What if we all governed the Internet? UNESCO launches new study at Internet Governance Forum 2017

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Author Anri van der Spuy presenting UNESCO’s publication What if we all governed the Internet?
during the Internet Governance Forum.
© UNESCO/Zhaocan Li
20 December 2017

“What if we all governed the Internet? And what if we did not?” Discussing about Internet governance and multistakeholder participation, participants of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) insisted on the “crucial need to institutionalize the multistakeholder approach in Internet governance at the national, regional and global levels”.

UNESCO launched the 11th edition of its Series on Internet Freedom titled What if we all governed the Internet? Advancing multistakeholder participation in Internet governance during a session held on 17 December 2017 at the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Geneva, Switzerland. With the presence of Benedicto Fonseca, the Brazilian Ambassador for Internet issues as well as Frank La Rue, UNESCO’s ADG for Communication and Information, the Organization presented the study which unpacks assumptions on how the Internet is shaped and stresses the ongoing relevance of involving multiple actors in the development of a collaborative and sustainable Internet.

UNESCO representatives Guy Berger and Xianhong Hu, opened and moderated the session, highlighting that the study was elaborated in an effort to implement UNESCO’s Internet Universality framework which advocates for a Human rights-based, Open and Accessible Internet, governed by Multi-stakeholder participation (the R-O-A-M principles). It responds more specifically to the action recommended by the CONNECTing the Dots Outcome Document that UNESCO “supports Member States in ensuring that Internet policy and regulation involves the participation of all stakeholders, and integrates international human rights and gender equality”.

Frank La Rue, UNESCO’s ADG for Communication and Information, gave the welcoming remarks and thanked the Internet Society (ISOC), represented by Constance Bommelaer de Leusse, and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), represented by Chris Disspain, for their support.

As pointed out by Anri van der Spuy, independent expert commissioned for the research, “our understanding of multistakeholder participation in Internet governance must adapt to meet new challenges as the Internet becomes more central to knowledge societies”. To strengthen UNESCO’s role in the field, this Study provides the results of a comprehensive investigation of the evolution of multistakeholder participation in Internet governance in theory and in practice. Four good practices are assessed, covering the Kenya ICT Action Network (KICTANet), the Marco Civil da Internet, legal challenges in South Korea and the Internet Governance Forum’s “best practice forum on Gender”.

Referring to her experience in Kenya, Grace Githaiga (KICTANet) said that “there is no single multistakeholder approach and each experience is linked to a specific context”. She also mentioned that “we should keep realistic expectations from these approaches”. Jac SM Kee from the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) then talked about the ways in which the multistakeholder approach “helped recognize online gender-based violence” in the IGF context.

If participants said that the current trend is “turning in favor of the multistakeholder approach”, they also raised the issue of the legal challenges as well as the need to “institutionalize multistakeholder dialogue in order to guarantee common standards in practice”.

At the end of the session, Guy Berger and Benedicto Fonseca, Brazilian Ambassador for Internet issues, took the opportunity to launch the Portuguese and Spanish versions of UNESCO’s publication Keystones to foster inclusive knowledge societies: access to information and knowledge, freedom of expression, privacy and ethics on a global Internet. This work was made possible thanks to the contribution of the Regional Center for Studies on the Development of the Information Society (Cetic.br).

The publication and a summary information brochure are available at: https://en.unesco.org/unesco-series-on-internet-freedom.

The publication Keystones to foster inclusive knowledge societies: access to information and knowledge, freedom of expression, privacy and ethics on a global Internet is now available in Spanish and Portuguese. The study is also available in ArabicChinese,  EnglishFrench, and Russian.

During the Internet Governance Forum 2017, a UNESCO delegation headed by ADG CI will convene four sessions on Internet Universality indicators, multistakeholder practices in Internet governance, artificial intelligence and big data and world trends in freedom of expression and media development. Several bilateral meetings are also organized with key stakeholders.