Internet Governance

Open Call To The Next Generation of Internet Leaders – Apply for the IGF Youth Ambassadors Program

We are living in unprecedented times. COVID-19 has disrupted our world and it’s a crucial time for the Internet. We are facing issues related to misinformation, online education and connectivity. Challenges have been posed to encryption. Debates around the trade-off between privacy and contact tracing apps take place around the globe.

The acceleration of digital transformation worldwide has created immense opportunities and at the same time, uncertainty and challenges. Under these circumstances, youth must be represented in these discussions.

Young people know the benefits of connection, sharing and openness. Young engineers and programmers create new tools for the Internet every day, and many proposals about governance of new technologies come from interested people below the age of 30.

We grew up in cyberspace, and it has become an intrinsic part of many of our lives. We care for it, we value its principles, invariants and characteristics. Most of all, we understand how important the Internet is and how much of a force for good (or for evil) it can be.

The voice of youth matters and the Internet Society plays a significant role to empower the next generation of Internet leaders and to provide them with the freedom to voice out.

The IGF Youth Ambassadors Program provides youth with training and opportunities to participate in the global Internet ecosystem and to interact and engage with the broader Internet Governance community.

I must say that the experience of being a fellow from the Internet Society Youth Ambassadors program is unique. Since the beginning, the ambassadors have the opportunity to share their views on how Internet policy shall be made and learn from each other. Youth from across multiple continents are part of vibrant discussions as part of the online course.

Likewise, Youth Ambassadors participate in one of the world’s largest forums dedicated to a free and open Internet. It is an incredible opportunity to get mentorship, build networking and become change makers.

What impressed me the most is that at the forum there are no experts, everyone’s perspective was respectfully considered. We even had the amazing opportunity to be in a round table with Vint Cerf and raise our voices.

The program inspired me to deliver meaningful impact at a local level. After the forum I became part of the organizing committee of the first Youth Internet Governance Forum in Peru in December, 2019. Currently, with some IGF Youth Ambassadors we are working towards the organization of the Youth Latin American and the Caribbean Internet Governance Forum to be held remotely on August 1st and 2nd.

I wholeheartedly recommend the program. It is a fantastic opportunity to learn and network with the Internet pioneers and innovators who made significant contributions to the development and advancement of the Internet.

As youth, we expect to play a part in shaping the future of the Internet. We have the commitment to refresh ideas and share our perspectives for a trustworthy and open Internet. The IGF Youth Ambassadors Program is a path to fulfill that commitment.

The application process is open until June 28, would you miss this open call to the next generation of Internet leaders?

Internet Governance Shaping the Internet's Future

Empowering More Gretas: Introducing the 2019 IGF Youth Ambassadors

When 16-year-old Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg burst onto the global scene a few months ago, people underestimated the power this young girl would have to raise awareness and rally the world around climate change. Today, she has become a fearless advocate, boldly speaking out and holding politicians to account for their lack of action on the climate crisis. We need more Gretas.

And they’re out there.

We’re proud to introduce 30 young changemakers who make up the 2019 cohort of the Internet Society’s IGF Youth Ambassadors Program. The group is made up of 15 women and 15 men from 21 countries. This cadre of young leaders are working on many of the pressing issues affecting the Internet globally.

In November, they’ll bring their drive for change to Berlin, Germany, to take part in the Internet Governance Forum (IGF). This is an annual multistakeholder forum for inclusive policy dialogue on shared principles, procedures, and programs that shape the evolution and use of the Internet. Although not an official decision-making body, the IGF remains an important forum. Many of the world’s experts in and advocates for the Internet gather there for discussion, networking, research sharing, and best practices from around the world.

Since 2007, the Internet Society has supported nearly 400 young professionals under its two programs, the IGF Ambassadors and the Youth@IGF Fellows. This year, under the IGF Youth Ambassadors program, we are training and empowering 30 young adults, aged 18 through 30. An initial group of 150 selected applicants took a 4-week online course and were paired with dedicated expert moderators. The top 50 students proceed to the next phase, where they write a paper on an existing or emerging area in Internet Governance, drawing on what they’ve learned in the course. The authors of the best papers become our 30 IGF Youth Ambassadors.

We have no doubt these young leaders will inspire others across a range of disciplines to reinforce the sustainability, security, stability, and development of the Internet.

Many of our Ambassadors have already led some impressive initiatives, including:

  • Mohammad Atif Aleem, an Indian ICT analyst at a multinational firm, founded a start-up to empower women farmers through agritech, and co-founded an online platform for medical diagnostic tests through a mobile app.
  • Fernanda González, a software developer from Guatemala, won the first blockchain hackathon in Central America with a protocol to integrate rural students to the global economy. She is currently working on a social enterprise to help rural areas connect to the Internet and help researchers and communities gather data on water quality.
  • John Madayese, a management consultant from Nigeria, has worked on policy development and founded a pan-African non-profit platform that offers personal and career development for African youth through various symposia.

