Press Releases

    PI/1568
                                                                                                                            30 March 2004

    Global Internet Governance System Is Working but Needs to Be More Inclusive, UN Forum on Internet Governance Told

    NEW YORK, 26 March (UN DPI) -- The current system of Internet governance seemed to be working well, and the question was how to better coordinate the work of specialized bodies and ensure the involvement of all stakeholders, participants told a forum on the issue that concluded today at United Nations Headquarters.

    The Global Forum on Internet Governance, held on 25 and 26 March and organized by the United Nations Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) Task Force, was attended by more than 200 leaders from government, business and civil society.  Participants included officials from developing and developed countries, as well as private-sector personalities such as Paul Twomey, President and CEO of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and two “fathers of the Internet”, Vinton Cerf, Vice-President of MCI and Robert Kahn of the Corporation for National Research Initiatives.

    The Forum was intended to contribute to worldwide consultations to prepare the ground for a future working group on Internet governance to be established by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, which is to report to the second phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) to be held in Tunis in 2005.

    Mr. Annan, addressing the opening on 25 March, said the issues were numerous and complex, but the world had a common interest in ensuring the security and dependability of the Internet. Equally important, inclusive and participatory models of Internet governance should be developed. The medium had to be made accessible and responsive to the needs of the world’s people. Its current reach was highly uneven, and the vast majority of the world’s people had yet to benefit from it.

    Mr. Annan said he would establish in the near future a working group on Internet governance, as requested in December by the World Summit on the Information Society.  But before doing so, there was a need to consult a broad cross-section of the communities involved. The views emerging at the Global Forum and other consultations would help to frame the issues, find areas of convergence and identify issues for future consultations. Once these consultations took place, the Secretary-General would be in a position to establish the working group, which would be open, transparent and inclusive.

    The same principles would also apply to the task force on funding that the Summit had asked him to create, Mr. Annan said. This body, to be established shortly, would review the adequacy of current funding approaches and consider new funding mechanisms that might strengthen efforts to bridge the digital divide.

    Mr. Annan called Forum participants not to lose sight of the larger task -- helping people everywhere to build free and decent lives. “That is the real backbone of your deliberations. Whatever you do must contribute to the cause of human development.”

    Various private-sector participants reminded the Forum that “if it works don’t fix it”, that “the best governance is the least governance”, and that ICANN was making good progress in becoming more transparent and inclusive. What were needed were further negotiations in specialized bodies. But some developing countries felt that the current system did not involve them enough, and reflected a crisis of legitimacy not just in Internet governance but in global governance.

    Vinton Cerf, senior Vice-President of MCI and “one of the fathers of the Internet” according to ICT Task Force Chair Jose-Maria Figueres Olsen, said the Internet had developed openly and freely, without much governmental or other oversight, because its technical rules had been developed openly and adopted voluntarily. The very openness of the Internet design had fuelled its evolution, as participants in its operations and development had been able to contribute new ideas and applications.

    As the Internet continued to evolve, it had begun to incorporate functions that had long been the subject of considerable regulations, and this had raised the question whether it needed more governing, Mr. Cerf said.  But more important were the uses to which the Internet was put.  If there was a need to govern, one should focus more on the use and abuse of the network, and less on its operations.

    Governance should be thought of as the steps taken collectively to facilitate the spread, development and collective use of the Internet, Mr. Cerf said. For instance, e-commerce could be promoted by adopting international procedures for the use of signatures, mechanisms to settle disputes of international electronic transactions, treatment of international transaction taxes and protection of intellectual property.

    Internet use could help to achieve the Millennium Development Goals in the areas of poverty reduction, education and health care, the environment and gender equality Mr. Cerf said. The Forum should weave together these objectives by asking how the Internet community could facilitate the constructive use of the Internet.

    Engineers used to say, “If it isn’t broken don’t fix it”, and doctors “First do no harm”.  The technical aspects of the Internet were evolving very openly in forums open to all.  Rules for Internet use were less well developed and deserved more consideration. “I would caution, however, that one should strive not to stifle the innovation and freedom to create that the Internet offers”, Mr. Cerf said. There were many places at the Internet table -- a grand collaboration of many entities in all sectors. The task was to assure that all who may benefit have a seat at the table and an opportunity to contribute to its evolution.

