The UN Internet Governance Forum in Rio de Janeiro held on 12-15 November 2007 covered a wide range of topics related to the logical and physical infrastructure of the Internet. It was noted that there is a need to build up community infrastructures including critical Internet resources to meet the needs of 5.5 billion people who do not have access to the Internet. During the Forum held in Athens on 30 October – 2 November 2006, the aim was to provide a knowledge facility regarding issues related to Internet government. Despite the slightly different themes of discussion, both Forums were aimed at dealing with questions related to access, security, diversity, and openness.
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Forum in Athens (2006)
The general aspects included the nature of Internet governance and consultation processes. The participants focused on the general organizational setting of the current Internet governance mechanisms and tasks of Internet governance organizations1. Discussion included an analysis of the ways in which Internet governance mechanisms could be understood in a broad set of international policy frameworks. Russia recommended including the discussion of issues related to the administrative management of IP addresses and the Domain Name System.
Another objective was a focus on development issues of the Internet as a public infrastructure with a public goods perspective. Important issues of discussion included privacy of correspondence, third party interference, freedom of expression and information, security and stability, protection from political and commercial manipulation.
Many speakers and contributors noted the importance of openness as one of the fundamental principles of the Internet. The Internet provides a robust exchange of information and empowers millions of people to trade ideas and information and increase the wealth of knowledge2. The openness of the Internet is a key feature ensuring stability and security. The Internet offers an opportunity to communicate quickly at a low cost. Forum participants discussed an objective of an inclusive Information Society and continued economic and social development. However, consensus over the rules dealing with intellectual property rights in cyberspace was not achieved.
One of the objectives was to decide how these rules should be developed to protect Internet openness and unrestricted flow of information. Special emphasis was made on the importance of open online education resources.
Security was the second issue of discussion. Contributors and speakers noted that security was a key element in establishing trust and confidence among users of the Internet. The achievement of the Internet’s full potential could be achieved only through the promotion of trust, confidence, stability, and security3. It was pointed out that every new device increased the capacity for use as well increased the exposure to potential harm from intentional, unintentional, and illegal actions.
The objective was to find a balance between openness and security. Forum participants discussed the measures to fight crime and privacy protection issues. Special emphasis has been made on available measures to tackle spam.
It was noted that the vast majority of people who use the Internet do not write or read in English. One of the forum objectives was to enable people to use the Internet in their own language4. The most significant challenge was to create availability of information in local languages to promote multilingualism. The lack of information in indigenous languages is especially evident for developing countries. It was recognized that technical solutions have become more localized, complex, and harder to guarantee. It was concluded with the note that there was a need to ensure that development, maintenance, and resolution processes could preserve the integrity, stability, and security of the Internet.
Access was the final objective of the Forum discussion. Participants from developing counties noted that more than 5 billion people remained without access to the Internet as an important tool for social growth and economic development5. Contributors discussed the factors that impacted the availability and affordability of the Internet. Forum participants focused on the positive effects of the networks due to open standards and discussed the role of open standards in promoting competition on the Internet markets. It was proposed that the issue of Internet international connectivity could be solved by the liberalization of telecommunication markets.
Forum in Rio de Janeiro (2007)
The second Internet Governance Forum was held in Rio de Janeiro and included the four themes from the previous meeting in Athens. The key themes included access, diversity, security, and openness. The fifth theme was added – critical Internet resources. The Council of Europe expressed the view that Internet governance should have included more discussion on human rights, freedom of expression, and tasks of Internet governance organizations. It was suggested that more attention should be paid to the development dimension6. It was noted that focus should be shifted on governance of specific policies and programs aimed by the private sector, intergovernmental and multi-stakeholder organizations involved in governance and security.
Critical Internet Resources
Forum participants stressed the importance of training in the management of critical Internet resources. There was a discussion on Internet addresses distribution to ensure equitable access by all counties to address resources. One of the key objectives was to discuss the contribution of governments and public policy implications. It was stressed that private organizations should become the agents of the state and subject to state regulation.
The objective from the previous Forum in Athens to foster the spread of the Internet to developing countries was raised again. It was proposed that the achievement of public service value of the Internet required affordable and universal access to Internet infrastructure for all countries7. Special attention was paid to the need to bridge the digital divide in rural areas. Moreover, forum participants discussed the importance of building the fundamental skills necessary to use technology brought by the Internet. It was stated that the business community is responsible for the establishment of a proper regulatory and political environment beneficial for ensuring access to Internet resources.
Diversity objective was aimed at ensuring multilingual Internet to build legitimate, democratic, and inclusive Information Society8. The importance of promoting locally developed content was stressed. It was proposed that stakeholders should share technology to help people with disabilities and the elderly to use the network more easily. In particular, the need to increase the possibility for all language groups to share information in their languages was discussed. A major concern was related to possible confusion that might occur across languages. Thus, the need to maintain a single domain name space was mentioned.
Many speakers highlighted the importance of openness to advance human development. In addition to previously discussed themes during the meeting in Athens, forum participants raised an objective to protect children and the general pubic from objectionable Internet content, prohibiting the usage of the Internet for criminal conduct, and ensuring reasonable restrictions on Internet content9. It was recommended to introduce voluntary labeling as an alternative to legislation. It was proposed to create governmental regulations against infringement of trademarks and to promote cooperation between self-regulation and governments. The need to find the balance between the freedom of expression and protection of copyright was discussed.
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The Council of Europe recommended applying international conventions on cybercrime, prevention of terrorism, protection of automatic processing of private data, actions against trafficking in human beings, and protection of children against sexual abuse10. Protection of children and security of the Internet was described as a primary objective of the Internet Governance Forum in Rio de Janeiro. A solution for protecting children on Internet from predators and controlling online illegal content was recommended. It was concluded that the state should hold the key responsibility for a security failure on the Internet. Thus, the role of the government was discussed as a responsibility to raise awareness of Internet security among users.
The Internet Governance Forums are focused on diversity, access, openness, and security of the Internet11. The Forum which took place in Rio de Janeiro was expected to advance the discussion started in Athens. Speakers from Germany and the United States emphasized the importance of involving a private sector-driven process. All Internet governance-related business units had to present their activities and were encouraged to engage in a dialogue.
Unlike the previous Forum in Athens, more than 200 representatives from civil society, the Internet community, and the private sector attended the consultations and meetings. In addition, participants noted that more emphasis should be made on Internet resources and the internationalization of domain names. While Forum in Athens was a discussion, Forum in Rio resulted in negotiated documents and diplomatic processes.
Most of the topics which were discussed during the Forums might have an impact on international business. In particular, the discussion on the Internet security issue might affect the collection of personal information from clients. The discussion on Internet access might open new markets for international companies in developing countries. The issue of Internet diversity might shape the international marketing strategy to meet the needs of local populations. Finally, the issue of openness allows international business units to target segments that are underserved.
The Internet Governance Forum. Inaugural Meeting (Athens 2006), Background Report. Web.
The Internet Governance Forum. Second Meeting (Rio de Janeiro, 2007), Synthesis Paper. Web.
Un Official Say, Internet Governance Forum in November to address access, security issues. UN News Service. Web.
- The Internet Governance Forum, Inaugural Meeting, Athens 2006, p. 5.
- Ibid, p. 6.
- Ibid, p. 8.
- Ibid, p. 11.
- Ibid, p. 12.
- The Internet Governance Forum, Second Meeting, Rio de Janeiro 2007, p. 3.
- Ibid, p. 6.
- Ibid, p. 7.
- Ibid, p. 9.
- Ibid, p. 10.
- UN Official Says…, p. 1.