Monday, November 24, 2008

Has the Internet Governance Forum really been a success?

In the run up to the third Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Hyderabad it's worth asking how successful the IGF has been since its establishment. "Not very" is the view of Jeremy Malcolm, who has argued that the IGF is compromised by the fact that many issues (such as copyright enforcement and the oversight of ICANN) have been essentially excluded from its consideration, with the result that policy is being made in other fora which privilege the views of particular vested interests:
Internet-related public policy issues continue to be addressed primarily in an ad hoc, isolated manner in individual stakeholder silos, outside the IGF, rather than in collaboration between stakeholder groups through the IGF...

Across a number of jurisdictions, organisations representing copyright owners have been privately negotiating with Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to limit or terminate the Internet access of customers suspected of illegally sharing copyright material online, without such alleged infringements having been proved to a court or other authority. Such negotiations take place in the shadow of the threat of government regulation, for which these organisations have also been strongly lobbying (so far with success in France). However because such discussions have taken place outside a multistakeholder policy body such as the IGF, they have been dominated by the voices of intellectual property holders, without the opportunity for Internet consumers to interject with balancing perspectives...

As another example of parallel initiatives in multistakeholder Internet governance that have bypassed the IGF, ICANN, although notionally an institution with a purely technical mandate, has continued to attempt to determine issues of public policy such as the balancing of privacy interests in the WHOIS service that identifies the ownership of Internet domains, and in setting non-technical specifications for the introduction of new top-level generic domain names (gTLDs).
The full paper, with suggestions for reform, is well worth reading. It's based in part on his PhD thesis - "Multi-Stakeholder Public Policy Governance and its Application to the Internet Governance Forum" - which is now also available online.

(Via the Internet Governance Project blog)

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