Find out more about this year’s IGF Youth Ambassadors!

We hope that some of our IGF Youth Ambassadors will raise their voices on the global stage and become change-makers – whether by championing policies in their home countries or influencing global debates to spread the benefits of the Internet.

Internet Governance Shaping the Internet's Future

A World Without the IGF

Last week in Geneva, the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) Multistakeholder Advisory Group (MAG) met to discuss preparations for IGF Berlin. The Internet Society is concerned that the IGF community is showing signs of fatigue and believes that certain things must be improved in order for it to survive in an increasingly crowded Internet policy arena. We also believe the world is much better with the IGF than without it.

As the IGF reaches its fourteenth year, we must ask ourselves if it is still capable of dealing with the myriad governance challenges surrounding the Internet and policymakers – and whether the IGF can continue to evolve the Internet way – into an open and distributed global network of networks grounded in voluntary collaboration.

Imagine a world without the IGF. A world where we won’t be able to welcome people from most corners of the earth, from multiple stakeholder groups, and from diverse viewpoints and perspectives to address the Internet’s pressing public policy issues. All sharing a common goal, albeit sometimes speaking different languages.

Certain things have indeed improved. We have seen better advanced planning from UNDESA and the IGF Secretariat, along with a supportive, well-organized, and solid support from the German hosts. We have also welcomed programmatic improvements seeking a more focused and cohesive agenda, with fewer thematic tracks, which should enable more meaningful discussions.

We hope the High-Level Panel recently appointed by the UN Secretary General to foster digital cooperation will support needed reforms of the IGF, while maintaining its open and multistakeholder nature.

If we don’t remain committed to these reforms, we’ll face a world without the IGF, or – perhaps even worse – a world in which the IGF becomes irrelevant. In such a world, the IGF could be replaced by other policy platforms that meet and make important decisions about the future of the Internet without involving all stakeholders. This is why we think the world is better with the IGF than without it.

Read Why the Multistakeholder Approach Works

Internet Governance

The Importance of the Multistakeholder Approach: My Experience at the Internet Governance Forum

My name is Gustavo Babo, I’m from Brazil and I’m a Law and Political Science student. One of my biggest interests is to understand the best way to create national and international policies related to the Internet and other technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, IoT, and Blockchain. Having participated in the IGF as a 2018 Youth@IGF Fellow has enhanced my perspective on the future of all these technologies. Enjoy my opinion!

Throughout the IGF event, in all the panels I have attended, I have noticed one thing in common: the feeling that the human being has had less-and-less control over technology and its implications. The unpredictable factor for the future of some emerging technologies that have developed very rapidly is a situation that divided the event into two perspectives: some of those present believe that technology will bring to the world many positive situations and we need to collaborate with its acceleration to any cost. However, there are others who fear the speed and lack of control of the impacts of these technologies – which are really transforming the world – believing also that the human being may be tracing a disastrous path for itself, since we no longer control the consequences of the development of the technology.

A situation that supports these different perspectives well and the uncertainty of how people might proceed in the face of the accelerated development of technology is the speech of the president of France at the event, Emmanuel Macron. The president also shared the same uncertainties discussed there in the forum, always on the wall and saying that we need to promote the growth of technologies in a healthy and positive way and we must try to prevent the second pessimistic perspective from happening. Macron’s solution to this is a greater government approach and possible intervention through regulations and public policy. (You can read his speech here.)

However, Macron is not necessarily right. Sharing experiences in the forum with different countries of the world, I realized that there are innumerable perspectives regarding the future of technology in each country. Thus, it is possible to say that the human being does not yet know the best way to lead the emerging technologies, there are many opinions about these technologies that imply different results, many still unknown, as we can see in a global analysis of countries that adopt more or less restrictive regulations and policies. Therefore, we can conclude that we do not yet know how to regulate (or not regulate) technology and how best to create policies. However, at least we can say that we already know what is the ideal model to discuss these technologies, which is the multi-participatory or multistakeholder model adopted by the Internet Governance Forum. This is exactly what was made clear to me during the experience of attending the forum as an Internet Society Youth@IGF Fellow. The model that the forum works is absolutely exceptional in what it proposes and it is exactly in this style of discussion that the world will discover what to do with all this.

