UNGA Second Committee discusses Internet issues

On 26 October 2011, the UNGA Second Committee discussed three documents of interest to the Internet community as part of agenda item 16, Information and communication technologies for development:

  • A/66/77-E/2011/103 Report of the Secretary-General on enhanced cooperation on public policy issues pertaining to the Internet
  • A/66/67-E/2011/79 Report of the Working Group on Improvements to the Internet Governance Forum
  • A/66/64-E/2011/77 Report of the Secretary-General on progress made in the implementation of and follow-up to the outcomes of the World Summit on the Information Society at the regional and international levels

First, a little bit of context

The Second Committee’s discussion was only days before the Working Group on Improvements to the Internet Governance Forum (CSTD WG) convenes for its third meeting in Geneva, 31 October – 2 November 2011). (As a member of the CSTD WG, I’ll be blogging about its activities next week, so stay tuned.)

The Committe’s discussion on enhanced cooperation comes in the wake of IBSA work on Internet governance in September and earlier this month. Following an IBSA Seminar on Global Internet Governance, 1-2 September 2011, IBSA issued a set of draft recommendations on Internet governance, in which they called for a new UN body to house the Internet governance enhanced cooperation process.

The draft recommendations resulted in a flurry of discussion in the Internet governance community:

Following the large amount of time spent on discussing the IBSA proposal at IGF, the language used by IBSA about Internet governance in its October Tshwane Declaration (paragraphs 52-55) was significantly toned down, but still was the cause of much discussion in the Internet community.

The Second Committee’s discussion on World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) follow-up took place after recent decisions by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) 2011 Council to take the lead within UNGIS on a multistakeholder WSIS+10 process, but to keep its own newly renamed Working Group on International Internet-related Public Policy Issues open to Member States only.


    While all workings of the Working Group on International Internet-related Public Policy Issues will remain closed to non-Member States, there is the opportunity for other Internet stakeholders to submit input as part of “open consultations” called by the WG.

Discussions at Second Committee on 26 October 2011

Below are some of the more interesting extracts from the long UN press release, with some initial reactions from me:

1. Role of UN in Internet governance

“HAIYAN QIAN, Director, Division for Public Administration and Development Management, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, said that five years after the World Summit on Information Society, there was no common perspective on how to achieve enhanced cooperation on Internet-related international public policy issues. However, cooperation would be helpful on a wide range of key policy issues, including cybercrime, privacy and capacity-building, she said, adding that, although opinions differed on the most appropriate mechanisms, there was agreement on shared principles. While authority over Internet-related public policy issues was the sovereign right of States, management of the Internet should continue to follow a multi-stakeholder approach, she said, adding that consultations had reaffirmed the facilitating role of the United Nations in the relevant policymaking.”

My thoughts: It’s encouraging to see DESA referring to the UN’s role as playing a “facilitating”, rather than authoritative, role in Internet governance-related public policy issues. This is in the spirit of the multistakeholder approach to Internet governance agreed to at WSIS.

2. Information technology and the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) deadline

“YUSRA KHAN (Indonesia), speaking on behalf of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, said information and communications technology was a key driver of economic and social transformation. With barely four years left to meet the Millennium Development Goals, it was important to harness effectively its full potential as a strategic tool to help in meeting development goals.”

My thoughts: Will the looming 2015 MDG deadline, CSTD WG deliberations on how to better help the IGF better accomplish development goals, plus upcoming meetings like the ITU 2012 World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) and 2013 World Telecommunication/ICT Policy Forum (WTPF) refocus Internet governance discussions in a more strongly developmental direction? The increasingly crowded calender of Internet governance related international events, while aiming to help progress issues, can paradoxically hinder progress. This is because no stakeholder group, whether they be government, civil society, business or technical, have the resources to track all activities at the exploding number of Internet governance related forums. When this happens, it’s very possible that balls get dropped. Yes, one of the suggested improvements for IGF being discussed at the CSTD WG is having IGF be the lynchpin for connecting and sharing various Internet governance discussions, for the IGF Secretariat to attend other Internet governance meetings and disseminate IGF materials to all relevant parties. But to achieve this, the IGF is going to have to find a lot more funding in a world where the UN has across-the-board budget cuts, and other stakeholder groups are similarly financially stretched across competing, worthy projects.

