IGF 2015 on fire!

IGF 2015 in João Pessoa got off to a red-hot start, literally and figuratively. The first shuttle buses of the day at 7:45 am were filled to capacity, with the informal Day Zero of IGF now no less important than the rest of the week. 21 sessions were held on Monday, 9 November, on topics as diverse as Italy’s Internet Bill of Rights, gender and the Internet, and the United Nation’s 10-year review of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS+10).  Many sessions were so crowded that it was standing room only. Despite this, the corridors of the IGF venue were filled with yet more participants catching up, meeting for the first time, and debating topics on a more personal level.

IGF has even fired up the residents of João Pessoa, with taxi drivers now adding a new topic of conversation to their repertoire. After a conversation about the importance of the Internet, one taxi driver paused thoughtfully before asking an IGF participant, “Is IGF important at a global level?”  Well, clearly the 1800 or so people who’ve descended on João Pessoa over the last couple of days think it is.

Putting out a small fire caused by an overheated light.

Local host staff put out a small fire caused by an overheated light.

Day Zero ended with a literal fire, when a light became overheated. The local host staff quickly and calmly evacuated the building. Sometimes, it really does take an actual fire to stop Internet governance enthusiasts from talking all night.

Everyone is back again tomorrow to continue the heated discussions on a variety of topics.

Deconstructing the WSIS+10 non-paper

Update: the non-paper is now available on the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) website for the preparatory process for the WSIS+10 review. The date for submissions of comments on the non-paper has also been extended from 14 September to 18 September. When this blog was originally published, the non-paper had not been published officially, but had been sent to the IGF 2015 MAG mailing list on preparations for the main session on WSIS+10.

First, if you want some background into what the non-paper is, who made contributions to it, and where it sits in the overall United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) preparatory process for the High Level Meeting on the WSIS+10 Review, see my other blog post, Background to the WSIS+10 non-paper.

The co-facilitators of the preparatory process have done a remarkable job of distilling almost 400 pages of contributions into just over 4 pages of the non-paper (not counting 2 pages of letters at the front). Unfortunately, unless you speak fluent UN-ese, even those 4 pages are likely to be a bit confusing.

First WSIS+10 preparatory meeting in New York, 1 July 2015

First WSIS+10 preparatory meeting in New York, 1 July 2015

A quick overview of the non-paper’s contents

Would you believe that the word “Internet” appears 15 times in the four and a bit pages compared to only 8 references to “ICTs” and 5 references to the “digital divide”? It seems that the World Summit on the “Information Society” has turned into 10-year review of the “Internet Society” (and no, I’m not talking about ISOC). This is both probably somewhat alarming to some stakeholders and also to be expected, given the Internet is becoming a fundamental tool for so much of the world’s activities these days.

In short, the non-paper says:

  • A lot has been achieved, but there is still much to do to bridge evolving forms of the digital divide.
  • ICTs can play a major role in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
  • Multistakeholder cooperation and engagement is supported.
  • There is a need for gender equality.[1]
  • There should be “universal Internet access” by 2030.
  • Governance of the Internet should involve all stakeholders.
  • There is a need for the internationalization of Internet governance, including the full implementation of enhanced cooperation.
  • Extend the mandate of IGF, but with a few things that need possible improvement.
  • Cooperate globally to combat cybercrime and cyber-threats.
  • Put more effort into financing ICT development activities.
  • There needs to be better data collection and analysis to better evaluate progress on WSIS issues.
  • Keep reviewing WSIS outcomes annually and have another review of WSIS in the future.

WSIS+10 non-paper reconstructed in plain English and bullet points

The WSIS+10 non-paper contains three main types of content:

  1. Basic statements of fact and/or general consensus beliefs about WSIS issues
  2. Principles that WSIS should follow
  3. Ways forward for post-2015 WSIS

Below is a summary of the suggested principles and post-2015 landscape. Please note that I have edited the text of the original non-paper for clarity and brevity. The headings, however, are straight from the non-paper.

Ways forward for post-2015 WSIS

Digital divide

  • Increase the number of women with Internet access.
  • Ensure:
    • ICTs are affordable and relevant
    • Content is available in different languages and formats that are accessible to all people
    • People have the capabilities to make use of ICTs.
  • Encourage all stakeholders to take measures to achieve universal Internet access by 2030.
  • Increase efforts in capacity building, technology transfer, and multilingualism.

ICT for development

  • Use ICTs as a critical enabler to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

Internet governance

  • Further the internationalization of Internet governance, including:
    • Greater participation of developing countries
    • The full implementation of Enhanced Cooperation.
  • Extend the Internet Governance Forum‘s mandate for [x] years AND:
    • Consider the need for clearer terms of reference for IGF’s governing structure, working methods, and outcomes.
    • Continue building upon current efforts to ensure support for the participation of least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and small island developing States.


  • Increase global efforts and cooperation in combating cybercrime and countering cyber-threats.