The Multistakeholder Model

This is the model used by the UN forum to discuss the different perspectives, regulations, and policies of the Internet and emerging technologies. The multistakeholder model consists of a discussion involving representation from all interested sectors: the private sector, the government sector, the academic community, the technical community, and civil society. These actors participate through an inclusive and egalitarian basis. In this way, the interests of multiple parties are met and the results of the discussion can be very positive and balanced. To be sure, this is the model of discussion we must follow in order to understand the best way to conduct technology from a national or global perspective. We still do not know how to regulate, but it is clear that with this model of discussion we will have the best results, since, for example, discussions between engineers alone or between politicians have already proved to be very unproductive and unrealistic. We need to move this model to other discussions, regulations, and policymaking that involve technology as quickly as possible. As I said, we still do not know how we should regulate technology and create public policies. In this way, we should discuss how to do this – using this model. So, one day we will know how to do it in the best way. I hope it’s not too late!

Young people are one of the categories most affected by these technologies and Youth@IGF promotes their approach to the discussion environments. The program gives form and voice for young people to contribute to the important debates. In addition, the program also serves as training for hundreds of young people who will one day move from Youth to You. We need to think in the long term to have more and more qualified people around the world to participate in debates and decisions in the world of technology.

Thank You(th)!

Read “We Won’t Save the Internet by Breaking It.”

Image from APrIGF 2018 ©Frederic Courbet/Panos Pictures

Building Trust Improving Technical Security Internet Governance

Global Cybersecurity and the Internet Conundrum

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the armistice that ended the first World War. The 1918 ceasefire re-introduced a fragile peace that had collapsed when the world failed to defend common rules and international cooperation. International security and stability are as important now as they were a century ago.

That’s why French President Emmanuel Macron and leaders from around the world are about to gather in Paris for the first Paris Peace Forum. The forum will attempt to pave a way forward for a world that is shifting and changing faster than most of us can keep up with. That change and shift, and the speed of it is enabled by the Internet.

That is why the Internet Society is participating in the Forum.

I will be in Paris to speak on a panel about creating peace in cyberspace. Cybersecurity concerns across the world are real and justified and need to be addressed. We believe that the collaborative approach that helped to drive the growth of the Internet and allows it to thrive is essential for establishing cybersecurity.

The essence of a collaborative approach is that it allows stakeholders to create a shared vision for security.

The Shared Vision

At the Paris Peace forum there will be many places where we will talk and try to converge on a shared vision

For example, we  support the work of the Global Commission on the Stability of Cyberspace (GCSC) – for which I am allowed to serve as commissioner. The GCSC has developed the “Call to Protect the Public Core“.  In fact, in the lead up to the Paris Forum, the GCSC  introduced six more norms towards cyber stability.

But while a shared vision is necessary for successful collaboration, it is not sufficient. We need to get to action.

Securing Cyber

Implementing the cybersecurity vision doesn’t come from a single technical fix or upgrade, nor will it come from a treaty or declaration. Improving security is done in a highly distributed way with the responsibility in the hands of many. This means participation not only by policymakers and a few companies from Silicon Valley, but millions of security practitioners, developers, implementers, protocol developers, network operators, civil society groups, and researchers.

And as we work to secure the broader cybersecurity environment, we have to make sure that we do not break the Internet along the way.

Can You Actually Break the Internet?

In short: specific regulatory or even technical interventions may break the Internet.

And now for a longer explanation of what that means.

For the Internet Society, the Internet (capital I) is the open network of networks voluntarily interconnecting to deliver connectivity globally. This network of networks enables those that connect to develop and deploy applications.

A metaphorical description of the Internet Architecture is an hourglass.

The sand in the bottom half is the physical infrastructure that makes the Internet work. It is the network of networks each making their own competitive and technical choices to compete in the market of offering connectivity.

The sand in the top half of the hourglass is made of Internet applications like social media, blockchain, email, messaging, and all the apps we use in our daily lives.

While the top and bottom parts of this hourglass need each other for the hourglass to work, they are very loosely coupled and their interaction is limited. Basically, they are the two most co-dependant strangers you will ever come across.

The thin funnel at the center of the hourglass contains the protocols and technologies that provide the ability for the applications in the top half of the hourglass to benefit from a single global Internet. The Internet Protocol (IP), the global Domain Name System (DNS), various transport protocols such as the Hypertext Transport Protocol (HTTP), and global authentication and encryption infrastructure provide the ability to interoperate and establish a baseline of trust that allows all of these applications to flourish.

The beauty of the Internet is that the technology is agnostic. The bottom half and funnel of the hourglass have no idea what is running above it – whether it’s an email to your mom, a cat picture to Instagram, or a million rupee transaction.

It is the loose coupling between the top and bottom of the hourglass, that offers the ability to invent new applications without having to negotiate with the network; the networks do not need to have detailed knowledge about the working of the applications, and the applications do not have to understand the workings of the networks. Without this property of permissionless innovation, inventions like the World Wide Web, messaging apps, or Blockchain would likely not have been possible.

Losing out on either global connectivity or permissionless innovation will impact the ability that the Internet brings for social and economic prosperity.

