After a lot of hard work and collaboration, the world has just witnessed the successful close of the United Nations General Assembly High-Level Meeting, on 15-16 December, on the overall review of the implementation of the outcomes of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS+10 HLM).
This all started 12 years ago in Geneva, where representatives from around the world declared a common desire and commitment to build a people-centered, inclusive and development-oriented information society at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS). Two years later, this same group met in Tunisia for a second time where they confirmed a consensus statement called the Tunis Agenda, which among other things, created the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), the mandate of which was extended for another ten years at the WSIS+10 high-level meeting.
Since 2005, different United Nations agencies, including the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), have been facilitating the implementation of aspects of the Geneva and Tunis WSIS outcomes, including the so called “Action Lines.” One issue also outlined in the Tunis Agenda was the conducting of an overall review of the implementation of these WSIS outcomes in 2015.
The review process was initiated with a dialogue in early 2013, which started in conferences hosted by UNESCO in February 2013 and the ITU in June 2014. The following year, UNCTAD was mandated to carry out a ten-year review of the WSIS outcomes that it concluded in June 2015. Along with many other WSIS stakeholders, I had the honor of attending these preparatory events that ICANN contributed to.
This past June, the President of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) appointed two ambassadors - the permanent representatives of the United Arab Emirates and Latvia to the UN - to co-facilitate the WSIS+10 review process in New York. It was decided that the overall WSIS review would be conducted as a two-day high-level meeting of the General Assembly to take stock of the progress made in implementation of the outcomes and address areas for continued focus. The two ambassadors facilitated a successful process to bring together all members of the UN, as well as representatives from the civil society, the business and technical communities in order to produce a final Outcome Document.
We were pleased to see that the Outcome Document shows that the issue of Internet governance no longer evolves around the question of whether it should be multilateral or multistakeholder. Instead it recognizes the “Internet as a global facility includes multilateral, transparent, democratic and multi-stakeholder processes, with the full involvement of Governments, the private sector, civil society, international organizations, technical and academic communities, and all other relevant stakeholders in accordance with their respective roles and responsibilities.” This is an evolution from the 2005 Tunis Agenda, which had spoken of “international management of the Internet”, and was specific that it should be “multilateral, transparent and democratic.”
This is a reminder that the Internet is not centralized, and its governance model is polycentric.
We were conscious from the start of the WSIS+10 Review process that early engagement and building relationships of trust with both governments and the inter-governmental organizations were needed for ICANN’s productive input in the consultations. This was facilitated through the work of ICANN’s Government Engagement and Global Stakeholder Engagement teams. Our executive staff engaged in a dialog globally, with the appropriate ministries and governments, as well as with the Missions to the UN in New York and Geneva, the UN, and the other inter-governmental organizations. This engagement work was also coordinated with ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC).
On 15 December 2015, I was privileged to participate in the co-facilitator’s welcome opening panel of WSIS+10, where I was asked about the current and future governance of the Internet. I noted how everything we all do now is affected by the digital revolution, and the governance of the Internet is a constantly evolving and challenging task for all of us.
During the WSIS+10 HLM, whether in conversations with heads of delegations from developing or developed countries, there was recognition of the evolution that ICANN and its multistakeholder community has undergone in the last few years, towards becoming a widely recognized global organization.
ICANN is looking forward to work with all stakeholders, including the I* organizations, in the future deliberations and discussions, as defined in the WSIS+10 Outcome Document.
Governments, private sector, civil society and technical community have shown on various occasions that we can all work together on important issues, relevant to the global Internet community, as we did in Sao Paulo at the NETmundial meeting in April 2014.
In the meantime, there will be significant work done in the United Nations and its agencies for the implementation of the future WSIS follow-up work in using Information and Communication Technologies to help implement the recently agreed upon Sustainable Development Goals.
ICANN Board Director Lousewies van der Laan, who attended the event, commented, “The Outcome Document is neither the end nor the beginning of a process; it’s only one step in a continuous effort to keep the Internet open, secure and interconnected. ICANN has been and will continue to be engaged in the WSIS process. We at ICANN look forward to increased dialogue, understanding and cooperation with the people from the UN, its agencies and the missions, to make sure the Internet continues to develop with full participation of all stakeholders.” As we look to the future, the WSIS+10 Outcome Document will serve as a way forward for the next ten years until the next high-level meeting.