(The following is a ‘Revise and Extend’ of remarks I made at the Bali IGF. They are based on the transcript of the session: Building Bridges - The Role of Governments in Multistakeholder Cooperation held on 22 October 2013. It was suggested to me by friends that this should be included in my blog. Any changes made where for readability and grammar and to remove my nasty habit of saying ‘sort of’ like other people say ‘umm’, not to mention my tendency to start every sentence with ‘And’ or ‘So’ or maybe “And so’. I have not changed the ideas.)
Thank you. I’m actually quite pleased to be up here with all these gentlemen in Bali. And I need to point out one point, I was introduced as a representative of Civil Society. And to keep myself out of trouble, I must, indeed, say that my comments have not been reviewed by anyone in Civil Society and I don’t represent Civil Society though I do try to repesent its interest as best I can. And in fact, I come with the history of having been a Civil Society participant in policy worlds such as ICANN, WGIG and WSIS, as a technical person in technical worlds such as the IETF, and as a secretariat member of the early IGFs, so I’m actually given quite a luxury of looking at the issue from several perspectives
When I look at the Role of Governments, I have to admit that I came to the acceptance of Governments having a role very late in life. And my first reaction for many years was: Why? Why would they have a role? Now, over the years of IGF and such, and having listened to many wise Ambassadors, Ministers, and Chairmen, I’ve actually come to accept that there is a role. But in looking at that role, I look for: Where would that role grow from? What would be the origin of a Government role?
One of the first things that comes to mind in terms of looking at a role for Governments is Human Rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other instruments have made the Governments responsible for protecting our rights; protecting our rights in the non‑internet world, and protecting our rights on the Internet.
That role of theirs, as a protector of our rights, does indeed mean that they really do have a role.
But understanding how that role can be played and how that role can be developed, really depends on the degree to which they are defending those rights, the degree to which they are supporting a multistakeholder process that can be seen as growing out of our right to participate, to associate, to express, to learn, and to share knowledge.
Insofar as they protect us, insofar as they further the protection for rights, indeed Governments do have an important role, but that role really needs to be gauged by the degree to which they are indeed serving the people of the world, serving the people of their countries.
The Governments have come to the Internet sort of late, and in that role, very often we make an analogy to the role that they took in telecommunications and have tried to impose the role they took in telecommunications on the Internet. Now, as we sit here on this panel, I’m very relieved to hear that hasn’t been the position of anyone on this panel. Yet I do have concern that that is still the position of many in many Governments, and believe it’s something that we need to be careful of.
One thing I see as a very important role for Governments in the multistakeholder processes is their capacity for growth. Governments are new in many ways to the notions of cooperating with other sectors of society. Many have listened to us in various times, but they don’t necessarily work with us. They don’t necessarily cooperate. Over the years from the Working Group on Internet Governance to the WSIS to the evolution I’ve seen in the IGF, I have watched the capacity of Government to cooperate, both among themselves and with the rest of the stakeholders, increase. I think that is also a very important part of Government’s role in these organisations, in these processes, is to actually increase their capacity to participate in a participatory democracy with us; a democracy that goes beyond the one that has elected many of them as representatives, or perhaps as first or second‑order derivatives of representatives, but one where they have learned to actually work with others.
I’m very pleased, as we get to the point where we hear that Governments are indeed fostering freedom of expression, or at least are planning to. And indeed doing so at times. But that’s new, it’s something that I’m hoping that as Governments become more involved increases: that they do more to defend and support Freedom of Expression on the Internet, Freedom of Association on the Internet, Freedom of Assembly on the Internet.
We need to go beyond this. We need to look at all of the Human Rights that Governments are charged with protecting, and make sure that they are indeed doing that on the Internet, and I’m really glad to see a realization of that, a growth in that multistakeholder process.
Governments have a role in multistakeholder processes. The ITU has a role in multistakeholder processes. They are important roles. But I have a concern, as they get more involved, as they get more of a role, that their role isn’t a role that pushes the rest of us out of the tent. That’s something that perhaps again, not having had to vet my comments, that I can admonish us to really maintain a focus on: that as Governments get more of a role in the Internet, that that role does not in some way decrease the role of others in the Internet.
How can the Governments continue to be involved without, in a sense, disturbing the involvement of the rest of the players in Internet governance? As we approach 2014, with various Summits and various proposed Summits, I’m really looking at them with a bit of apprehension in terms of, will we be allowed to observe? Will we be allowed to participate? And the point to which we really haven’t gotten yet: Will we be allowed to participate in the decision‑making?
Because once we are involved in the decision‑making with Governments, Governments will, in my view, have gotten to the point where their role in the multistakeholder process has actually come to fruition. Thank you.