Report from the plenary session at UKIGF 2013 on “What do we want from the IGF?”

Panel:

  • Dr Vicki Nash, Oxford Internet Institute (Moderator)
  • Mark Carvell, DCMS
  • Lesley Cowley OBE, Nominet
  • Andrew Puddephatt, Global Partners & Associates
  • Kate Russell, freelance journalist

The moderator opened the session with a brief overview of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) before handing over to Mark Carvell who outlined the learning experiences from IGF Baku.  He explained that in their planning for this year the MAG were aiming for a much more interactive IGF.  There will be shorter “flash” sessions and round table coordination for feeder workshops so the focus (main) sessions do not turn into a mechanism for simply reporting back from the workshops.  Mark then moved on to discuss the UN’s Commission on Science and Technology for Development Working Group (CSTD WG) on improvements to the IGF.  At this stage, the group is not suggesting any substantial changes to the IGF mandate but welcome more tangible outputs, greater visibility, a more open and transparent process and broader participation – especially from developing and smaller states.

In response to a question from the moderator the panel outlined what they would like to see from the IGF going forward.  Their suggestions were:

  • Clearer leadership on matters critical to the health of the internet;
  • Provide a monitoring function and an annual report/ assessment of state of internet;
  • Develop evidence based policy options/ recommendations and shape the global research agenda;
  • Improved website – this is the public facing front end but is unappealing and difficult to use.  Better archiving and cataloging of issues and topics on the website would mean it becomes a resource for policy makers.  The website is missing the key messages, easily accessible headlines and highlights that would make the outputs dynamic and interactive;
  • The IGF needs better marketing and publicity to make it approachable and consumable in order to broaden its reach and appeal.  Without media interest the IGF is lacking wider appeal and sponsorship opportunities;
  • The lack of Special Advisor is a major issue which has a serious effect on the profile of the IGF and causes it political credibility issues.  In the current political climate, the IGF needs to communicate much more effectively to make the case for policy makers to be engaged in the process.  Better recognition is needed from government stakeholders about the benefit of interaction with stakeholders in policy making;
  • The establishment of the IGF was 8 years ago was groundbreaking.  However, the environment was very different then.  Greater thought needs to be given to the social, economic, technical and physical environment and how this will evolve and change going forward in order to ensure that the IGF is fit for purpose well into the future.

Dr Vicki Nash then invited audience comments and questions.  The key points from the interactive discussion were:

  • “Relevance” of the IGF is key – how it will relate to those who will participate now and in the future, especially in emerging markets.
  • Further debate is needed on how concrete the decisions/ outputs should be.
  • The multi-stakeholder model is the IGF’s biggest asset – there needs to be more and better interaction between national and regional IGF’s to build on this.  The multi-stakeholder model was created to put pressure on govts.  More action and engagement from industry is needed to avoid govt/ UN regulation.  Governments should exert pressure on the UN.
  • More emphasis should be on economic importance of the Internet and the effect of this on trust rather than focusing on the security issues.
  • The IGF is impenetrable and needs to be more accessible to newcomers. The front line of these discussions should be on the internet with better facilities and more emphasis on remote participation.

There was strong feeling in the room that topics such as PRISM and wiki-leaks cannot be swept under the carpet.  They have to be on the agenda to make discussions relevant.  One audience member suggested that if this topic is not on the IGF agenda, that would be a fundamental failing and the IGF just becomes a mechanism for saying no to ITU control.  There is a very real danger that politicians and the companies that know about it will not be able to speak about it – so the only noise on this will be from conspiracy theorists and people without meaningful knowledge on these topics.  It was suggested that there is an opportunity for the UK to take a lead on this topic. It would provide an opportunity to address the transparency question on data law enforcement requests.  We need to make sure we have something intelligent to say in order to ensure that it doesn’t become a tin foil hat discussion.  There is no reason to suspect that Snowden is the first person to access this information – he’s just the first that has leaked.  How do you balance between the offensive and defensive side of this – constructive dialogue and positive contribution?  We need UK delegates to push for the elephant in the room discussion.

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