A growing number of countries are putting these opportunities at risk by proposing policies or laws to regulate technology in the bottom half of the Internet hourglass in reaction to security challenges appearing on the top half of the hourglass. An example of this would be a law that restricts Internet connectivity in reaction to concerns about social media content. It is these kinds of policy approaches that worry us – while individual measures may not immediately break the Internet, they will lead us down a path where we find that we have lost the properties that make the Internet what it is. It will no longer be a global network of networks, but a tightly controlled tool where someone else is in charge of what we see and do.

We may think that pulling a hair or two is OK, but at some point, we’ll be bald.

Back to the Paris Peace Forum.

In Paris, we join a vision for a secure society in which the Internet plays a major role.

That vision calls for action.

  • Action that is deliberate, distributed, and takes a global perspective.
  • Action that is already ongoing all across the Internet technical community.
  • Action in which regulation, tax, and other government tools have a role but are not the only tools in the box.
  • Action that attempts to address issues at the appropriate layer – the half of the hourglass where the problems arise. And most important;
  • Actions that do not break the Internet itself while also addressing the legitimate needs of society.

The Internet Society CEO, Andrew Sullivan, recently summarized this as, “We must not save the Internet by breaking it, denying humanity this tool that can benefit us all.”

Tweet your support for an Internet that’s for everyone! #DontBreakTheInternet

Internet Governance

We Need to Talk… about the State of Internet Governance

In about a month, some of the key stakeholders in Internet Governance will come together in Paris and talk about the public policy challenges facing the Internet in 2018 and beyond. They will do so at the Internet Governance Forum, a UN-supported platform that will meet for the thirteenth time this year.

The IGF traditionally brings different groups of stakeholders into a large conference centre, and provides for the opportunity for these different stakeholders to discuss: the idea being that understanding, consensus and collaboration will emerge between these different communities.

Join us for a pre-IGF stakeholder networking event on Tuesday, 16 October in Brussels.  Learn more and register!

Multistakeholderism: a vivid term with many meanings

The IGF model of multistakeholderism is one of a plethora of different approaches to engaging with actors beyond states in questions of global governance. Some rely more on governments, other processes rely on technical expertise, others have come and gone. Others, like the Internet Society, tend to refer to multistakeholder approaches, rather than one model.

Many observers tend to think this concept was invented by the Internet community, but shaping (global) policy through direct engagement with stakeholders has been an integral part of a range of different policy fields for a long time. In environmental policy, labour relations, and forestry management to name but a few, one of the key questions asked by policymakers has been “how can we develop globally-relevant, fair, legitimate and efficient policies?” The conclusions drawn policymakers often included the strengthening of participatory governance mechanisms, which is where multistakeholder approaches step in. These approaches try to answer the ‘who’ (participation), ‘why’ (purpose), and ‘how’ (process) questions differently from how governments of flesh and steel would normally answer them.

For better or worse, the IGF is one of the biggest platforms for Internet Governance. The IGF undoubtedly serves a purpose at this moment, and is very useful for many of its participants. However, we have been talking about its reform for a while now, and even longer.

What needs to happen?

Does the IGF need another grand review? There are many things that could be done to generate a new momentum behind the IGF. These are not new and do not address all the problems, but as a whole, these elements may work to help us consider some of the ‘who’, ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions that still linger around the IGFs and other multistakeholder fora.

  1. Sort out our calendars. First of all, this IGF takes place at a time when an increasingly important number of ‘competititors’ will also be discussing Internet Governance. For example, the ITU’s Plenipotentiary is taking place at the same time as the IGF.
  2. Give it time. The IGF also has no day zero this year, to enable different groups to organise fringe events and coordination meetings. Hence, meetings like the Brussels pre-IGF meeting, on 16 October are incredibly important to allow for people to share information prior to the meeting itself.
  3. Work out who does what. Other venues are also venturing into the IGF space, with the UN Secretary General’s High Level Panel on Digital Cooperation recently having been announced, amongst others. So, we see a collection of different fora being (re-)established to focus on Internet Governance. Rather than a threat, this is actually an opportunity to think about the next thirteen years of the IGF: a little competition is actually a good thing.
  4. Get real. The IGF has often been touted as the opportunity to gather the world’s Internet community together to discuss how the Internet should be governed. This gargantuan task is not an easy one. What can the IGF actually achieve? The expectations of the forum need to be clearly set out, so that all stakehholders can share the same aim, and then work to deliver it.
  5. Focus. It may be useful to generate common themes and threads for discussion across IGFs, so that reporting, discussion and measurement can be continuous and tell a coherent and consistent story from one IGF to the next.
  6. Make much better use of the NRIs. National and Regional initiatives can feed into discussions at the IGF in a far more constructive way. They can also be platforms to push outcomes from the IGFs.
  7. Ensure all stakeholders are involved. IGFs tend to be open spaces, but that does not mean that self-exclusion, ignorance, or what I have heard termed ‘exclusion by acronym’ does not exist. Despite the diverse and broad nature of the subjects discussed at the IGFs, much of the entrepreneurial community is not present at these discussions; and their discussions on these topics go on in parallel in other spaces, such as this one. Furthermore, if states want the IGF process to be as legitimate as possible, they also need to engage fully in the events.

