The largest international Internet governance meeting ever wrapped at the United Nations office in Nairobi, Kenya, today with 2,000 experts discussing security, openness and privacy as inextricably interconnected issues that cannot be dealt with separately.
Over four days the UN-backed Internet Governance Forum (IGF), set up to support Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in carrying out the mandate of the 2005 World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis, debated actions taken by Internet actors in relation to whistleblower sites, the seizure of domain names and proposals for blocking of websites and filtering of networks.
The role that cyber security operations centres and law enforcement in countering cyber-attacks and cyber-crime, and the impacts of action taken to cut access to the Internet for individuals, groups or entire countries from the global Internet also figured high on the agenda of the meetings, at which 125 governments were represented along with the private sector, civil society, the Internet community, international organizations and the media.
In keeping with IGF traditions, the meeting results are not formal recommendations but are issued as multi-stakeholder dialogues to other international processes and particularly the domestic policy issues of all those concerned with Internet governance.
The main theme of the meeting was “The Internet as a catalyst for change: access, development, freedoms and innovation,” with increased access leading to new development opportunities, freedoms and innovations
“Participation in the conference halls and on-line was far greater than last year,” IGF secretariat official Chengetai Masango said, calling this year’s forum the biggest and liveliest since the inception of the institution in 2006.
“This year’s forum captured the Internet as a medium for positive change and human development.”
At one session delegates strongly agreed that the Internet needs to be an open space with limited regulation. It needs to be a public square where everyone can come together to organize and mobilize. But at the same time, users also need to feel safe. Many States fear the Internet and, more and more, criminal law is being applied to the online world that at times “is creating panic.”
They also stressed the need to strike a balance between security, openness and privacy. People need to be able to trust the Internet, to feel comfortable, to be able to use it and receive maximum benefit. There can be no freedom on the Internet if there is no protection against crime or safeguards against cyber-crime.
Discussing the pros and cons of regulations, delegates noted that these can be good as well as bad. The Internet is good because it is widely free for all, while regulation is bad as it threatens to take away opportunity for Internet use by certain actors. The issue is complicated and not black and white, but with lots of grey areas, they added.