IGF Talkfest: Crisis, Chaos, or Just Evolving

“The Internet Governance Forum does need to evolve,” ICANN & ISOC-NY board member Avri Doria emails. “Speaking personally, I do not believe the IGF would disappear. If something were to happen, or if in the future it was not renewed by the UN General Assembly, then it could be recreated in a bottom-up manner as an international place to bring the various groups together. I also said that I considered the National and Regional Initiative one of the greatest outcomes of the IGF because they brought “Internet Governance” to the national and regional level.” 

The most common criticism of the IGF is that all it does is talk, talk, talk. That’s valuable, but many hope for IGF to have direct results. Monika Ermert, the best-informed commentator on “Internet Governance,” writes, “In Berlin, the hosts want to work hard to lead the IGF out of the crisis, which has been around for a few years because it only debates and does not act. … Die Machtlosigkeit ist dabei ein Geburtsfehler.” Ermert describes a highly chaotic program.

From the beginning, governments did not want to give away power. I’ve reported that the non-government participants have come overwhelmingly from the US and allies, as well as some others in general agreement. The non-government attendees rarely spoke from the point of view of the global south, which now represents the strong majority of Internet users. Two-thirds of the world want a more internationally representative group in charge, presumably the ITU. 

The German Ministry, this year’s host, writes, “Final statements, especially binding, do not fit into such a format,” while warning, “If in the end the participants diverge without any conclusion, the relevance of such an event is dwindling.”

However, I don’t think the IGF will ever be able to reach a consensus on most of the major issues of the Internet. IGF is designed to make collective decisions, if any, by agreement. Decisions by consensus – implicit in the multi-stakeholder model – are great when possible.

But on most of the big issues, there is no way to get consensus. That’s particularly true on major international security issues unless mostly limited to US allies. It’s little known, but at least since 2011, the US has blocked any serious international agreement on security. By whatever means necessary, the US intends to protect the ability of the NSA to do what the NSA does so well. 

US Ambassador Larry Strickling explained to me why the US blocked true international security agreements: “Do you want Russia and China to rule the web?” Of course I do, I didn’t think to reply. I want India, Brazil, Russia, China, and all major countries to play a role governing the Internet. Not just because it’s right to include all Internet users, but the system won’t work well otherwise. 

If more than half the Internet is effectively excluded – see ICANN – security and other measures won’t be effective. Meanwhile, the Global South is building alternative structures since we lock them out of ours. (see BRICS conferences.)



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