    Paul Twomey, President and CEO of ICANN, said his organization was a national, multi-stakeholder body coordinating Internet systems of unique identifiers.  The ICANN’s meetings focused on technical problems, were open to all, and the ICANN community welcomed all stakeholders.  The mandate of ICANN was similar to that the WSIS had required for the Working Group to be established by the Secretary-General.

    Richard McCormack, honorary Chairman of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), said there were 850 million Internet users, twice as many as in 2000, and stressed the need to focus on areas where government intervention was necessary.  The Working Group on Internet Governance should be a steering committee rather than a normative body, and should contribute to the expansion of the Internet in both developing and developed countries.

    Brazilian delegate Maria Luiza Viotti stressed the Internet was “increasingly seen as an international public utility that should be managed very broadly”. Internet governance should not be the prerogative of one group of countries or stakeholders, and the specific roles of all stakeholders should be defined. Governments also had a stake, and the concerns of developing countries should be taken into account.

    “It is true that many issues are technical, but technology is not outside of politics,” said Lyndall Shope-Mafole, Chairperson of South Africa’s National Commission on Information Society and Development. The issue was not that something was broken and should be fixed. The issue was rather legitimacy of the process, and this is why developing countries had brought the issue of Internet governance to the United Nations, “which we feel represents us”.

    Anriette Esterhuysen, Executive Director of South Africa’s Association for Progressive Communication, said the issue of Internet governance related to the greater global governance issue. Developing countries had concerns with global bodies such as the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), and the international financial institutions. There were global governance concerns, if not a global governance crisis. On the other hand, there was an increasingly overlapping of interests among different stakeholders rather than a North-South divide. “In many developing countries, the concerns of civil society are the same as those of the private sector.”

    Juan Fernandez, Coordination of the Cuban Commission on e-Commerce, reminded participants “of the people who would rather have clean water, electricity and a loaf of bread rather than computers”, and stressed that WSIS had been a development summit rather than a technology summit.

    Mr. Figueres Olsen noted that the meeting had been an example of the coming “global polity” that would be necessary to tackle major geopolitical, economic and environmental challenges. Global polity involved bringing together all stakeholders in a broad dialogue, and the Economic and Social Council Chamber hosting the meeting was a symbol of it. Used in the past to host statements by political leaders only, the Chamber during the Forum had hosted addresses by many different stakeholders, representing the global society, who had came together to express opinions and define policies.

    Preparations for Tunis

    Ferial Beji, CEO and General Manager of the Tunisian Internet Agency, said her country was already fully involved in preparations for the Tunis phase of the World Summit on the Information Society, to take place in November 2005. Cabinet meetings were held regularly, all Ministries had been involved, and a high-level National Committee had been created to steer all preparations. She called on all components, including the private sector, civil society and the media, to contribute to the Summit.

    The first Preparatory Committee would be held in Tunis at the end of June, and consultations on holding regional and thematic conferences were under way. The expected outcome of the Tunis Summit would be a political document and an operational agenda built on regional action plans.

    Marc Furrer, Director of the Swiss Federal Office of Communications, called on the private sector and civil society to participate fully in the Tunis phase. The private sector would be very much needed in implementing the WSIS Plan of Action, and together with civil society should participate fully to the preparations for Tunis. Tunisia had taken over the responsibility for the Summit. Switzerland was prepared to help and advise, “but of course Tunisia is now in charge, even if we will not drop the ball”.

    There was no need to govern or regulate what works, Mr. Furrer said. The system worked, ICANN worked, and there was rather a need to concentrate on specific issues such as property rights, e-commerce, privacy, contract law and Internet security, while defining what should be the role of governments.

    Markus Kummer, a Swiss diplomat who had coordinated the final negotiations for the outcome documents of WSIS, said the Forum needed to focus on defining the right modalities of the process ahead. The working group on Internet governance should be totally independent and not affiliated to any United Nations body; should be transparent, involving all stakeholders and giving them equal access; and should focus on gathering facts and making recommendations. It should be a small group, perhaps with a two or three-tier system so as to fully include governments and allow developing countries to make their voices heard. The working group should start “by deciding who does what”, then define the issues to be dealt with.

    On 25 March the Secretary-General appointed Mr. Kummer as the head of a secretariat to assist him in setting up the working group.

    For information, please call Enrica Murmura at tel.: (212) 963 5913 or Edoardo Bellando at tel.: (212) 963 8275; or visit http://www.unicttaskforce.org/sixthmeeting.

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