Why is an event like the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) necessary?
The Internet Governance Forum is important because we want an open and free global network. We have seen many innovations over the last twenty years. A crucial factor in making these innovations possible is the decentralised, open and free structure of the internet – a structure that we want to maintain. The internet affects all of us, whether in our professional roles, as we shop, or when completing banking transactions, so each and every one of us should be involved. The IGF enables a broad-based discussion process for this purpose.
What is the purpose of the forum?
The IGF does not pass resolutions and does not set out rules. Instead, the aim is to allow various stakeholders from diverse regions around the world to each bring their own perspectives to the table and discuss issues with one another. In doing this, they can advance the decision-making process in other forums, for example the United Nations, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers ICANN, the European Union, and the International Telecommunication Union ITU.
You are Co-Chair of the Multistakeholder Advisory Group (MAG) at the Internet Governance Forum. What does this entail?
The Multistakeholder Advisory Group is a group of around 50 people. It is an international body composed of representatives from academia, business, civil society, governments, and international organisations. The Group prepares the ground for the IGF organisationally with regard to content, and advises the Secretary-General of the United Nations on the format of the event. What sets the IGF apart is that it is a genuine multistakeholder process – in other words, a process in which each and every participant is included and is given a voice. This idea is anchored in the of the IGF in the same way.
The MAG proposes the topics to be discussed at the IGF, and the format of the discussions. Germany is hosting the IGF this year, and therefore holds the Co-Chairmanship, which is a particular honour for us. The chairpersons steer the Group through preliminary meetings, in which the primary goal is to listen, as topics and focal points for the IGF generally emerge from the community as a whole, rather than from the top down. What are the various parties involved discussing? Where do their interests lie? What do they want the IGF to achieve?
Given the diversity of the stakeholders, is there any single element that brings them together?
Yes – a multistakeholder approach and the fact that we want an open, free and global internet. There are of course conflicting aims and unanswered questions here. For instance: within the free flow of data, how can data security be ensured? How can privacy be protected, and how can data be used to drive forward innovative ideas at the same time? But all stakeholders at the IGF are united in the positive intention to discuss these and other questions in a spirit of cooperation, and to find solutions.
Many digital policy issues are also negotiated at the national level. Why have another global forum?
International dialogue allows us to understand other perspectives, and to enter into dialogue with one another. For example, we can learn a lot from countries in the southern hemisphere; just look how rapidly mobile internet use has spread in many countries in Africa. This development has allowed many small and micro-businesses to network with their customers locally and around the world using mobile systems. These different perspectives and the sheer range of experience make for a truly fascinating exchange of ideas.
For these reasons, Germany is also particularly keen to see representatives from the southern hemisphere at the IGF, and in fact, we have to cover travel costs and make it easier for the relevant parties to travel to Berlin.
What can the IGF do to improve digital policy?
The IGF brings together experts from around the world to share ideas and perspectives, which also provides important input for governments that ultimately make the democratically legitimised decisions. The multistakeholder approach is also crucial here. On the one hand, there is the global technical community, for example, which takes part in shaping technological development through their innovations and creative solutions; and on the other, representatives of governments and parliaments attend the IGF and bring with them clear ideas about what is politically feasible and implementable in their respective countries and regions. They then meet in turn with the many large and small innovative internet companies and non-governmental organisations, which are committed to exploring questions relating to ethics, the law or society, for example.
All of these groups – who would otherwise perhaps not encounter each other – come together on equal terms at the IGF, to meet in an open and unpressured environment and discuss the key questions relating to our digital future. This exchange of ideas and debate gives rise to many highly interesting and fruitful ideas, which then support decision-makers in their responsibilities at national, regional and international levels.
How are companies in Germany affected by the developments discussed at the IGF?
Well, the developments affect all companies because everyone works with the internet. The development of the Internet of Things is of particular importance to SMEs in Germany, and in areas such as mechanical engineering and the automotive sectors. German companies have a special interest in driving this networking forward, and taking on a pioneering role in this respect.
Other ways in which Internet Governance is of direct relevance to companies can be seen in questions such as: How can data which is transmitted via the internet be secured? What’s the situation in terms of the protection of company and trade secrets, and how can employees’ personal data be protected? How can you secure not only your own data but also that of business partners? Do you rely on a free flow of data between parties? All these issues are discussed at the IGF.
Developments in Artificial Intelligence and machine learning are particularly relevant to small and medium-sized enterprises, for example, with regard to the possibility of learning from large volumes of data. Moreover, medium-sized enterprises can especially benefit from gaining access to data in order to take part in this trend. All these issues are addressed at the IGF, and I hope that even more small to medium-sized enterprises feel that the topics raised at the IGF are relevant to them this year.
In your view, how should the IGF develop from here?
Colleagues at previous meetings of the IGF in Switzerland and France have already encouraged us to focus more keenly on the results of the conferences, for example by documenting the results of discussions and publishing clear summaries of them for the general public. We welcome that idea.
Another approach is to even further increase the visibility of the IGF by attracting a greater number of high-profile participants. Chancellor Dr Angela Merkel will open this year’s IGF, following Paris’ example of high-profile representation from last year. Federal Minister for Economic Affairs Peter Altmaier will invite senior representatives from the worlds of politics, business and civil society to Berlin for “day zero” – the day before the IGF opens – to discuss the challenges of an open and free internet over the coming years and decades. We hope that this will also create crucial momentum for the years ahead.
Our aim is that future host countries will continue in a similar fashion, and also consider high-profile representatives from all stakeholder groups, thereby increasing the IGF’s sphere of influence in the long term. In addition we hope that such an action, combined with the interesting topics on the agenda, will mean that the media provides even more coverage for key issues associated with Internet Governance.
What topics will the 2019 IGF contribute to shaping?
Three main focal points came out of the first meeting of the MAG in Geneva at the end of January: Data Governance; Inclusion; and Security and Safety. This was the outcome of discussion within the MAG and a Call for Issues, which ran until mid-January and which many stakeholders from around the world participated in.
The next step is a Call for Workshops, and the proposals will then be reviewed in the MAG. We know from previous years that a free flow of data and Artificial Intelligence, for example, were major issues which commanded the attention of many forum participants, and we certainly expect these discussions to continue this year.
At the same time, the strength of the IGF lies in its ability to give a platform to committed individuals from a wide variety of disciplines and diverse backgrounds, to discuss their key issues and present them to a wider audience. Everyone should feel free to hold a workshop, and it is vital that they take this opportunity to do so! Proposals can be submitted beginning the first of March.