INTERNET GOVERNANCE FORUM: The future of the Internet was discussed in Athens

This article was published in the E.L.S.A magazine “The Synergy”, issue 41 (2007)

As Lawrence Lessig has highlighted, there are four modalities of regulation, which can all apply to the Internet: a) the law, b) the social norms, c) the market and d) the architecture. In the inaugural meeting of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) there were representatives from all the aforementioned modalities.

For four days (30th October to 2nd November, 2006) over 1.200 stakeholders representing governments, the private sector and civil society, including the academic and technical communities, from all regions of the world, were gathered in Athens under the auspices of the United Nations to discuss the future of the Internet. The IGF is the solution which was given to the political dead-end created during the Tunis meeting of the World Summit on Information Society (2005), after some of the participants expressed their thoughts against the present situation in the Internet and they counter-proposed alternative models of electronic governance, which were based mainly on the inter-state collaboration, i.e. “a new forum for a multi-stakeholder dialogue”.

The agenda of the first IGF included four broad themes: Openness, Security, Diversity and Access. The forum was organized in main sessions covering mainly the aforementioned issues and in parallel workshop discussions. In the workshops there were discussed more specialized issues such as the modern legal problems of the Internet, the freedom of expression, the linguistic diversity of the Internet users and the issue of privacy in the context of the Internet. The IGF opened Konstadinos Karamanlis, Prime Minister of Greece. Amongst the panelists there were Viviane Reding, Commissioner for Information Society & the Media (European Commission), Nitin Desai, Special Adviser to the United Nations and Secretary-General for Internet Governance, Guy Sebban, Secretary-General, International Chamber of Commerce, Viton Cerf, Vicepresident Google, Paul Twomey, CEO, ICANN and Nik Gowing, Main Presenter, BBC World.

The points raised during the IGF meeting were many. Firstly, much of the discussion was devoted to the need for a constant multi-stake dialogue and cooperation between parties from different sectors and backgrounds, because it was made clear from the beginning that the Internet is a multi-stake reality. Moreover, one of the key points discussed were the freedom of expression, the use of this freedom in the context of the Internet and the balance between protecting intellectual property rights and access to the knowledge, which the Internet undoubtedly offers. Furthermore, as far as the issue of the security is concerned, one of the key points discussed was the use of processes of authentication and identification for the growing security threats of the Internet to be faced. Additionally, the panelists agreed that multilingualism is a driving requirement for even greater diversity to be achieved in the community of the Internet. Finally, it was concluded that increasing access remains one of the great challenges facing the Internet community especially when there are regions such as Africa that faces particularly complex problems with regard to access to ICT resources.

The European Law Students’ Association was present at this meeting, anticipated in a workshop and made some contacts. More specifically, the author of this article, as an ELSA London representative, took part as a panelist in the workshop «ICT: Tool for transparency» organized by the Gov2U (, a Greek NGO harnessing the potential of ICTs as tools for the improvement of representative democracy. In his word, he proposed the Internet to be used as a means for the people from all over the world to get acquainted with the rules and the procedures used in the UN conferences.

In sum, it was a very fruitful for the future of the Internet meeting and the 1.200 stakeholders renew their meeting for the next IGF, which will take place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on 12 – 15 November 2007. All of the participants expressed their hope that the IGF would not be just a sequence of meetings held in beautiful locations, but a process where the meetings would serve as checkpoint in a course towards a real, better and fully functional Internet Governance. I hope that ELSA will take part in this process.

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