What is governance? In normal business-speak, it is the process by which management is held accountable, the development and implementation of systems and processes that ensure management does its job. When it comes to an anarchic and organic thing like the Internet, it is debatable whether the term is meaningful.
The Internet is changing, and not wholly for the better. Despite being originally developed largely at the behest of the US military, the Internet has grown up as a very free, even anarchistic, system, with a real culture of tolerance. Look at the number of porn and hate sites – no-one polices them. But all that is under threat as authoritarian states and organisations start to understand the threat the Internet poses to their position, and seek to twist it to their purposes under the guise of “international cooperation”.
The inaugural and rather grandly named auIGF (Australian Internet Governance Forum) is being held at Canberra’s Hotel Realm, which has become very popular in recent years for conferences and the like. It’s in Barton, where most government offices and IT companies are based.
Discussion at the first day of the conference was dominated by calls for an “open Internet”. Many people who have grown up with the free-for-all way the Internet has evolved over the years are concern that countries who do not value freedom so highly will use upcoming international forums to push for greater controls over Internet.
Delegates were welcomed by Chris Disspain , CEO of auDA, the .au domain name administration. He is also an ICANN board director and a member of the UN Secretary General’s Internet Governance Forum Multi-Stakeholder Advisory Group. After introductions from Senators Kate Lundy (ALP) and Scott Ludlum (Australian Greens) he moderated the first panel session.
“Threats to the successful multi-stakeholder model of Internet governance come regularly and in many forms,” said Disspain. “Big telcos want to exert more control of it to regain lost revenues, governments are concerned with national security and intelligence vulnerabilities from increased cybercrime, and many countries believe they are underrepresented in the structures that manage the Internet.”
“The multi-stakeholder model for Internet governance creates the best outcomes for the greatest number. If we want to maintain the openness and interoperability of the Internet, we need to let more people know about the developments that threaten these values and engage them in a dialogue that will help uphold them. That is goal that we have set for the auIGF”.
Disspain is referring to what might happen at two global conferences later this year – the Internet Governance Forum in the Azerbaijani capital Baku, on the shores of the disappearing Caspian Sea in November, and the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) to be held in Dubai in December.
The Baku conference will mostly be attended by advocates of Internet openness. Its theme is “Internet Governance for Sustainable Human, Economic and Social Development”, which is a laudable enough, if vague, aim. But Disspain and others are mostly concerned about what might happen at the WCIT conference, which will be convened by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a UN body that is open only to membership from governments.
Disspain says a number of ITU member states are looking to the WCIT as an opportunity to assert more control over the current Internet model, which many believe threaten its very nature. “We need to defend a free and open Internet while maintaining its security and reliability. This requires vigilance and active engagement from all global stakeholders. The immediate threat to the Internet as we know it is the WCIT conference,” says Disspain.
“Several countries, including Russia and China, are proposing to regulate aspects of the Internet concerned with cybercrime and national security issues. Other proposals focus on changes to technical coordination and standards-setting agreements that enable all devices, networks and software across the Internet to connect and integrate reliably and securely.”
The WCITwill review the current International Telecommunications Regulations (ITRs), which serve as the binding global treaty outlining the principles which govern the way international voice, data and video traffic is handled, and which lay the foundation for ongoing innovation and market growth.
The ITRs have not been negotiated since the ITU conference in Melbourne in 1988. Obviously, much has happened since then. The conference’s website says “there is broad consensus that they now needs to be updated to reflect the dramatically different information and communication technology landscape of the 21st century.” That includes how the Internet is used and regulated.
The auIGF describes itself as a “multi-stakeholder conference that will bring government, industry and community members together to discuss Internet-related policy issues, exchange ideas and best practices and help shape the future of the Internet in Australia.”
It is jointly convened by auDA, the Internet Industry Association, the Australian chapter of the Internet Society (ISOC-AU), the Australian Communication Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) and the Asia Pacific Network Information Centre (APNIC). It finishes its sessions today.