Internet Governance Forum (IGF) 2023: Internet we want – empowering all people
InternetNZ CEO Vivien Maidaborn •
This month I completed my orientation to the Internet governance space with the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Kyoto. The theme was ‘Internet we want – empowering all people.’ 9,000 people participated online and in-person at the massive event, hosted incredibly well by the Japanese Government — Imagine providing 6,000 bento boxes every day!
Women and girls in all our diversity
Before the conference began there were multiple ‘days’ already in action. Referred to as ‘Day -1’ and ‘Day 0’, ‘Day -1’ was hosted by organisations including APC, UN WOMEN, and Equality Now, and they focussed on gender rights on the Internet. 10 feminist principles for the Internet had already been developed through more grassroots work by these groups, and the focus of the workshop was to dig into each principle looking for improvements.
It was humbling and inspiring to listen to women from Kenya, Iraq, Nigeria, Iran, and Brazil (amongst many others) on their experience of online harm and the ways that violence against women is growing and perpetuated by misogynist groups and individuals. This has also been happening in Aotearoa, particularly for wāhine Māori, and women in leadership and public roles.
In the afternoon of Day -1, representatives of aligned governments joined the workshop to discuss how to bring feminist principles in Internet governance forward into the IGF more broadly and critically. They also discussed how to ensure the Global Digital Compact (GDC) work being undertaken by the UN includes a real commitment to women and girls.
The language used during this day was striking. Words like ‘women and girls — in all our diversity’ were wonderful to hear. I could tell a lot of work had gone into the creation of this expression by a lot of different people and points of view. It created space for women, in all our diversity, to be seen and heard and overcame discussions about use of language in this context, completely.
There was plenty for InternetNZ to take away from this session. We can:
- Connect up with UN Women and civil society voices in Aotearoa to ensure these principles are visible and inform our national conversation.
- Bring these Principles to the attention of Government officials working on the GDC.
- Encourage our Government to become one of those working as allies to this civil society work, by supporting the international push to have these feminist principles included in the GDC.
Clockwise from top left — Shinto Shrine; a workshop group; the golden IGF banners which greeted us wherever we went; Fukuyama Castle; and an intricate and delicious bento box.
I also attended two disability rights sessions at the IGF, both hosted by the Dynamic Coalition on Accessibility and Disability. There was excitement at both of these forums, because for the first time, four people from across the world were attending IGF as Dynamic Coalition on Access and Disability Fellows.
There was also deep frustration about the lack of progress by the UN in achieving a truly accessible experience for everyone at IGF. People experienced exclusion through lack of signers at any sessions, automated captioning (which was often inaccurate or missed a lot), and physically inaccessible venues. It was very clear that as a ccTLD we need to continue to improve our accessibility and disability rights approach, as well as offer support to civil society groups pushing for development in these huge international forums.
There is much for us to work on as all of us in NZ, access and use the Internet in an increasing number of ways.
The Internet’s impact on our planet
There was discussion too on the Internet’s carbon footprint and impact on climate change. Starting in 2020, APNIC and .asia jointly conducted research measuring the eco-friendliness of our Internet infrastructure. Across Asia, we are ranked number one because of our renewable energy sources.
This is a whole new area for us to be thinking about. I was fascinated to read in the report “This flags a notable challenge for NZ — namely its heavy reliance on data centres located in Australia where fossil fuels continue to be the predominant energy source.”
There is much work to work on as all of us in NZ, access and use the Internet in an increasing number of ways. As we continue to grow as a digital society we need to ensure the Internet is a tool for sustainability and climate action and not just another thing that increases carbon and contributes to climate warming. I have flagged this as an area for exploration toward our next InternetNZ strategy.
InternetNZ’s role as a provider of critical infrastructure to New Zealand
InternetNZ is central to how New Zealand connects to the rest of the world. This places us at the centre of the technical community at Internet governance events. It becomes clearer in this context that we need to ensure Internet governance works toward a free, open, safe, inclusive and secure Internet.
The technical layer of the Internet is where we can most directly do this. Practical things come to mind like:
- The multi-stakeholder processes associated with our own .nz rules
- Watching out for challenges or shocks to the interoperability and universality of the internet.
- And defending the Internet against technical fragmentation.
Doing this work with excellence, means we continue to build trust as a provider of critical infrastructure and therefore build the ability to have an influential voice on these and wider issues.
The application layer of the internet also needs a lot of attention: content, online harm, mis/disinformation, AI, and even the emerging quantum technology space. Based on our core values of ‘an Internet that benefits everyone’, and ‘an internet for all’, we will continue to partner with Māori and civil society groups on responding to these important matters.
…and now for the Global Digital Compact and WSIS+20
Many of the sessions Jodi and I attended at the IGF related to The Global Digital Compact work being done by the UN, and this in itself was seen as a process that is leading to and informing WSIS+20.
WSIS+20 is the 20-year review of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS). It will take place in 2025. The +20 Summit is seen as a key opportunity to defend and advance the multistakeholder approach to Internet Governance.
A clear takeout for me from IGF was that the technical community* can and should better organise ourselves to develop principles and objectives, and to coordinate, collaborate, and advocate on Internet governance policy and decision making for the upcoming GDC and WSIS+20. Some of this work will be defensive in nature as various players undermine multi stakeholderism. The technical community being aspirational about what the Internet is into the future, is just as important. For both these reasons InternetNZ has joined auDA and others in the technical community to work on better collaboration and the development of shared understanding and analysis in the lead up to the GDC and WSIS+20.
Now it is time to consider all the learnings of 2023 and work with our InternetNZ membership, and the internet community of NZ, toward what key messages, concerns, and initiatives we would want to see included in the discussions and deliberations at both conferences.
*The technical community is made up of people, organisations and forums who build and maintain the Internet. It is responsible for the development and functioning of the single, interoperable Internet at the technical (protocols and standards) layer.
Here is the UN’s Global Digital Compact. If you’re interested, have a look at this excellent and thorough article, which explains the history and issues surrounding these processes, and the UN Secretary-General’s Policy Brief.
auDA have also published their Internet Governance Roadmap.