Join us for a pre-IGF stakeholder networking event on Tuesday, 16 October in Brussels. Learn more and register!

Internet Governance

IGF 2018: Improvements and a Call for Contributions

The annual meetings of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) have been consolidated as the main space for discussion and exchange of ideas among the stakeholders of the Internet community on an equal footing. However, there are diverse activities which take place throughout the year that require the participation of all the actors of the community.

The Intersessional Activities

The concept of Dynamic Coalitions (DCs) emerged during the first IGF meeting in 2006. These are informal groups, focused on specific topics that report their activities to the IGF Secretariat each year. Currently, there are 17 active coalitions, which involve diverse topics ranging from accessibility and disability to Internet core values. It is possible to join the work of each of them by accessing the site published by the IGF Secretariat.

On the other hand, following the recommendations of the Working Group on IGF Improvements, the IGF community promoted the creation of the Best Practice Forums (BPFs) as a way to generate more tangible outcomes. For the 2018 cycle, four BPFs were approved; all of them are currently seeking feedback from the community. Some of them have a deadline of September 30, while others will receive contributions until October 15. All dates are considered as soft deadlines, so all interested stakeholders are invited to contribute.

Finally, the Policy Options for Connecting and Enabling the Next Billion (CENB) project activated its Phase IV as part of the IGF 2018 preparatory cycle. The project is focused on concrete examples of how connectivity efforts help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly SDG 7 (clean energy), SDG 8 (work and economic growth), SDG 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure) and SDG 17 (partnerships to achieve the SDGs). CENB Phase IV accepts contributions no later than September 30, although it is also a soft deadline.

Information about these activities was shared with the community through a webinar whose recording is publicly available.

It’s Time to Strengthen the IGF

Historically, the Internet Society has shown a strong commitment to the IGF. Since its first meeting we have been a support force both logistically (through funding or fellowships), as well as in public debates, by organizing sessions at the annual meetings and by contributing to MAG meetings and Intersessional activities.

This commitment remains intact, as Raúl Echeberría, Vice President of Global Engagement of the Organization, pointed out during the eleventh meeting of LACIGF. We are convinced that the IGF is the most innovative experience of international governance in the last decades, so we must be proud of what we have achieved. However, it is necessary to evaluate what actions can be taken to improve the IGF.

In March, prior to the first MAG 2018 meeting, Raúl shared with the community some ideas to make the IGF more attractive and, thus, be better prepared to face current and future challenges. The proposals are practical and concrete: have more focused discussions, produce more tangible outcomes, reduce the number of parallel sessions that compete among each other and encourage attendees to actively participate in the debates.

The IGF has been fundamental to the Internet community. We have invested a lot in building this unique space, in which the diverse actors have learned to work together, in accordance with the principles of the multistakeholder model. If the IGF is not attractive enough and Internet Governance discussions are taken to other spaces, we must start from scratch and re-create the forms of participation we have created in the IGF.

Some of the changes can be implemented at the 2018 meeting, which will take place in Paris from November 12-14. Some others will have to wait for the 2019 cycle and later, but the most important thing is that the stakeholders of the community find consensus around the idea of the need for these adaptations. It is in favor of the IGF and the benefit will be shared by all.

Learn more about Internet Governance and why everyone should have a voice in helping to shape tomorrow!

Internet Governance

Let’s Reform the IGF to Ensure Its Healthy Future

It seems like yesterday we were in Tunis at the 2005 World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), where I was involved in the negotiations that led to the formation of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF). When I look back at the evolution of Internet governance since then, it is amazing!

But the decisions we have made before are in constant scrutiny of the reality check. Geopolitical forces around the world have been changing and increased challenges with rapid Internet evolution have impacted global society as never before. Nevertheless, the IGF community is showing signs of fatigue – less government and high level attendance, difficulties to confirm the host country in advance, fewer contributions for the intersessional work – while there are heated debates on the Internet front regarding cybersecurity, the digital economy, and the future of jobs and education with IoT and AI.

Thus, it is urgent that the community takes the responsibility of introducing the reform the IGF needs to continue its brilliant journey. The IGF has an amazing opportunity ahead to adapt and inspire people to work effectively in support of people-centered development.

The world is much better with the IGF than without it!

