Two of 2000 at the Internet Governance Forum in Paris

Ellen StricklandA blog from Ellen Strickland, Policy Director at InternetNZ
14 November 2018

This week our CE Jordan Carter and I have been attending the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Paris, an annual event where governments, business, technical community, academics and civil society organisations come together under the aegis of the United Nations to talk about Internet policy issues.

It's a little bit like the NetHui we bring together in New Zealand - but with people from all over the world, over two thousand of them, and about 14 simultaneous streams. It's a big event, full of languages from all over the world and perspectives on the future of the Internet we don't get to hear in New Zealand. Due to the global nature of the Internet, it's important to also share our perspectives from New Zealand with those making global Internet policy, and the IGF is an opportunity to do so.

This year the event is being hosted by France, the second year in a row in Europe, which for an event which was designed to move around the globe, is a bit of a shame. Not least because of the 12 hour time difference from New Zealand (#jetlag).

The opening ceremony included some provocative and challenging words from French President Emmanuel Macron around regulation of the Internet - he thinks we need more regulation, from democratic countries, but a lot of participants here are left wondering what that means.

Could we regulate the Internet in a way which still allows permissionless innovation? Is governing the Internet in a way that maximises benefits to societies possible through national and regional regulation and multilateral processes?

We also learned in the opening speech that France is embedding regulators in Facebook to help deal with hate speech in particular - so specific steps towards regulation of the Internet are a hot topic for discussion here.

Jordan Carter and Ellen Strickland

Jordan Carter and Ellen Strickland at the opening ceremony of the IGF 2018

In other sessions of the programme we are also hearing a lot about cyber security, with the risks to governments, business and Internet users are on everyone's minds. Another key topic is artificial intelligence and the need for algorithmic transparency. Other issues which have been the focus of hot debate are fake news and the role of social media, what platforms should be liable for or not (the old question of intermediary liability), the future of the DNS and more.

But overarching all the many discussion on topics related to the Internet, there is the broad question of how the Internet is governed: how should it be and how can it be.

The speech by U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres included a forceful set of suggestions about how the IGF should change.  President Macron’s speech, as discussed above, also called for the IGF to become more relevant.  Together, it’s an unusual and powerful challenge to ‘the way it works’ - and people at the event have definitely noticed, not all that happily based on what we’ve heard.

There are also, around this event and the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War, some international statements being circulated which some countries and business are 'signing on to.' The most prominent of these is the Paris Call for Trust and Security in Cyberspace. France led the development of this call, and New Zealand has signed on to it. You can find it online here: Paris Call for Trust and Security in Cyberspace

The IGF is an important Internet governance event, and this year the future of how Internet policy is created and implemented is definitely on the table. There are many competing ideas about what that should look like: multistakeholderism, multilateralism, regional and national regulation.

We at InternetNZ are committed to maximising the benefit of the Internet for New Zealand, and we believe in the importance of multistakeholderism - that the best future for the Internet comes when all stakeholders should be able to have a voice in its development. But cross-jurisdiction regulation is now a reality with the Internet, and the reality is that Internet governance is evolving alongside the Internet.

As we are here thinking and talking about the future of the Internet here this week, if you are interested in what went on you can catch up on the proceedings, including videos of the webcasts on youtube and transcripts of sessions, online on the IGF website

If you want to read summaries rather than the actual content, you can also check out the work of the Digital Watch team - they do daily summaries as well as reports on most of the sessions, in a pretty accurate and timely way. Digital watch.