement them independently. Launched on 11 October, the Drupal-based IGF Community Site featured synchronous and asynchronous discussion fora, a wiki, and the facility to conduct informal polls, amongst other features. It gained the tacit endorsement of the Secretariat, but no funding or publicity.[32]

The IGF Community Site was announced on various civil society mailing lists and Web sites and by the distribution of printed flyers at the Athens meeting itself. It soon proved to be far more popular than the IGF’s official Web forum, with over 200 users registering on the site during or within one week of the conference, and more than a dozen of those posting to their own blogs on the site.

Although having had little to no involvement in this initiative, the Secretariat and host country did provide certain other facilities to link remote participants in with the plenary sessions and workshops, namely:

On the other hand there were some initiatives that the Secretariat had indicated would be in place for the Athens meeting, that never eventuated. For example, the IGF’s Web site had also stated:

Participants can submit a recorded five minute statement that will be made available on the IGF Web site and also broadcast at the venue on in a loop on three plasma screens for participants to hear. Those who are interested are encouraged to provide these statements both in video (specification: DVD format .vob files (region 2) or .wmv format (384x288 resolution for streaming)) and in written document form.

In fact video statements provided to the Secretariat were neither broadcast at the venue, nor made available on the IGF Web site. Also unfulfilled was the statement, “The blogs being written about the IGF will be monitored and will be reported on during the recap and review sessions in a daily blog report.”

Notes

[1]

At the February 2007 follow-up consultations; see Section 5.2.3.2.

[2]

See http://www.intgovforum.org/Athens_stats_stakeholder.php. It is assumed that the “technical and academic communities” shown here may be treated as from civil society.

[3]

And was indeed noted by the Russian Federation (see Russian Federation, Proposals of the Russian Federation to the Agenda of the Internet Governance Forum (2006)), the Brazilian government (see Government of Brazil, Comments to the “Programme Outline" Document (2006) ) and the Internet Governance Project (see IGP, Contribution to the Internet Governance Forum Athens Meeting (2006)) in their substantive submissions to the meeting.

[4]

See http://www.intgovforum.org/contributions_for_1st_IGF.htm, where fourteen submissions from eight other contributors who missed the deadline can also be found.

[5]

IGF Secretariat, Inaugural Meeting Background Report (2006)

[6]

Swiss Internet User Group, Internet Quality Labels (2006)

[7]

Bertola, Vittorio, An Introduction to Trusted Computing (2006)

[8]

This was particularly true of the ITU, which submitted fourteen generic reports on its activities, many of which it had also earlier submitted by way of response to the WGIG report: see WSIS Secretariat, Compilation of Comments Received on the Report of the Working Group on Internet Governance (2005), 5.

[9]

IGF Secretariat, Inaugural Meeting Background Report (2006), 6

[10]

IGF Secretariat, Inaugural Meeting Background Report (2006), 6. For the contribution of WIPO, not specifically cited in the synthesis, see WIPO, Statement of the World Intellectual Property Organization (2006) .

[11]

IGF Secretariat, Inaugural Meeting Background Report (2006), 8; though still with some divergences on issues of spam, privacy and “trusted computing”: IGF Secretariat, Inaugural Meeting Background Report (2006) , 10.

[12]

ITU, Report of Meeting of ITU Membership on Mechanisms for Cooperation on Cybersecurity and Combating Spam (2006), 2

[13]

ICC, ICC Policy Statement on “Spam" and Unsolicited Commercial Electronic Messages (2004), 2

[14]

Council of Europe, Council of Europe Submission to the Internet Governance Forum (2006), 2

[15]

See http://www.intgovforum.org/IIGF.htm.

[16]

As for the other sessions, the opening and closing ceremonies were taken up by prepared speeches, whereas the session on “The Way Forward” was conducted in a more open format, whereby rather than interrogating a panel and taking occasional questions from the floor, the moderator gave the entire session over to the floor.

[17]

It was somewhat limited in its ability to do this by reason that no budget was available to fund the attendance of speakers who were not already intending to attend the meeting.

[18]

For example, civil society’s representative during the opening ceremony, Natasha Primo, gave the striking image of the Athens meeting as “the beginning of a process that grows teeth at the same time it finds its feet,” and saw the IGF as an institution that would come to “provide leadership and guidance.”

[19]

For example Tariq Badsha of Pakistan, speaking during the final day’s session on “The Way Forward,” underlined the need for the IGF to develop the capacity to produce tangible outputs and concrete recommendations in order to fulfil those paragraphs of its mandate that had yet to be addressed.

[20]

For example Viviane Reding from the European Commission maintained, “The IGF does not replace negotiation between governments or the enhanced cooperation model;” a contentious statement given that the enhanced cooperation model as outlined in the Tunis Agenda specifies a multi-stakeholder process: see Section 5.1.4.1.

[21]

For example, Yoshio Utsumi from the ITU, for which the IGF’s very formation was a result of the WSIS negotiations on Internet governance taking an unfavourable turn, stressed during the opening ceremony that “the future of Internet governance is inevitably local rather than global. This is because the best approach is different for each society and economy.”

[22]

Curiously, open standards were dealt with as a topic under the access theme in the Athens meeting (and dominated the treatment of submissions on the digital divide and the cost of access in the Secretariat’s Background Paper: IGF Secretariat, Inaugural Meeting Background Report (2006), 12). Perhaps for this reason the same topic was shifted to the openness theme for the Rio meeting.

[23]

See Section 5.2.3.1.

[24]

See Section 6.3.1.5

[25]

See http://www.intgovforum.org/Workshop_reports.php.

[26]

See http://www.intgovforum.org/workshops.html.

[27]

See http://www.intgovforum.org/wksshop_program.htm.

[28]

See http://www.ngocongo.org/.

[29]

See Section 5.4.4.

[30]

See Section 4.3.4.3.

[31]

See http://intgovforum.org/mailman/listinfo/plenary_intgovforum.org.

[32]

The Web site was located at http://igf2006.info/, but is no longer operational at that address.

[33]

See http://www.intgovforum.org/IIGF_webcasts.htm.

[34]

See http://www.intgovforum.org/athens_outline.htm.