The IGF has become a very good place for setting the global agenda on policy issues related to the Internet in an open and multistakeholder manner where everyone has a voice – and “one stop shopping” to keep track of international debates and to be aware of different views around them, including through several national, regional and sub-regional IGF-type initiatives, and more recently thematic IGFs for women, youth, and other groups.

The broad understanding of the importance of the Internet for advancing the SDGs brings more and more people, and especially governments, to discuss different international Internet-related policy matters. In a recent meeting we had with the UN Secretary General, it was clear that these issues are also of great importance to him.

During the IGF’s time, there has been some criticism, including: lack of more concrete outcomes, unbalanced stakeholder groups participations, lack of resources and funding, low-level attendance and difficulty confirming host countries. But despite those criticisms, the world is much better with the IGF than without it.

New Internet governance issues are emerging all the time and governments express concerns about several things associated with the impact of the Internet and ICTs. The intensity of the debate across the world is increasing. Therefore, it is necessary to take one more step ahead in advancing the multistakeholder model on Internet governance matters – and improving the IGF.

We need venues for these discussions and the IGF should host these debates by all stakeholders. If not, other venues will be created – and it’s likely these new bodies or forums will not be as friendly as the IGF for the participation of everyone. We should keep one crucial thing in mind: people should be at the center. That’s the only way we can develop policies that contribute to building an Internet that brings benefits to all the people around the world.

It’s time to reform the IGF!

It’s important that we introduce changes to the IGF that continue to increase its value as the appropriate platform for dealing with topics that are relevant to global stakeholders. The CSTD WG IGF has made good suggestions. These and other changes could be introduced almost immediately, if there is agreement, in order to keep the IGF as a central forum in the Internet governance international debate:

Simplify the current complexity of the IGF, reducing the number of competing sessions and increase the focus to a limited number of issues. A more simple structure of the annual meeting would make it cheaper and more attractive for a number of countries in the world to be candidates for hosting the IGF.

Make the discussions more interactive and concrete with fewer panels and speakers.

Build on existing outcomes (such as best practices and policy forums) and balance the participation of all stakeholders, by adopting some of the Netmundial practices. We should move the high-level session from the beginning of the meeting to the end and review at a very high level the outcomes of the sessions of the previous days. It would also facilitate the participation of policymakers.

Improve outreach work to bring to the IGF the people we need to be involved in the discussions. For example, we should find out how to take better advantage of the work we can do in between annual meetings, what we call the “intersessional work.” There is a lot of potential to produce more recommendations and best practices working in a collaborative manner as a permanent platform and not only during the meetings.

We need to be pragmatic and to act now!

I still remember the days when I was serving as a member of the Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG) and we have started to discuss the proposal to create a global forum with all stakeholders to tackle complex Internet governance issues.

It is incredible all we have done so far, and I am personally proud of the contribution I have made to this from my 8 years in the Multistakeholder Advisory Group IGF-MAG. That’s why I am still actively participating in every IGF, contributing as much as possible to the success of this forum.

But now it is time to move forward with new ideas. The strategic discussions about IGF improvement are much broader and include, of course, financial aspects. However, at this moment, we need to be pragmatic and implement some tactical changes this year.

These are not final ideas, just food for thought. I would like to invite the community to reflect and contribute to this conversation. Make your voice heard! The future of the Internet relies on each of us!

The 2018 IGF MAG will meet for the first time next week. It’s an opportunity we can’t lose to set new promising paths for IGF and guarantee its future relevant existence.

Growing the Internet

Building a World Free of Barriers: Vashkar Bhattacharjee’s Story

We recently shared Part One and Part Two of Vashkar Bhattacharjee’s story. Vashkar is the National Consultant, Accessibility, A2i, Prime Minister’s Office of Bangladesh, the Second Vice-President, GAATES (Global Alliance on Accessible Technologies & Environments), and the Program Manager, Young Power in Social Action (YPSA).

Our research at Young People in Social Action (YPSA), Bangladesh revealed that developing multimedia talking books would not be enough to ensure proper learning among students. For that to happen, the students required access to rich vocabulary libraries for proper understanding of language. (We have been supported by a2i program’s Service Innovation Fund to develop Bangladesh’s first accessible dictionaries in English and Bangla available in both online and offline modes.)

People are amazed to see persons with visual impairment using computers and smartphones. This has been made easy thanks to the open-source screen-reading software that can convert text to speech. People with visual impairment can also use the standard QWERTY keyboard just like everybody else as it has become second nature. Among the 50 people working at YPSA, 32 have a disability. ICTs have helped them overcome physical barriers.

In the role of a2i’s national consultant for disability, I am working on making different websites accessible for all following W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 standard to achieve sustainable goals by 2030 where no one would be left behind. Among these websites, the most significant one is the National Portal which is a harmonized system of public websites that reduce the hassle, time, and costs incurred by citizens in accessing and availing themselves of government information and services.

