Surveillance Issues Overshadow Internet Governance Forum 2013

TEMPO.CO, Jakarta – As a stream of surveillance revelations continues to seize the attention of governments and public opinion alike, the largest global multistakeholder meeting on Internet governance, known as the IGF, concluded today in Bali, Indonesia, by confronting surveillance as the major “emerging issue” of the year.

Referred to as “the elephant in the room” in the opening session, the issue of surveillance cast a long shadow over the discussions at the four-day forum – a UN-convened annual meeting that drew more than 1,500 representatives of governments, civil society, technical community and private sector from 111 countries, with hundreds more participating remotely.

A number of the IGF’s 135 workshops and focus discussions made reference to “restoring trust” in the Internet and the potential dangers of retrenchment from an open Internet by nations concerned about the security and privacy of their digital communications. During the final focus session, in response to a comment coming in on twitter, moderator Jovan Kurbalija, referred to the forum’s “serious determination and responsibility to do something useful for Internet as a whole, and for humanity, first of all to avoid the situation like this one with the NSA case, but also to prevent similar situations happening worldwide,” according to a release Tempo received Friday, Oct. 25.

Addressing the nexus between the surveillance and violations of human rights, U.S. State Department Representative Scott Busby said that the U.S. “does not use intelligence collection for the purpose of repressing the citizens of any country for any reason, including their political, religious, or other beliefs,” adding that “individuals should be protected from arbitrary or unlawful State interference.”

Ross LaJeunesse of Google, who said “if our users don’t trust us, they won’t use our products, and they’ll go somewhere else.” Part of maintaining that trust, Mr. Lajeunesse maintained, is “not provide direct access for any Government to our data, our servers, our infrastructure”, and not to accept “large, blanket-like Government requests for user data.” He urged participants to hold all governments accountable to the highest standards, including those “where journalists are beaten, bloggers are imprisoned and activists are killed.”

The four-day IGF 2013 meeting was capped by a closing ceremony that reaffirmed the participants’ belief in maintaining and strengthening the multistakeholder approach to discussing governance on the Internet, as opposed to a government-led multilateral approach. It also focused with a wider lens on emerging issues in Internet governance, beyond the surveillance issue.

“New cybersecurity threats and revelations of widespread Internet surveillance are only two of emerging issues that the multistakeholder community must address,” said Elia Armstrong of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), underlining the need for these multistakeholder deliberations to also feed into the broader processes for global agenda for sustainable development post-2015 and the “WSIS +10” review.

Shita Laksmi, of HIVOS-Indonesia and part of the IGF 2013 Indonesian Organizing Committee, said it was important to recognize that “management of the Internet is not just a technical matter”, and that “multistakeholder principles should be reflected in our work from the beginning to the end,” including the Forum’s organizational aspects. Acknowledging that 2013 IGF preparations had not been easy, Semmy Pangerapan of APJII and the IGF 2013 Indonesian Organising Committee said that the process demonstrated how “open dialogue and an open mind can serve a solid ground for multistakeholder Internet Governance practices, which we believe is a triumph for a future generation of Internet users.”

Dr. Ashwin Sasongko, Director General of the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology of Indonesia, closed the session with a reminder that Internet governance is a multistakeholder responsibility that in Indonesia’s view “should be able to maximize the positive activities and minimize the negative activities in the Internet,” to create a safe, secure and tolerant cyberspace. (*)

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