Follow-up and review

  • Mobilize domestic public and private resources to spur ICT access and content creation, particularly in a wider range of languages.
  • Review the lack of progress in the Digital Solidarity Fund.
  • Encourage official development assistance and financial flows, including foreign direct investment, to developing countries that need the most assistance in achieving ICT goals.
  • More capacity building.
  • Give ICT a prominent profile in the new technology mechanism established by the Addis Ababa Action Agenda.
  • Prioritize cross-cutting technical challenges that affect the implementation of Tunis Agenda Action Lines, including:
    • The deployment of lPv6
    • The deployment of Internet Exchange Points
    • The resilience of international ICT networks and resources
  • Improve data collection and measurement so it’s easier to assess how well WSIS goals are being achieved.
  • Keep reviewing WSIS outcomes annually, and hold another overall review in the future.

Principles that WSIS should follow

Digital divide

  • Commit to mainstream gender in WSIS implementation, notably through the Action Lines.

Human Rights

  • The same rights that people have offline must also be protected online.
  • All human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the right to development, to achieve the WSIS vision.
  • Respect freedom of expression, the independence of press and the right to privacy.
  • No person shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy, family, home, or correspondence,c onsistent with countries’ obligations under international human rights law.

ICT for development

  • Mitigate the environmental impacts of ICT use and growth.

Internet governance

  • Governance of the internet should be open, inclusive, and transparent, within the working definition of internet governance as ‘the development and application by governments, the private sector and civil society, in their respective roles, of shared principles, norms, rules, decision-making procedures and programmes that shape the evolution and use of the Internet.
  • The management of the Internet encompasses both technical and public policy issues and should involve all stakeholder groups.


  • Confidence- and security-building initiatives are important for the future of the information Society.

Follow-up and Review

  • The Addis Ababa Action Agenda and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development provide an important framework for ICT policy and investment.
  • Public-private partnerships and universal access strategies, amongst other funding and financing approaches, are important ways to spur ICT access and content creation.
  • Capacity-building remains a primary focus.
  • Data collection and analysis is an important part of how WSIS goals are being achieved.

And to end with, a couple of observations

It is of potential concern that the non-paper differentiates between “cyberspace” and the “Internet”. “Cyberspace” is used as a catch-all term for Internet-related security issues. Is this a distinction that we really want to make? Do we want to be excluding security issues related to ICTs other than the Internet?

The inclusion of “cross-cutting technical challenges” in the non-paper demonstrates the increasingly blurred line between public policy (the responsibility of the Member States who will ultimately decide the contents of the final outcome document) and technical management of ICTs. This line was in reality always blurred, but when ICTs were less ubiquitous in the world, governments were less interested in exercising their rights to have a say in the possible public policy implications of those ICTs. But as stakeholders on the technical side of ICTs engage more with governments, there is also an expectation that governments will also engage more with non-government stakeholders as part of a two-way dialogue on the policy implications of technical issues. We are seeing this increasing expectation of greater interaction play out not only in the UNGA’s WSIS+10 process, but also in the ICANN accountability process that is currently underway.


[1] Anyone who participated in the Multistakeholder Preparatory Process for the WSIS+10 High Level Event in Geneva in 2014 will remember how contentious proposed text about encouraging women’s participation in the Information Society was. The change in stance between Geneva and New York demonstrates how different Member State views can be depending on the forum.

Background to the WSIS+10 non-paper

Update: the non-paper is now available on the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) website for the preparatory process for the WSIS+10 review. The date for submissions of comments on the non-paper has also been extended from 14 September to 18 September.

At time of the original posting this blog, the non-paper had not officially been posted but a copy had been sent to the IGF 2015 MAG mailing list on preparations for the main session on WSIS+10.

When a paper is not a paper, but is actually a non-paper

Negotiations at the UN can obviously be highly political, so it can be advantageous to hold off publishing a formal input document (and the resultant skirmishing between States) as long as possible and instead publish an informal document to test the waters.

But, of course, the use of unofficial non-papers is so widespread, that it’s now a UN equivalent of the emperor’s new clothes: collectively, in public, everyone pretends that the non-paper is a harmless informal document but, in private, everyone actually puts just as much effort into responding to it as they would to an actual official draft.

The life of the WSIS+10 non-paper

Step 1: Call for contributions


WSIS+10 co-facilitators, Jānis Mažeiks, Ambassador of Latvia & Lana Zaki Nusseibeh, Ambassador of the United Arab Emirates

The non-paper was developed by the co-facilitators of the UNGA WSIS+10 review process based on 74 submissions by governments and other stakeholders sent in during July 2015. The submission by G77 and China was given an extension due to the fact that the G77 consists of a whopping 134 governments.

Step 2: Find common ground among the submissions

The co-facilitators of the process then had to whittle down the 387 pages of contributions into a single document that ended up only being just over 4 pages long.

Step 3: Non-paper submitted to the President of the UNGA (PGA)

Although the non-paper is nominally an informal document, it still has to follow the formal protocol of being submitted to the PGA for approval and distributions.

Step 4: Non-paper is published and the comment period begins

The comment period ends 14 September, which gives stakeholders two weeks to comment. An online comment form will be available when the non-paper is formally published.