I am also leading an initiative as part of a2i to encourage the Bangladesh government to take the steps necessary to ratify the Marrakesh VIP Treaty to facilitate access to published works for people who are blind, visually impaired, or otherwise print disabled. The Marrakesh VIP Treaty is an international agreement that will help an estimated 285 million blind people worldwide have greater access to books published in accessible formats. Implementing the Marrakesh VIP Treaty would remove restrictions on the ability of Bangladesh to import legally-produced audio and Braille books without specific permission from the publishers.

Now that I look back at my life, I cannot help but be amazed. While I did not have any teachers at school trained to teach blind students, here I was, about 15 years later, teaching blind people how to access content using the power of ICT and the Internet. For the last 20 years, I have been closely working on promoting accessible technology and information for people with disabilities. In the process, I have engaged in multiple dialogues with leading think tanks and policymakers who are promoting the agenda of accessible information for all, including the Internet Society, APNIC, the DAISY Consortium, ITU, the Accessible Books Consortium of WIPO, and the Global Alliance of Accessible Technology and Environments (GAATES).

Lastly, I tried to inspire people in my community to move forward to use “accessible technology” for the betterment of all and to create a community so they can take another big step towards living their lives with blindness. I am ever grateful to YPSA for trusting my abilities. I acknowledge Access to Information (a2i) program for their overall support in implementing initiatives for the empowerment of persons with disabilities. I strongly believe that together we can build a world free of barriers.

Vashkar Bhattacharjee will be attending the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) later this month as an IGF Ambassador, where this year’s theme is Shape Your Digital Future. He welcomes other attendees to reach out to him to learn more about his work.

In the meantime, you can read the W3C Introduction to Web Accessibilityand learn about the DAISY Consortium and the Dynamic Coalition on Access and Disability, two organizations working to ensure equal access to information and knowledge.

The Internet Society strives towards a future where “The Internet is for Everyone”. Visit the Accessibility Toolkit page to learn how every person in the Internet community can contribute to a more accessible Internet.

Learn how you, too, can help shape tomorrow!

Growing the Internet

Making Education Accessible for All: Vashkar Bhattacharjee’s Story

We recently shared the first part of Vashkar Bhattacharjee’s story. Vashkar is the National Consultant, Accessibility, A2i, Prime Minister’s Office of Bangladesh, the Second Vice-President, GAATES (Global Alliance on Accessible Technologies & Environments), and the Program Manager, Young Power in Social Action (YPSA).

Setting up an accessible digital talking book system (DAISY) in Bangladesh

After training in Japan, I was armed with knowledge in leadership and technology and wanted to create digital access for people with disabilities in Bangladesh. I wanted to prove that people with disabilities like me can work in our job market, but nobody wanted to believe me. With Young People in Social Action (YPSA), a social development organization in my home district of Chittagong, I worked as a volunteer on creating computerized braille production, which allows for printing to be in done in Braille, thus creating the tools for education for people with visual impairment. Very soon, we obtained funding to establish a digital lab, called ICT and Resource Center on Disability (IRCD), to develop assistive technologies and content for persons with disabilities.

In 2005, I was introduced to the Digital Accessible Information System (DAISY) Consortium, where I received inspiration from international experts to work harder and smarter, and make better use of available technologies. I received support to become an International Trainer on the use of ICT-based assistive technologies for persons with disabilities.

Once I returned from the training program, I introduced DAISY’s international standard for accessible publishing in Bangladesh. Since then, with support from a2i program’s Service Innovation Fund, YPSA has converted all the text books for class 1 to class 10 into multimedia digital talking books through engaging persons with disabilities themselves. From this format, the books can be converted further into accessible eBooks and digital braille books and these can be made available to students with a print disability or a learning disability. The project received technical support from the DAISY Consortium, Accessible Books Consortium and WIPO. For its contribution to making education accessible for all, including those with a learning disability, this innovative initiative has received 4 international accolades including the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) Prize 2017 from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

It was on my journey in 2014 to receive the ISIF Award for Multimedia Talking Book that I was introduced to APNIC. At the APNIC 42 conference, I received recognition from the Internet community. They admired the resilience and talent shown by a person with a disability in producing innovative applications.

Read Part Three of Vashkar’s story.

Vashkar Bhattacharjee will be attending the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) later this month as an IGF Ambassador, where this year’s theme is Shape Your Digital Future. He welcomes other attendees to reach out to him to learn more about his work.

In the meantime, you can read the W3C Introduction to Web Accessibilityand learn about the DAISY Consortium and the Dynamic Coalition on Access and Disability, two organizations working to ensure equal access to information and knowledge.