3. The future of IGF

“FÁBIO FARIAS (Brazil), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, […] Calling for more investment in broadband infrastructure, he said that in light of the Internet’s standing as a global facility, according to the World Summit, its governance should be multilateral, transparent and democratic, with the full involvement of all Governments, the private sector, civil society and international organizations. The Internet Governance Forum should continue to focus on policy dialogue, on Internet governance and on creating mechanisms for greater participation by representatives of different stakeholders from developing countries, he said. It should also produce clear outputs of its discussions in order to fulfil the goal of contributing to the shaping of policies on the various actors involved in Internet governance.”

My thoughts: I’m not sure about the use of “multilateral”, given, within the same sentence, Brazil talks about involving stakeholders outside government as well. Brazil has been consistently supporting the need for more clear outputs in the CSTD WG, so no surprises here. Also no surprises that the UK and Sweden stated their support for leveraging the multistakeholder IGF for enhancing Internet development. For the UK and Sweden’s statements, see the very bottom of the UN press release.

4. The call for a UN Committee on enhanced cooperation

“DUSHYANT SINGH (India) proposed the establishment of a new institutional mechanism within the United Nations for global Internet-related policies, to be called the United Nations Committee for Internet-Related Policies. The goal of such a mechanism would not be to control the Internet, but to ensure that the Internet was governed in an open, democratic, inclusive and participatory manner. The proposed committee would take on the task of developing international public policies to ensure coordination and coherence in cross-cutting Internet-related global issues, and addressing Internet-related developmental issues, among others. He said that his multi-ethnic, multicultural country, as a democratic society with an open economy and an abiding culture of pluralism, emphasized the importance of strengthening the Internet as a vehicle for openness, democracy, freedom of expression, human rights, diversity, inclusiveness and socio-economic growth. The governance of such an unprecedented global medium that embodied those values should be similarly inclusive, democratic, participatory, multilateral and transparent in nature, he said, emphasizing that India attached great importance to the preservation of the Internet as an unrestricted, open, and free global medium that flourished through private innovation and individual creativity. In order create the proposed committee, India called for the establishment of a working group to draw up the detailed terms, under the auspices of the Commission on Science and Technology for Development.”

My thoughts: So of the IBSA countries, neither Brazil nor South Africa mentioned the enhanced cooperation body that caused so much consternation after their draft recommendations in September this year. But India still supports it. Being totally selfish, I’m hoping this proposal for yet another CSTD WG doesn’t derail the CSTD WG on IGF improvements discussion next week. I also wonder how India’s proposal for this new committee interacts with ITU’s work on Internet public policy issues through its own Working Group on International Internet-related Public Policy Issues and its discussions on Internet policy at WCIT and WTPF. The last thing any of us need is yet another body that duplicates (even partially) the work of another existing Internet governance body or forum.

5. Critical Internet resources

“XIE XIAOWU (China), endorsing the statement made on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, […] He stressed that States had the sovereign right to make decisions on any Internet-related public policy issues, adding that though the United Nations should play an active role in Internet governance, the principles of multilateralism, democracy, and transparency, should be respected. Efforts should also be made to include developing countries on an equal footing in the management of key Internet resources, he said, emphasizing that every State and individual was entitled to an information society that benefitted all citizens.”

My thoughts: It wouldn’t be an Internet governance discussion without someone referring to ICANN/IANA being based on US government contract. China’s 2010 Internet white paper states that it “maintains that all countries have equal rights in participating in the administration of the fundamental international resources of the Internet, and a multilateral and transparent allocation system should be established on the basis of the current management mode, so as to allocate those resources in a rational way and to promote the balanced development of the global Internet industry.” So the statement made by China at the Second Committee is merely a reaffirmation of its stance.

Where to from here?

The deadline for draft resolutions on item 16, Information and communication technologies for development, is 28 October 2011. Watch this space…