The 2017 Forum’s “Geneva Messages” Address Core Internet Values, Urge Respect for Long-standing Principles of Transparency, Accountability and Inclusion, and Support Balancing the Free Flow of Data with Data Protection
21 December 2017
The twelfth Internet Governance Forum closed this afternoon with a call to ensure the inclusion of all and especially the under-represented - indigenous peoples and the unconnected - in Internet governance, and to protect and strengthen this unique global venue where everyone can freely put forward their views.
At the beginning of the stock-taking and open mic segment, Krystina Marty Lang, Deputy State Secretary and Deputy Head of the Directorate of Political Affairs of Switzerland, presented the non-binding “Geneva messages” which emphasised that the ideal future global digital governance should be value based, inclusive, open and transparent. Participants drew attention to some aspects of the meeting which could be improved in the future, including on remote participation and accessibility, the agenda setting and issue selection process, and youth participation.
Delivering closing remarks as a civil society representative, Matthew Rantanen, Director of Technology, Southern California Tribal Chairmen's Association, said that indigenous peoples of the world should have a seat at the table on Internet governance and be included in the decision-making level of the process. The Internet would fail to be the resource that it should be if it did not include all in the development of its future, in particular indigenous peoples who were the most under-represented voices and communities in the world.
Jianne Soriano, NetMission.Asia and an organizer of the Youth IGF Asia Pacific, spoke as a youth representative, and said that today youth were no longer in the shadows at the Forum. Youth were “digital natives” and the largest end-users but also the Internet’s future leaders: being young was not a disadvantage but a strength. Noting the “participation exhaustion”, Ms. Soriano stressed the importance of continuity which allowed voices to be heard, and eventually snowballed into something.
Representing the private sector, Sundeep Singh Bobby Bedi, International Federation of Film Producers Associations, stressed the importance of reducing the digital divide and ensuring equal access to everyone on the planet. Multi-stakeholder engagement was key in reducing uncertainties and addressing concerns, said Mr. Bedi and urged a restraint on putting national regulations on critical issues such as privacy of data flows that constrained the Internet’s truly interconnecting and global character.
Raquel Gatto, Manager for Chapter Development in the Americas for Internet Society, representing the technical community, remarked that the Internet reflected the problems of the society and urged all not to break the mirror. The digital future mattered to all, said Ms. Gatto, noting that everyone had a responsibility to take action and shape that future. The potential of the Internet Governance Forum should not be underestimated – its spatial and thematic expansion meant that it was relevant.
Lynn St. Amour, Chair of the Multi-Stakeholder Advisory Group, in her concluding remarks, thanked Switzerland and the United Nations Office at Geneva and stressed the long-standing support of Switzerland to a multi-stakeholder approach to Internet governance. The Forum was the Secretary-General’s extra-budgetary project which depended on funding and donations to its trust fund, she said and urged all to consider supporting it. More space in the programme had been created for inter-sessional activities which were crucial for progress, and for more participation on key issues.
Thomas Schneider, Vice Director of the Federal Office of Communications of Switzerland and the Co-Chair of the 2017 Forum, said that the potential of the Internet Governance Forum had not been fully used as yet; for this, more resources, awareness and better communications were needed.
Armin Plum, Senior Sustainable Development Officer of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, on behalf of the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs Liu Zhenmin, thanked Switzerland for hosting the meeting and said that an inclusive, safe and secure Internet, whose benefits were enjoyed equally everywhere, was a shared responsibility. It was crucial to maintain the commitment of the range of stakeholders to improve the Internet Governance Forum and bring in new voices and ideas, as well as ensure that everyone participated in shaping the digital future.
At the beginning of the stock-taking and open mic segment, Krystina Marty Lang, Deputy State Secretary and Deputy Head of the Directorate of Political Affairs of Switzerland, said that the 2017 meeting had allowed for comprehensive and inclusive discussions, including on social, economic and political benefits of digitalization, as well as a range of trans-national challenges. Its “Geneva messages” stated that the ideal future global digital governance should be value based, inclusive, open and transparent; while it was challenging to identify the values common to all actors and regions, there was a shared understanding that core Internet values were and needed to stay human-centred. Secondly, while the digital future was uncertain, it was necessary to rely on the long-standing principles of transparency, accountability and inclusion.
Another message recognized that the dependence of the digital economy on the free flow of data should be balanced with data protection; governments, private companies, and civil society should work together on basic sets of rules that allowed data aggregation and data flows, while also protecting the integrity of data and the privacy of individuals. There was a lot of work ahead, challenges were huge but so were the rewards, concluded Ms. Lang, calling for the strengthening of the Internet Governance Forum to achieve common goals.
In the open mic part that followed, online and in-person participants in the twelfth Internet Governance Forum underlined that the Internet Governance Forum was a truly adequate forum for discussing Internet governance issues, and the only venue in the world where everyone and anyone could freely put forward their views. As such, everyone – individuals, governments, United Nations and others, must fight to protect and support it. Participants drew attention to some aspects of the meeting which could be improved in the future, including on remote participation and accessibility, the agenda setting and issue selection process, and youth participation.
In addition, a suggestion was made to have the 2018 annual meeting of the Internet Governance Forum as a virtual meeting, especially since a host country had not been chosen yet. A concern was raised about the lack of transparency and accountability in the appointment of members of the Forum’s Multi-Stakeholder Advisory Group – it was done by the United Nations Secretary-General in an opaque manner, and it heavily favoured individuals from governments and industry.
With regard to participation, attention was drawn to the underrepresentation of the Middle East and North Africa region, as well as persons from Africa, in the Forum’s meetings and its panels, and also to the need to include people who were not connected to the Internet. Efforts must be made to bring back the technologists – not only private sector but independents as well, and this could only be done if they were treated as equals and not as someone who must do the bidding of others.
As far as accessibility was concerned, a participant noted that it was very hard to ensure accessibility in the venue of the 2017 Forum, the Palais des Nations; at the same time, the Webex did not work for blind people - there must be a health nudge to Cisco, the designer of Webex, to adapt it to the needs of the blind. It was important to keep in mind that the International Telecommunication Union was testing other remote participation tools.
Concerning the agenda setting process, a comment was made that the selection of themes for workshops was dominated by civil society and academia, and often private sector representatives were not able to select topics relevant to them. At the same time, governments were not sufficiently represented. The Secretariat should analyse whether workshops represented all stakeholders. Some participants commented on issues that had not been adequately addressed in the 2017 meeting, for example the copyright law which was currently being discussed in Europe. Next time, the Forum should ensure a greater diversity of panellists, to avoid that they all said the same thing, and should also accept a greater variety in the format of sessions, for example break-out groups or bird-of-a-feather. Session organizers who failed to appear should be penalized.
Several participants commented on youth participation and called for greater inclusion of young people in the Forum, including through the provision of financial support for the participation of youth on panels. Youth should participate in all sessions and all panels, and not only in those directly related to youth issues, speakers said and urged greater engagement with the youth in regional and national Internet Governance Forums, and in local communities. At the same time, youth should engage their governments and advocate and lobby for the issues they cared for.
Thomas Schneider, Vice Director, Federal Office of Communications of Switzerland, said that it must not be forgotten that the Forum had been set up as an open-ended and bottom-up venue with the participation of all stakeholders on an equal basis, and this had been a very courageous decision. Mr. Schneider outlined innovation in this year’s Forum, particularly in the interactivity and engagement with the audience, including during the opening ceremony where the format of heavy and long speeches by many speakers was replaced with an interactive dialogue with high-level representatives.
For use of the information media; not an official record