Athens, Greece ~ 30 October – 2 November 2006
An outgrowth of 2003-2005 World Summit of Information Society (WSIS), the IGF, a 4-day multi-stakeholder dialogue forum for policy issues related to “Internet Governance”, was held 30 October – 2 November 2006 in Athens, Greece, the birthplace of democracy. Over 1500 participants from governments, civil society, and business came from all corners of the world with a vision of building an “Internet for Development”, the meeting’s official theme. Internet policy discussions were grouped into 4 main categories: openness, security, diversity, and access. Each of 4 policy themes were discussed in a main plenary session and a number of complementary workshops.
I felt honored to be selected by the UN Secretary General to serve as a member of the IGF Advisory Group and assist in its organization and shape its discussion. As one of the only civil liberties advocates on the IGF Advisory Group, I also felt an enormous responsibility. But the real credit for the success of the 2006 IGF meeting belongs to the IGF Secretariat: Nitin Desai, Markus Kummer, Chengetai Masango, Antonios Broumas, and Avri Doria, who worked long, thankless hours under “less than perfect” conditions to ensure the meeting’s inclusiveness.
While it was generally a very positive meeting, IGF 2006 was not without scandal. A few days before the meeting began in Athens, a Greek blogger was arrested for hyperlinking to information critical of the Greek Government. The Greek Minister who spoke at IGF did not have any problem with his government’s action when questioned during a panel session, giving Greece a black eye in the minds of many participants.Major US Internet companies such as Cisco Systems, Microsoft, Yahoo, and Google were heavily criticized for their (at best) complicity and (at worst) active participation in assisting repressive governments such as China and Tunisia to censor free speech and punish political dissent. Amnesty International presented a petition with over 50,000 signatures calling for the protection of online freedom of expression as part of AI’s impressive “Irrepressible” campaign.
However, I was disappointed by a number of European “human rights advocates” who supported the prosecution of those who engage in “hate speech” during the openness session. While I wish to be sensitive to the differences of experience between the US and Europe when it comes to the limits of freedom of expression, I cannot accept the hypocrisy of the view that hate speech should be banned. A German friend at IGF described a recent German case where an anti-Nazi organization was prosecuted because the Swastika is included in it’s logo. Never mind the context for the Swastika in the logo: the symbol is broken and with a crossed-out line through it — to communicate it’s ANTI-Nazi message. Now this is taking censorship too far.Other civil liberties experts at IGF discussed how the US Patriot Act and other efforts of the US Bush Administration have substantially eroded online free speech and privacy rights in the United States. The US Government was also criticized for its insistence on maintaining exclusive control over the Internet’s Domain Name Server or “root” throughout the meeting.
While some initially believed IGF was not worthy of engagement because the meeting lacked an official text or other “agreed outcome”, this was actually it’s beauty.
Without the need for competing stakeholders to vie for favored language in a final decree (as was the case at WSIS), IGF instead enjoyed a spirit of cooperation, dialogue, inclusiveness, and willingness to understand differing perspectives. A final official declaration that everyone can agree with, will by definition, be mediocre and “watered-down” to the point of meaninglessness. Waiting to engage until there is a proposed law (or treaty) to vote up or down is – frankly – waiting too long. We’ve already lost if we wait to become engaged in policy discussions at that point.
IGF was not, however, without any “deliverables”. Besides creating a forum for much needed dialogue, the main IGF “deliverable” was the creation of “Dynamic Coalitions” or loosely-based multi-stakeholder groups with a common interest in working together on a particular Internet policy issue. Based on IGF workshops and panel discussions in Athens, Dynamic Coalitions are “bottoms-up” in their organization and structure. The various coalitions will meet online and off in the next year and report back to IGF 2007 in Rio de Janeiro on their progress.IGF Dynamic Coalitions provide a unique opportunity to create “soft norms”, set the policy debate, define the terms and build coalitions that drive a positive agenda, which may eventually become a law or treaty. Instead of always fighting against bad laws, IGF Dynamic Coalitions can be pro-active and develop “best practices” related to Internet activity that governments or business may adopt through law, treaty, or industry codes of conduct.
