An update from the IGF MAG

By on 18 May 2020

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The 2020 Internet Governance Forum Multistakeholder Advisory Group (IGF MAG) started its work soon after the conclusion of a very successful fourteenth IGF ‎held in Berlin from 25 to 29 November 2019.

By the end of 2019, the Berlin IGF messages were shared, ‎eight new MAG members were inducted and a call for feedback on the 2019 IGF and input on ‎plans for 2020 was circulated.

By the time the first face-to-face open consultation and MAG ‎meeting took place in Geneva, from 14 to 16 January 2020, input from the IGF community ‎had ‎affirmed widespread support for the simpler thematic structure that formed the basis for the ‎Berlin IGF program. Based on this feedback, the MAG constructed a provisional thematic ‎framework and presented it to the IGF community for comment and validation in late January.

The response to this call demonstrates the dynamic interaction between the MAG and the ‎community. Feedback received both affirmed and expanded on the MAG’s initially proposed ‎framework and was distilled by MAG members into four thematic tracks for the IGF ‎‎2020 program: 

  1. Data
  2. Environment
  3. Inclusion
  4. Trust

Also in response to ‎community feedback, the MAG simplified the form and published the call for workshop proposals ‎on 2 March 2020.

Other key achievements during the first quarter of 2020‎ include:

  • Public consultation: The MAG Chair and the Switzerland government convened a follow-up consultation on the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Digital ‎Cooperation at the first MAG meeting in Geneva on 14 January 2020. It ‎created the opportunity for a rich set of proposals on how the IGF can be strengthened ‎while at the same time making progress towards implementing the IGF plus model ‎proposed in the High-Level Panel’s report. Read the report to see who attended and what ‎they said.‎
  • Best Practice Forums: The MAG reviewed proposals and approved four Best Practice ‎Forums (BPFs) for 2020:
    1. Gender and Access
    2. Cybersecurity
    3. Local Content
    4. Data and New ‎Technologies in an Internet context
  • Review of best practices: One new BPF, referred to as the ‘BPF of BPFs’ was established, specifically to look back ‎at BPFs since their inception, assess what worked well and what can be improved, and ‎make recommendations on the way forward. We are very fortunate to have Markus ‎Kummer, past IGF MAG Chair and Executive Coordinator of the IGF Secretariat, as the ‎coordinator of this BPF.‎
  • Establishing four MAG working groups for 2020: Two are continued from 2019 — the ‎Working Group on Outreach and Engagement (WG-OE) and Working Group on ‎Workshop Process (WG-WSP— and two are new: the Working Group on Language (WG-‎Language) and the Working Group on IGF Strengthening and Strategy.
  • Workshop proposal and evaluation process: The MAG, mostly through the efforts of the ‎MAG working group on workshop process, updated the workshop proposal and evaluation ‎process and the manual for workshop proposers in response to a survey they conducted in ‎‎2019.

The IGF and the COVID-19 pandemic‎

Little did we know at the time of the January 2020 MAG meeting that the world would change so ‎dramatically in a matter of weeks.

The impact of the pandemic has been profound. People’s ‎personal and work lives have changed dramatically and economies are in decline. Inequality ‎between economies and the relative capacity of their public health infrastructure are front and ‎centre. It goes without saying that those who are already impacted by social inequality are most ‎affected, particularly people who have lost their jobs, or for whom social distance is simply not ‎possible because of high-density living conditions, and, those who are not affordably and ‎sustainably connected to the Internet.

The Internet and its power as a platform for connecting people in positive ways — for remote work, ‎entertainment, learning, and distribution of essential information — have stood out more vividly in the ‎last two months than ever before. What this means for Internet governance, globally and locally, ‎needs to be explored in the coming months. For me three dimensions stand out: ‎

  • The shift from the preoccupation with the harmful use of the Internet reflected in the huge ‎increase in the last few years in debates on the regulation of content and use, to widespread ‎recognition, even a celebration, of its positive potential. Even legitimate concerns about ‎pandemic-related misinformation do not overshadow the overwhelming sense that we ‎would be so much worse off without the Internet. This does not mean that Internet ‎governance should not address harmful use or cybersecurity; but it does create common ‎ground for collaborative work on harnessing the Internet’s potential for good and ensuring its ‎availability to all people, as a global public resource.
  • Leading from this, does this crisis perhaps create a moment where agreement can be built ‎on how Internet governance can protect and consolidate the Internet as both ‎‎a ‘multistakeholder’ and a global public resource (or even a global public good)? Can the ‎IGF fulfil its promise to be the platform that leads to the development of globally-‎applicable rights-based public interest norms and principles for Internet governance, policy ‎and regulation? It started to do this, directly and indirectly, through workshops and main ‎sessions on the topic; through its relationship with the NETmundial and the NETmundial ‎principles on Internet governance; as well as through many other sets of principles ‎developed and agreed on by institutions and networks that are part of the IGF community, ‎such as the UNESCO R O A M principles.‎ 

These are not new questions for the IGF, but the current context could facilitate more effective ‎engagement with them. In the same way that the 2013 IGF, held in Bali not long after the ‎revelations of mass surveillance, paved the way for the IGF taking human rights-related concerns ‎more fully on board, can the COVID-19 pandemic help achieve concrete agreement on globally ‎applicable common principles for Internet governance? For further exploration of the implications ‎of the pandemic, I recommend David Souter’s recent columns on the topic.‎

Will the 2020 IGF take place as a face-to-face event?‎

Many people are asking this question. The answer, for the moment, is a loud and clear yes!

The host country, MAG, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) and IGF Secretariat’s preparations are on track. But we are not ignoring the ‎situation and are fully aware that extensions of lockdowns and the closure of visa offices can ‎impact the convening of the IGF; the Secretariat and the host country are assessing the situation ‎continuously. Updates will be sent regularly, and should there be any change in plans, it will be ‎communicated well in advance.‎

Many National and Regional IGF Initiatives (NRIs) have responded proactively by deciding to ‎postpone their meetings for later in the year or convene virtually. For now, the LACIGF and ‎EuroDIG are the very first NRIs that will be hosting their annual meetings virtually. We extend our ‎support to them and look forward to learning from their experiences.

Thank you to the outgoing MAG Chair and MAG members ‎

A huge thank you to the outgoing MAG chair, Lynn St. Amour for her years of dedicated, hard ‎work and for her ongoing support. Thank you also to the MAG members whose term ended in ‎‎2019. It is hard work to be an active MAG member. Thank you Lynn for your commitment, for ‎making a massive contribution to building collaborative work methods, and for establishing strong ‎routines, with the MAG starting its work early-on in a new IGF cycle.

Recognizing all those who keep us connected ‎

In closing, I want to recognize and thank the many people and institutions who keep the Internet up ‎and running. System administrators, engineers, those who provide user support, look after Internet ‎Exchange Points, and check cables, wires, servers and power supply. There are millions of ‎them and they are working harder than ever as more and more of our daily interactions and ‎functions take place online. Without them, the world as it is today would be a much worse place.‎

Adapted from original post which appeared on the IGF MAG Chair’s Blog on 15 April 2020.

Anriette Esterhuysen is the Chair of the Internet Governance Forum’s Multistakeholder Advisory Group.

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The views expressed by the authors of this blog are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of APNIC. Please note a Code of Conduct applies to this blog.

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