Internet Governance Forum still searching for something to govern
In the beginning was the...uh...
ICANN San Juan 2007 After a crazed American federal prosecutor wreaked havoc on the Puerto Rican roads by wiping out on his motorcycle at 3am doing 105 mph, immobilizing traffic for ten hours on a major highway, I walked four miles on Thursday morning along the beach to the site of the ICANN meeting. I made it just in time to the Caribe Hilton for the internet governance workshop.
Sure glad I caught this one.
In the beginning ... uh, were the critical...uh... internet resources... ahm well... we'll get back to that at the Rio conference in November. Sort of like Adam wandering around the garden labeling things, the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) is still working on its reason for being here.
The IGF was created out of whole cloth by the UN as a kind of internationalized counterweight to perceived excessive American influence at ICANN, and yet no one in attendance, even those who participate in the IGF, are quite sure what the IGF even does - apparently it's still defining its fundamentals. A good chunk of this mercifully short session consisted of participants half-heartedly trying to define what constitute "critical internet resources" - the protection of which they've decided is essential to their core mission, and which is topic numero uno at the upcoming Rio event.
The truth is really out there, right?
This session in theory was about more than the IGF, but in practice it consisted mostly of a discussion about the extent to which the IGF and ICANN serve overlapping or even contradictory purposes.
There seemed to be a rather diplomatic consensus that the two institutions complement each other, but after sitting through an hour of discussion on the subject, this correspondent still has absolutely no idea what the IGF actually does - or if it even has the power to do anything at all. Is it a gripe forum, kind of like those bitter websites American trademark attorneys are always trying to shut down? Is it just a glorified networking event? Who knows? If I make it to the Rio forum, I'll be sure to let everyone know.
Although this topic looked appetizing on the schedule, it's clear that the IGF has a lot of work to do if it is to be considered anything more than a highly vocal yet castrated version of ICANN. Indeed, the IGF bares an uncanny resemblance to that other impotent, internationalized and highly vocal institution, the UN General Assembly. That's not to say that it does not have value - it's just the political equivalent to a visit to the therapist's office. We all need to get stuff off our chest from time to time.
What the IGF is
In a nutshell, the Tunis Agenda by which the IGF was founded states that it is means to be a "new forum for multi-stakeholder policy dialogue." The background behind it is that it was acknowledged at WSIS (the summit at which the Tunis Agenda was drafted) that no single country, and for that matter no single stakeholder group (eg. governments), was entitled to govern the Internet on its own.
So the IGF was a place for all of the stakeholder groups to come together to work out the appropriate public policy responses to problems of Internet governance. Because it had no binding authority, its views were only to have the status of recommendations.
However, some parties are now trying to weasel out of the deal reached at WSIS so that even the power to make recommendations is taken away from the IGF. This is why you had trouble understanding the IGF's role based on discussions at the ICANN meeting.
For more background, see http://igfwatch.org.