What is this Eye Gee Eff thing?

Ben Creet

A blog post from Ben Creet, Senior Issues Advisor at InternetNZ
20 November 2015

Last week I attended the Internet Governance Forum (the IGF for short), a multi-stakeholder forum administered by the UN. The IGF is held every year and this year it was in Joao Pessoa, Brazil. It’s essentially the larger, global version of NetHui (NetHui is our ‘national IGF’)

The event was really impressive. 2500 people attended and there were 10 concurrent streams of panel meetings with a main hall also hosting significant large panel discussions.  In her blog from the IGF last week Ellen mentioned I was nerding out.

Read Ellen’s blog post from the IGF here

That seems about right. In one day alone I got to take part, or listen to discussions about: 

  • the implications of the Right to be Forgotten (actually a right to be de-indexed)
  • International best practice on setting up a CSIRT
  • The challenges of building “cyber capability” (air quotes mine)
  • The politics of encryption (including an actual politician and a very brave law enforcement officer).

So many sessions, so many tidbits of useful and awesome stuff.

So, after my week and a bit away (it turns out the Eastern-most point of South America is hard to get to from New Zealand) here is a summary of my best bits, worst bits and salient reflections.

Skip to the tl;dr

Multi-stakeholder vs Multi-lateral

The discussions at this year’s IGF were definitely coloured by next months’ UN General Assembly. Next Month the UN will be discussing the future of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), which contains the mandate for the IGF and expires this year.  
A major focus was the renewal of the IGF, and WSIS for another 10 years. Of concern to many of the technical, business and civil society representatives there, was the UN’s draft report which spoke of multi-stakeholder governance of the Internet as a thing of the past and seemed to indicate that multilateral efforts (i.e. government to government) is the way forward.  

While that kind of reflects the UN, its constituency and organisations, funnily enough lots of people who make, maintain, and use the Internet weren’t so taken with the idea of Government’s taking sole responsibilities for governing the Internet.

My best session: Politics of Encryption

The best session I attended was the politics of encryption and it was excellent. The panel had a politician from the European Parliament, an Electronic Fronteir Foundation representative, the Chair of the Internet Architecture Board, an OECD official, a law enforcement officer and a Middle-East based civil rights activist.The technical panel member (Andrew Sullivan) answered the sessions main question, what is the right amount of encryption? as so: 


Nailed it mate! I reckon ubiquitous encryption is on the way, regardless of what rear-guard actions some intelligence agencies might try. 

You can watch the session on youtube here:

IGF 2015 Day 2 - WK 7 - WS 53 The politics of encryption

Most disappointing session

The Digital Economy section was… lacklustre. When confronted about the concerns for job stability and the interests of workers in sectors being disrupted by Internet tech, the moderator let someone from a global cloud provider answer with a ‘follow your dreams, start a company’ (I assume they would have some cloud services for that new company?). 

For many developing nations, this issue may not be a big deal… yet. But from where I’m sitting a better world isn’t one where everyone’s jobs get eaten by automation and there are limited opportunities elsewhere. An Internet that enables the transfer of wealth to the global 1%, creating poverty and joblessness isn’t a better Internet – that’s a dystopia ripe for some cyberpunk novelists. It’s not the fault of the Internet, but it was rather disappointing to see such an important issue waved away so easily and lightly.

My internalised point of reflection: we’re a bit different

Ben in Brasil

Domestically, we think of ourselves as the lorax for the Internet – a voice for the Internet in NZ. Our role as the ccTLD holder lets us do that (thanks .nz). But at the IGF, things are really… segmented. You’re either in the technical, government, civil society or business community - and people definitely try and put you in one of those boxes as soon as they meet you. That made me feel kinda weird.

Most civil society groups here champion human rights, freedom of expression, role of women in tech, or protection of children, preserving libraries etc. We care about the same stuff that most civil society organisations care about (e.g. freedom of expression), but because we’re about the Open and Uncapturable Internet, we’re interested in freedom of expression online, rather than being dedicated to a particular issue. We’re an NGO and a charity so we’re ‘civil society’, but we’re .nz, so we’re in the technical community camp as well . So with one foot in the technical community, but a charity, InternetNZ is pretty unusual!

I knew the way we are structured wasn’t the norm, but I didn’t realise how different we really were.

And finally, my luggage didn’t arrive with me. It ended up being most of a day late which was really stressful. There is nothing like being jet-lagged, in a strange city, alone (and missing your family) without fresh clothes and unable to speak the local language to make you feel vulnerable. The only upside to it was that, as Sunday afternoon slipped away, I went out and got some tourist clothes for my Monday just in case I had to go shopping. Here’s my fetching Pariba attire!

Orange and linen are SO in right now.


Across the whole event there was one obvious split which @rkrzna sets out very well:


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