IP Justice was a founding member of several IGF Dynamic Coalitions, including those working for Access to Knowledge (A2K), Open Standards, an Internet Bill of Rights, Freedom of Expression, and Privacy Rights.
The Access to Knowledge Coalition (A2K@IGF) already consists of a broad range of governments, civil society groups and business working together to promote balanced intellectual property rights in cyberspace. The A2K@IGF Coalition encourages the development of Internet as a tool for providing knowledge while protecting freedom of expression against unbalanced IPR monopolies. Founding members of the A2K@IGF Dynamic Coalition are: Bibliotheca Alexandrina, CPTech, EFF, Electronic Information for Libraries, Free Software Foundation Europe, Google, International Federation of Libraries, IP Academy of Singapore, IP Justice, South Centre Innovation, Access to Knowledge and Intellectual Property Programme (IAIPP), Sun Microsystems, Third World Network, and Yale Law School Information Society Project.
The Dynamic Coalition on an “Internet Bill of Rights” is a continuation of an initiative begun during the WSIS process by the Italian Government and Brazilian Cultural Minister Gilberto Gil (also an internationally acclaimed singer/song-writer). This coalition is perhaps one of the most ambitious, and is focused on a process for creating an “Internet Bill of Rights” from the perspective of the Internet user. Founding members of this coalition are: Governments of Italy and Brazil, Centre for Technology and Society of Getulio Vargas Foundation School of Law (Rio), IP Justice, the Italian Internet Society.
The Open Standards Dynamic Coalition (D-Cos) was the first IGF Dynamic Coalition to be announced in Athens. D-Cos promotes open technical standards in hardware and software in order to encourage interoperability and consumer choice. D-Cos will hold several meetings in the next year including at Yale Law School in February and in Geneva, Switzerland next Spring. Founding members of D-Cos are: Governments of Brazil and Sri Lanka, World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), Sun Microsystems, Free Software Foundation Europe, CPTech, IP Justice, Yale Law Information Society Project, Library of Alexandria (Bibliotheca Alexandrina).
The Dynamic Coalition to promote online Freedom of Expression will focus on more traditional free expression issues such as government censorship of the Internet, content filtering, and media freedom. Founding members of this IGF Coalition are: Amnesty International, Article 19, Danish Human Rights, EFFi, Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center, Imaginons un RÃ©seau Internet solidaire, IP Justice, UNESCO.
The Dynamic Coalition on Privacy will work to the fortify the data protection and privacy rights of Internet citizens. This coalition will address emerging issues such as digital identities, the link between privacy and development, and the importance of privacy and anonymity for freedom of expression. Founding members of this coalition are:
– Privacy International
– “Privacy and Identity Management in Europe” (PRIME) Project
– Association for Progressive Communication (APC)
– Amnesty International
– French Government
– Council of Europe
– Privacy Commissioner of Canada
– WSIS Civil Society Working Group on Privacy and Security
– North American Consumer Project on Electronic Commerce (NACPEC)
– Net Dialogue of Harvard’s Berkman Center and Stanford’s Center for Internet and Society
– OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media
– LSE Information Systems Group
– American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
– University of Bremen
– Internet Service Providers’ Association of South Africa
– Hellenic Data Protection Authority
– IP Justice
– European Digital Rights (EDRi)
– Danish Human Rights Institute
– Electronic Frontier Finland
– Independent Centre for Privacy Protection in Kiel, Germany
– Digital Rights Ireland,
– Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility (CPSR)
– Deutsche Vereinigung fÃ¼r Datenschutz (DVD)
– Metamorphosis Foundation
– Kuwait Information Technology Society
– Japan Computer Access for Empowerment (JCAFE)
– Netzwerk Neue Medien (NNM)
– Identity Commons Working Group on Identity Rights Agreements
– Cyberlaw Asia