Stephanie Borg Psaila   01 Feb 2013   Internet Governance, Webinars

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January is synonymous with resolutions and forecasts. The start of the year is a time when we’re most inclined to look back, learn from the past, and carry what’s worthwhile, relevant and useful with us into the new year. Forecasts help us plan, and shed light onto what to expect… unless we are dealing with unknown unknowns.

Unvaryingly, our first Internet governance webinar of the year focused on the developments in 2012 and an IG forecast for 2013. Our special host, Diplo director Dr Jovan Kurbalija, discussed his 2013 predictions by offering three new ways of looking at IG developments: ‘rational’ and ‘emotional’ perspectives, which lead us to a ‘procedural’ aspect.

A ‘rational’ point of view involves understanding what are the political, economic and social interests of the major actors – especially governments, but including other stakeholders – and what these groups should do to protect their interests. For example, one can say that the USA has a strong interest in preserving Silicon Valley’s economic position. Every cyber-border reduces the market share for Google and Facebook, so this is an issue the USA will address. By contrast, the EU will emphasise on protecting privacy, one of the cornerstones of European policy.

Through a 'rational lense' – recognising the risk of over-simplification – Dr Kurbalija examined this scenario by placing players in the spectrum of two ultimate positions: those in favour of the multistakeholder model, which includes states like the USA, and stakeholders like the business sector, and those in favour of change, who are leaning towards an intergovernmental model, including states like China, Brazil, and G77 countries. Somewhere in-between lies a ‘zone of possible agreement’ – an abstract area in which it may be possible for players from both sides to find common ground. This zone is where, for example, civil society stands. It is also where the European Union is slowly moving to.

Dr Kurbalija stressed that the move towards the zone of possible agreement requires more than a 'rational analysis'. It requires an understanding of emotional aspects of IG. Empathy – a much needed ingredient in Internet politics – plays a big part, in that it allows us to understand, for example, the idea of the Internet's historical ownership is very strong in the USA; or the historical roots to China’s fear of social instability; or how the financial crisis is driving the European players towards an increasing scepticism about self-governance.

These rational and emotional perspectives will shape meetings, events and other developments (referred to by Dr Kurbalija as the 'procedural aspect'). Some of these events are likely to trigger – or reinforce – the debate on specific issues such as cybersecurity and human rights. This leads us to the first forecast:

  1. The main events/meetings that are likely to shape Internet governance debates in 2013 are: the WSIS +10 Review Meeting; the World Telecommunication/Information and Communication Technology Policy Forum; the meeting of the United Nations Commission on Science and Technology for Development (UNCSTD); the United Nations General Assembly; and the 8th Internet Governance Forum. In addition, the post-Dubai process will involve more discussion on the ratification of and possible additional accessions to, the International Telecommunications Regulations. For more details on each of these meetings, visit our community calendar.

  2. On a substantive level, one of the main developments we can expect is the fiscalisation of the Internet, that is, a move towards taxing Internet businesses, an untapped source for empty government coffers in time of economic crisis. The French government proposal, published a few days ago, has triggered a discussion on the political motivation and the conceptual dilemmas related to the existing business model.

  3. Last year, Dr Kurbalija predicted that ICANN would go through a soul-searching phase. That phase is now completed, thanks to the leadership of ICANN’s new CEO. Fadi Chehadé’s speech to civil society at ICANN 45 sythesises the main points of the needed Internet leadership (active listening, empathetic guidance, recognition of problems and differences, search for compromise, development of responsible multistakeholderism). The leadership phase in ICANN’s soul searching is successfully completed. The next phase – ICANN’s launch of its generic top-level domain (gTLD) programme – will be equally challenging.

  4. Intellectual Property Rights is an old issue; last year, we witnessed SOPA, PIPA, MegaUpload and other battles being fought out. Further developments can be expected this year.

  5. Cybersecurity is also a significant issue which is expected to develop further this year, especially in the light of the proposal by Russia, China, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan for an International Code of Conduct for Information Security, and the USA’s International Strategy for Cyberspace.

  6. We can also expect more global political discussion on human rights and the Internet, especially since this will be discussed at the UN General Assembly, following the adoption of resolution A/HRC/20/L.13 by the Human Rights Council last year.

  7. Last, it is likely that efforts will be implemented to overcome policy silos. The pressure is likely to be on an international level, with the aim of overcoming silos that have formed due to the the isolation of different intergovernmental organisations and players involved in IG, who are discussing the same issues in separate fora. Stronger pressure is also likely to be directed on achieving better policy coherence, that is, in connecting the dots that emerge from discussions taking place, especially in Geneva.

The above predictions are based on ‘known knowns’, and probably ‘known unknowns’ as well, adopting the terms used by former US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. What is still challenging, is to predict the developments related to remaining ‘unknown unknowns’.

Despite the fact that this crystal ball exercise does not hold answers to our questions, judging from Dr Kurbalija’s spot-on predictions for 2012, this year’s forecast is likely to hold true: ‘The time of blue skies in Internet politics, with few controversies, is behind us…’ Let’s get out our umbrellas.


We invite you to listen to a live recording of the webinar, in which Dr Kurbalija also discusses questions and comments posted by the webinar participants, including: Why/is civil society moving away from the current multistakeholder model; whether the IGF can become the link between policy-shaping and decision-making; and many others. You can also download the PowerPoint Presentation in PDF format, separately, here. To receive news, announcements and follow-up e-mails regarding our IG webinars, subscribe to our IG webinars group.
 

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