The IGF circus has gone home, but we cannot put this meeting behind us.
Yes, the 7th IGF, held in Azerbaijan, is done and over. Despite all sorts of logistical annoyances and the irony of an Internet governance meeting without working Internet access, it was a fabulous meeting of the forum.
Various taboos were broken in Baku. The most important of which, is that we actually discussed Human Rights and the Internet, a topic that was forbidden less than a year ago. Some of us had called for the topic of Human Rights and the Internet as the theme of IGF2012, but that had been too controversial for the StatusQuoists in the old Multistakeholder Advisory Group (MAG) that runs the IGF (though sometimes I think they don’t quite understand that they do run the IGF). Maybe the new MAG for IGF2013 in Indonesia will be able to set that as the theme. We can only hope - and maybe push a little.
But before we start pushing and planning for IGF2013, it is important to remember that IGF2012 has not really ended yet. One of the remarkable things that happens when the IGF comes to town in a politically repressed nation is that the window of Freedom of Expression opens up wider than the forces of Autocracy 2.0 have ever allowed it to open before. Since the IGF meetings are held under the flag of the United Nations, one of the good aspects of having the IGF convened by the UN, the local governments must let their countrymen attend the meeting and once inside the doors they are allowed to speek freely to the gathered experts from around the world. Though sometimes even the UN slips and bans books such as The Right to Remain Silent, for the most part, the IGF becomes an oasis of Freedom of Speech and Association in the midst of a repressed land.
But this is only true for so long as the IGF is in town. The moment we leave, the autocrats are free to go back to their evil ways and they take their revenge on the people we leave behind. This is why IGF12 in Baku Azerbaijan is not yet over. The people of Azerbaijan are still living under autocracy and are still not free to speak their minds. Or as one put it, they need not only the freedom to speak, but freedom after they speak. Well they spoke freely at IGF12 and we must do what we can to help them remain free now that we have left. We have to maintain contact. We have to watch. We have to report and we have to shout like mad when the the state begins its vengeful ways. And leaders like Neelie Kroes, Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda, who spoke so powerfully while in Baku, need to keep up the pressure. We cannot walk away and forget the people we leave behind, we owe them more than that.
Now that we are safely away and back in our homes, we must not forget about the new friends we made. We must watch their backs and do what we can.