To govern or not to govern that is the question

Ugly Governor

Thanks to Facebook and Youtube it is very easy to stay up to date with recent developments and important news. As you might have guessed – being aware of the fact that I was working on Internet governance – this entry is all about the Internet Governance Forum.

The last days were all about Internet governance in general, the question of IGF’s future and evolving issues of Internet governance such as cyber crime. This years meeting was held in Sharm-el-Sheikh, Egypt. Though planned, I could not make it to the conference due to several personal and unfortunately bureaucratic reasons. Nevertheless, I would like to comment on the IGF, the conference and talks that evolved in the corridors.

A main question, and this was mainly challenged by the Chinese delegation, has been the role of IGF in future. The Chinese argued that IGF did a good job but it will be up to bi- and multilateral agreements in the future to deal with Internet governance. Regarding the Chinese past concerning global governance it is easy to see that they tried once and failed (in the Asian region). Taking their general politics into account, it is easy to see why the Chinese do not really like the role of IGF.

The Chinese representative argued that the IGF…
‘contributed a great deal in light of its historic mandate. But we have also noted the — that the essence of IGF’s work is establishing dialogue, exchanging points of view. But this is not enough to solve the problems. The real problem is that in the field of the Internet, there is a monopoly that exists. And we need to solve that problem. It’s not by talking about principles merely that we can solve this problem […] So we repeat that the delegation of China does not agree with extending the mission of the IGF beyond the five years. We feel that after the five years are up, we would need to look at the results that have been achieved. And we need, then, to launch into an intergovernmental discussion.’

Even though obvious, that the representative talks mainly about the US influence on the Internet’s backbone and especially, some representatives do not really understand the nature of IGF – I think. IGF members does not sign any agreements on the IGF platform. The IGF is a non-governmental organizations, based in Geneva being under the UN umbrella, which brings together stakeholders dealing with communications technologies of different kinds. Governments do participate but with the same rights as every one else.

Unlike the ancient greek forums, no political binding decisions are made by the IGF or according to any IGF principle. When I was talking with Wolfgang Kleinwächter in the process of writing my dissertation he argued that the IGF helps nation-states to become aware of a potential problem. Than the state can examine if there is need for public policy regarding this problem or if it should be better solved on international scale. One example therefore is clearly the European Cyber crime convention. IGF can be regarded as brain pool, brain-storming or think tank. It produces knowledge which then can be used individually to draw a conclusion. Do not really understand the Chinese perspective (and they are not alone) there. Why not give the opportunity to gather information and then decide by yourself if changing policies or not? Is it the fear of another entity which can not be influenced by China so strong that abolishing a good-working institution seems to be necessary?

A transparent and knowledge as well as awareness producing entity is exactly what reflects the Internet’s nature and therefore the Internet Governance Forum should be hold again in 2010 and so on – or to say it with the ‘immortal words’ of Vinton Cerf: ‘If ain’t broken, don’t fix it’.

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