Step 5: Co-facilitators integrate comments on the non-paper to produce the “zero draft” of the final outcome document

Who would have thought that the world of UN diplomacy would have so much in common with software programmers? In both cases, they start a number sequence with zero, not one! Oddly, though, the UNGA WSIS world seems to have missed basic mathematics and skips one entirely, moving straight to draft two. The zero draft, which ups the ante for diplomatic negotiations in New York, is meant to appear at the end of September. However, given the non-paper missed the end of August deadline, it is quite possible that the zero draft due date may slip a little too. When the zero draft appears, the non-paper’s short life ends.

Following the publication of the zero draft, there will be another round of comments, followed by a second informal interactive stakeholder consultation in New York and a second preparatory meeting for UN Member States. For the full set of steps in the WSIS+10 process, see the Preparatory Process Roadmap.

Key statistics on submissions for the non-paper

  • 74 submissions received
  • 21 submissions from Member States
    • 174 Member States in total represented – group statements from the Group of 77 (G77), the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) and the European Union (EU) bumped up the total number of States represented in the process
  • 26 from civil society
  • 9 from technical & academia
  • 9 from the private sector
  • 9 from intergovernmental organizations
  • 387 pages of contributions in total

A detailed look at who submitted

Because of the fluid nature of multistakeholderism, some governments and organizations chose to submit individual responses as well as be part of group responses. Below are the details of where contributions overlapped:


Seven G77 Member States chose to submit individual submissions as well as be part of the larger G77 submission:

The AOSIS contribution represented 35 G77 Member States as well as 2 non-G77 Members States, Palau and Tuvalu

  • Cuba is also a member of AOSIS, so is, in effect, represented in 3 submissions to the non-paper

One EU Member State chose to submit an individual submissions as well as be part of the larger EU submission:

Ten Member States submitted individual contributions and were not part of any collective contribution:

Civil society

The Association for Proper Internet Governance submitted an individual contribution and is also part of the Just Net Coalition.

Private sector

Telefonica and the Africa ICT Alliance submitted individual contributions and are also part of ICC BASIS.

“It’s complicated”: A lesson in trying to summarize discussions in 140 characters…

… And then other people trying to summarize multiple 140-character tweets in a single tweet

Yesterday, I tweeted from a meeting session where some of the comments made in the room were too complex to summarize in a single 140-character tweet. When this happens, I use multiple tweets to summarize the comment, using “1/2”, “2/2” to show that a tweet is part of a series. But sometimes even then, it’s not possible to capture the exact words of someone in 140-character bursts that make any sense. When that happens, I try to find shorter alternative words, which invariably can slightly change the nuance of the person’s original comments. Often, I receive compliments from the speaker for summarizing in 140 characters what took them a much longer speech to explain. Sometimes I get it plain wrong. When that happens, I retweet corrections sent to me via Twitter, or tweet corrections that people make at the microphone.

As usual, people who aren’t in the meeting room follow my tweet stream to follow the room discussions. In yesterday’s case, a person summarized some of my tweeted summaries in a single tweet. A couple of others objected to the secondhand summary, resulting in the summarizer trying to direct quote from my original tweets to explain where the summarizer had got the information from. Unfortunately, in summarizing the summaries, the original text was edited, but without the edits being clearly identified. In 140 characters, this is hard to do, of course. Compounding the issue, and spurring me to write this short post, was the fact that the discussion moved from Twitter to email, where the summarizer included text from my original tweets in direct quotation marks, but again with edits made  but not noted (I assume the summarizer made the edits in an effort to make the content clearer in the context of the emails). If the original email exchange had remained the quick and dirty exchange between the debating parties, I wouldn’t be posting this. Unfortunately, the email exchange was then cross-posted to a few mailing lists, which has resulted in people, who had neither read my original tweets nor were in the actual meeting discussion, coming up to me and asking me what was going on.

As a freelancer who relies on a reputation of being a neutral source of information and analysis, for the record, I feel compelled to publish my original unedited tweets. The debate that resulted from the summary of my summary tweets is between the parties involved, and I have no wish to become involved in that discussion. Therefore, I am not naming the parties or mailing lists involved. It’s really not of any interest to the purpose of this post or to anyone outside the debate. I also take full responsibility for my original tweets. If I summarized in a way that misinterpreted the original comment, the error is mine alone.

Lessons learned

  1. Attempts to neutrally summarize what is going on can still be interpreted and used in very different ways. If possible, it might be useful that when people (including me) tweets their own conclusions based on content from someone else’s tweets, to also retweet the original tweets in their entirety. Alternatively, when summarizing or rephrasing the original tweets, be sure to use “[]” (often used in editing or academic circles) around any and all new text that may be added in an effort to provide clarity or further information not present in the original tweets.
  2. What can start off as a small discussion on email can easily be CCed to other mailing lists, archived forever, and have third parties wondering what on earth it’s all really about. So before dashing off a reply, thinking it’s only got a lifespan of minutes, think of it as living somewhere on teh Interwebs forever.
  3. Communication in any medium is subject to ambiguities and reuse. That’s life.

When I have time, I’ll update my Twitter guide based on what I’ve learned.