The United Nations Secretary General (UNSG) recently published Policy Brief 5 on a Global Digital Compact (GDC) that aims to shape the future of the digital world. In this blog post, ICANN's Government and IGO Engagement (GE) team examines specific points of the brief to raise awareness of pertinent issues that may be relevant to the ICANN community. Please note that this blog is intended for informational purposes only. Comments or lack of commentary should not be interpreted as endorsements or criticism of the policy brief; rather, the intent is to surface statements or assessments where assumption or interpretation may impact the outcome of the proposals for potential changes.
The policy brief serves as an input from the UNSG for the preparations of the upcoming "Summit of the Future" in 2024. This summit is being organized by the United Nations General Assembly, and aims to achieve consensus on, among others, "...multilateral solutions for a better tomorrow…". The UNSG provides recommendations to inform the discussions at the Summit. Upon initial review, we would like to highlight some points from the Policy Brief that seem to have particular relevance to ICANN's mission. To provide better understanding for our community, the following are some of these points with context.
Point 21: "...this must be a collective effort to ensure that regional, national or industry initiatives, however well-meaning, do not further fragment the Internet."
Context: The Internet today is not fragmented, so it is difficult to understand how any initiatives could prevent further fragmentation.
Point 25: "...we must protect the global nature of the Internet and the physical infrastructure that underpins it. The Internet is governed by long-established multi-stakeholder institutions. While legal and regulatory approaches may differ among jurisdictions, concerted efforts must be made to maintain active policy compatibility and the interoperability of the Internet."
Context: Although certain aspects of the Internet are coordinated by organizations with multistakeholder participation, it is not accurate to claim that the Internet is governed by specific institutions. The Internet is a network of networks, spanning local, national, regional, and global levels, governed by various rules and regulations (or lack thereof), while maintaining interoperability through common technical standards.
Point 32: "Internet protocols are managed through international frameworks and open standards."
Context: If the Brief is referring to the standards, it should be noted that they are developed, not managed, by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). The IETF website states, "The IETF makes voluntary standards that are often adopted by Internet users, network operators, and equipment vendors, and it thus helps shape the trajectory of the development of the Internet. But in no way does the IETF control, or even patrol, the Internet." Additionally, if the reference in the Brief is to the Internet Protocol (IP), there is only one Internet Protocol.
Point 56: "Existing cooperation mechanisms, especially the [IGF] and [WSIS], as well as United Nations entities, including ITU, the Office of the [UNHCHR], [UNCTAD], [UNESCO] and [UNDP], would play an important role in supporting implementation, providing knowledge on issues and sectoral knowledge, guidance and practical expertise to facilitate dialogue and action on agreed objectives."
Context:The Brief deviates from the actual definitions of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) and the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) by labeling them as "cooperation mechanisms". The IGF, as outlined in article 72 of the WSIS Tunis Agenda, is a "forum for multi-stakeholder policy dialogue," and nowhere in its mandate does it say that it is a "cooperation mechanism." The same applies to the other structures mentioned in Point 56. More on WSIS can be found at the GE publication page; I would recommend subscribing to it.
Point 57: "...fragmented and irregular policy discussions that have characterized digital coordination…" and "We need a networked multilateral arrangement…"
Context: The Brief does not provide evidence to support the claim of "fragmented" and "irregular" policy discussions regarding digital coordination. The fact that the Internet has been functioning efficiently for decades serves as a testament to the effectiveness of the existing (regular) policy discussions and digital coordination.
Point 61: The UNSG is asking the UN General Assembly to task him with convening "an annual Digital Cooperation Forum to support tripartite engagement."
Context: Currently, the UNSG is responsible for convening the IGF. During discussions on the Global Digital Compact (GDC), as well as in submissions by various stakeholders, there has been strong support for the continuation of the IGF, while the idea of a new Digital Cooperation Forum (DCF) has not been widely discussed.
Point 63: "Internet governance objectives and actions, for example, would continue to be supported by the Internet Governance Forum and relevant multi-stakeholder bodies such as the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers and the Internet Engineering Task Force."
Context: While ICANN supports and participates in the IGF, the U.N. has not sought ICANN's support for "Internet governance objectives and actions" in the newly proposed DCF, which does not clearly define 'function and working'.
Annex 1, point 5: "...multi-stakeholder forums, in particular the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers and Internet Engineering Task Force."
Context: It is important to clarify that these organizations are not forums but distinct entities with specific roles and functions.
In conclusion, since there is no process for providing feedback to the Policy Brief, we can only inform the ICANN community about some of the points presented in it. This will help us achieve a comprehensive understanding of the implications and feasibility of the proposed ideas.