At the annual Dutch “delegation” dinner at the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Vilnius, Lithuania, I voiced that it may be a good idea to start a Dutch IGF. This followed a discussion in which we discussed the possibilities of involving more people and organisations from the Netherlands in Internet governance. The, now, Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation followed this thought and made it possible for the ECP/EPN foundation to start the NL IGF. The first two debates have been organised with two more to follow before the summer. I am a strong advocate of the IGF concept. Some observations and thoughts.
My IGF experience
My personal experience with the IGF is very positive. In Sharm el Sheikh and Vilnius I was able to participate in panels, discussions and meetings with people who approach the Internet in a very different way. It made my views richer and understanding of other arguments better. Parties are coupled in panels that do not necessarily meet in normal situations, or if they do are then bound by legal, political or commercial constrictions that make it hard for them to speak freely. At the IGF there are no binding resolutions or decisions as an outcome. There is a flow of ideas and opinions that one can digest and take home and participants tend to use this freedom.
So the IGF is different. A quote from someone I heard say yesterday at the unofficial part of the NL IGF meeting underscores this perfectly: “what we discussed today, would have been impossible not so long ago”. This is the value from meeting and discuss the problems the Internet is facing. By listening to each other opinions can change, possible prejudices taken away and cooperation explored.
The wonder Internet is
The Internet was built by professionals from outside government. They made this new world wonder possible and enabled the biggest and fastest exchange of knowledge and information ever. We entered the information society. However, the world is now facing new challenges. The Internet is misused, abused by cyber criminals, spammers, phishers, hackers, spies, etc. The technical community is faced not only with the technical challenges around the abuse, but also with enquiring and demanding governments and law enforcement agencies. This is new. As a reminder, it is so for both sides.
How to achieve more Internet safety and security?
At RIPE 60 I compared this situation to a father who leaves his wife and very small child and comes back after 20 years saying: “you’ve raised our child completely wrong”. Even if the mother knows her child may have wrong friends, the message is still cruel and accusing to her.
2011 brings the challenge for these entities to learn to listen to each other, pick up the valid arguments and aid each other. The technical community faces the challenge to make the Internet safer, without it losing its unique qualities. Governments face the challenge to overcome the cross border jurisdictional issues and have to show some modesty in regulation. Do not fix what is not broken, was a strong message at NL IGF. Where the different representatives meet, is where solutions can be made that work for both sides whether technical, self-regulatory or through laws and regulations. It’s the combination that will do the trick. Without shutting the other out. And find out what’s already out there to use for regulatory purposes.
The strength of the IGF concept and Internet security
Where better can all meet on neutral ground than at the IGF? The world has to learn the way this concept works and dare to bring some more controversial topics there, to discuss in a more free environment. With the ideas, concepts or practical solutions one can go back to more formal settings, where they can be worked out together.
There are so many different entities and chains of actors that make the Internet what it is and do what it does, that they probably never meet in the same room, may not even be aware of each other’s role. Still, they may each have one piece of the solution towards a safer Internet in their grasp. I’m sure you can think of several without me spelling them out for you. As far as I know there has never been a meeting that tried to get their representatives in one room and lead this conference towards the production of all the much needed little silver bullets. What would happen if someone would try to organise such a meeting at the IGF and have all these different Internet entities, governments, LEAs, politicians, special interest groups and scholars discuss Internet governance for a whole week? Would this be revolutionary? I tend to believe it will. For Nairobi it’s too late, but what about 2012?
So, the NL IGF has started with a meeting on cloud computing and on trust or regulation. Very different entities were invited to present. Parliamentarians participated, industry, scholars, vendors, policy makers, consultants, etc. This is a very hopeful start. Let’s hope that it produces topics that the Netherlands can bring over time to Eurodig or the IGF, but also that the participants take the topics to other (formal) meetings, whether at the industry, government or parliament side. Over time meetings like this alter mind sets and change the course of things. Signs are that it is already happening. Only through meeting each other one gets to know the other and understand, perhaps even appreciate their arguments. I’m already looking forward to the meeting on 10 June.
Wout de Natris, De Natris Consult
Leiderdorp, Thursday 26 May 2011