Respective Roles: Towards an International Treaty for Internet Freedom?

While the idea to have a “Magna Carta” for the Internet, protecting online freedoms such as freedom of expression, online assembly, or privacy, isn’t new, the question remains on how the UN Internet Governance Forum (IGF) could adopt binding documents – and whether it should at all. This article offers food for thought on how all IGF stakeholders could collaborate in an attempt to develop an international legal framework without expanding the scope of the mandate of the IGF. Instead, this nascent idea makes use of existing structures involving a range of stakeholders, including the Dynamic Coalitions, the Freedom Online Coalition and the Council of Europe.

Internet Governance & International Treaties

At the Opening Session of the last IGF Meeting in November 2015 in Joao Pessao, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression David Kaye argued for an international treaty on human rights on the Internet. He said he saw a lack of legal certainty -substantive, jurisdictional, and procedural- that allows many around the world to perceive gaps in the application of human rights law online. He stressed that Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) guarantees the right to freedom of expression regardless of frontiers as a transboundary right. Kaye stated, “It is a challenge to traditional notions of Government control of territorial space, but it is a provision to be celebrated and put at the very center of Internet Governance.”

Joe Cannataci, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy, said that there was a need to improve existing legal instruments: “In international law, justiceable agreements are those that are included in conventions, legally binding international treaties. Thus, if Internet Governance is to be obtained, it must be treaty based.”

“Ultimately, nothing can substitute international agreement between governments acting on the advice and in the spirit of multistakeholder agreements”, Cannataci added.

Other participants, however, especially among civil society, voiced reservations that an international treaty would endanger a free Internet rather than provide for its protection, especially if such a treaty is ratified by governments that engage in mass surveillance, implement overreaching copyright laws, have poor privacy protection, limit access to an open Internet, or violate other human rights in their jurisdiction.

The multi-stakeholder model of internet governance at “worst may be a front for corporate self-regulation or government policy whitewashing”, warns for example Jeremy Malcolm of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

And indeed, countries such as China or Russia and many from the Middle East are openly in favor for more government control in Internet governance, lobbying for multilateral or intergovernmental arrangements, where states are the primary actors, administered by the ITU. In a Joint Communiqué dating from April 2016, the Foreign Ministers of the Russian Federation, the Republic of India and the People’s Republic of China emphasized “the need to internationalize Internet governance and to enhance in this regard the role of International Telecommunication Union”.

So, with these debates as a backdrop, how could a human rights-centered and multi stakeholder-based international treaty on basic human rights on the Internet be formed and what would it look like?…

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IGF MANDATE EXTENDED FOR TEN YEARS

Ten more years for the United NationsInternet Governance Forum (IGF): At a high-level meeting of the UN General Assembly (GA) on December 16, 2015, the GA adopted an outcome document on the overall review of the implementation of the outcomes of the World Summit on the Information Society.

In a specific decision articulated in the document, the GA extended the IGF mandate until 2025. The General Assembly also specified that during this period, the IGF should continue to show progress on working modalities and continue to encourage relevant stakeholders in developing countries to participate in internet governance discussions at the UN level.

UN General Assembly President Mogens Lykketoft presided over the meeting, which was attended by high-level representatives from all member and observer states, and…

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Discussion on Multistakeholderism in Africa at IGF Istanbul

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Participants from different stakeholder groups will discuss the results of RIA research conducted on mapping multistakeholders participation in internet governance from an African perspective.

Specifically, participants will be invited to consider how factors such as low level of internet access and use, low quality of service and high prices of broadband intersect with the notion of multistakeholder participation as a form of deliberative democracy for internet governance – which is often informed by assumptions from more mature markets and the human rights frameworks of Western democracies.
Participants will explore the evolution of multistakeholders participation through consideration of the main international, regional and national processes/mechanisms of the internet governance ecosystem from an Africa perspective.

Some specific issues that will be highlighted include:
– What these initiatives have achieved in terms of enabling or constraining the development of an open internet;
– What has been the level and effectiveness of participation of African stakeholders in these processes;
– Why have they not been able to fully develop an African agenda on internet governance?

After the IGF 2013—Bali barely relevant in the run-up to Rio

CGCS Post-Doctoral Research Fellow Ben Wagner discusses the Internet Governance Forum 2013′s relevance in the changing world of Internet Governance.

I’ve recently joined CGCS as a post-doctoral research fellow, and am currently working on a new CGCS project called the Internet Policy Observatory, a research program developed to analyse the dynamic technological and political contexts in which Internet developments and governance decisions take place.  Busy with the preoccupations of relocating across the Atlantic to begin work at Annenberg, I had to miss the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) 2013 in Bali. As I’ve attended every IGF since 2008, I found myself wondering what I had missed.

I’ve spent a lot of time and effort in the last few years in and around the IGF and from 2009 to 2012, running a ‘Dynamic Coalition,’ something like a working group at the IGF on Freedom of Expression and Freedom of the Media. The dynamic coalition brought together a colourful mix of individuals from civil society, business and government working on issues related to Freedom of Expression. In 2009 and 2010, some of our best years, speakers at our meetings included U.N. Special Rapporteur Frank La Rue, the Swedish Foreign Ministry speaking as Chair of the EU delegation and Sami Ben Gharbia of Nawaat.

This year I’ve been stuck to (mostly broken) remote participation, the transcripts on the IGF website and the interesting analysis of various commentators. What is notable at the IGF in 2013 is how little …

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