The Internet Society strives towards a future where “The Internet is for Everyone”. Visit the Accessibility Toolkit page to learn how every person in the Internet community can contribute to a more accessible Internet.

Learn how you, too, can help shape tomorrow!

Photo: Vashkar Bhattacharjee holding the Accessible Books Consortium International Excellence Award with Ms. Anne Leer, then WIPO Deputy Director General. Photo credit: London Book Fair.

Growing the Internet

Technology with Purpose: Vashkar Bhattacharjee’s Story

In honor of today’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities, we are sharing Part One of Vashkar Bhattacharjee’s story. He is the National Consultant, Accessibility, A2i, Prime Minister’s Office of Bangladesh, the Second Vice-President, GAATES (Global Alliance on Accessible Technologies & Environments), and the Program Manager, Young Power in Social Action (YPSA).

I am Vashkar Bhattacharjee, a visually impaired person from Bangladesh. And this is the story of how I have excelled in life and career, not through sympathy and charity, but through inspiration and assistance.

In Bangladesh, every 1 in 10 persons experience at least one kind of disability. I am one of approximately 4 million Bangladeshis who are visually impaired.

In 1979, like most of the villages in Bangladesh, my village in the district of Chittagong did not have doctors or hospital facilities. On July 1st in the same year, in a small remote village called Bagdondi, I was born in my parental home without any medical supervision. Right after my birth, I was bleeding through my nose and mouth. My parents and relatives could not figure out what was wrong. After a while, the bleeding stopped and everything seemed to be normal. By the time I was two years old, my parents realized the heartbreaking truth that I had gone blind. Both my father and mother are well educated so after my birth they welcomed me and prepared how to overcome all odds for my survival and life resumed as so-called normal.

In Bangladesh, even until the end of the previous millennium, majority opinion was that blind citizens are nothing but a burden to society and that they are incapable of performing any income-generating activity. While education was supposed to be a basic right for every citizen, it used to be considered a luxury for children with visual disabilities in Bangladesh, even more so in rural Bangladesh. My parents deliberated long and hard about whether they wanted me to have an education, along with all the other children of my village. Others questioned why I should be going to school, since they believed that the only way I could survive was by charity.

After some searching, my father came to hear about a primary school for the blind, where I was soon admitted. Back then, text books in Braille were rarely available, and few schools had writing frames or Braille paper. As a result, I was considered a freak of nature when I managed to complete the Higher Secondary Certificate (HSC) exam and got into university, while most of my primary school buddies had dropped out of school after completing secondary school.

At university, the journey got much more difficult, since I had to compete with students who could see and who did not require the teacher to read out the lessons. I am truly grateful to some classmates who helped me take down notes and prepare for exams. But the exams were another hurdle, since I had to convince my teachers to provide me with an assistant during exams who would listen to my answers and write them down on paper.

It was these experiences that made me think more deeply about the need for accessible education and shaped my life. With great support from my teachers and fellow students, I graduated with honours in history from Chittagong University and obtained a Master’s degree in General History.

But then came the time to start looking for a job and to earn my own living. I realized how bad the situation was for blind persons, whom no one will hire for fear of their presumed lack of productivity. As a result, I was unemployed for a number of months and had to learn the hard way that theoretical learning alone would not be enough — I needed to be technologically skilled as well. ICT and the Internet opened my inside eyes.

It was during this difficult time that I was blessed to win a place in the fourth Duskin Leadership Training in Japan, a program for persons with disabilities in Asia and the Pacific. From August 2002 to July 2003, I was trained in applications of Computer & Information Technology for Persons with Visual Impairment. This was the turning point of my life, when I understood my life’s purpose: to make services accessible through the use of ICT and Internet.

Read Part Two of Vashkar’s story.

Vashkar Bhattacharjee will be attending the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) later this month as an IGF Ambassador, where this year’s theme is Shape Your Digital Future. He welcomes other attendees to reach out to him to learn more about his work.

In the meantime, you can read the W3C Introduction to Web Accessibilityand learn about the DAISY Consortium and the Dynamic Coalition on Access and Disability, two organizations working to ensure equal access to information and knowledge.

The Internet Society strives towards a future where “The Internet is for Everyone”. Visit the Accessibility Toolkit page to learn how every person in the Internet community can contribute to a more accessible Internet.

Learn how you, too, can help shape tomorrow!

Improving Technical Security Internet Governance

Reflections on a successful IGF 2016

Many stakeholders are now coming home after a productive week at the 2016 Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Guadalajara, Mexico. 

As the first IGF since its 10 year mandate renewal by the UN General Assembly, this was a key edition to set the stage for multistakeholder cooperation in the next few years, and to identify the issues that will have to be addressed by the global Internet community now and in the near future.  

And the challenges are not missing. In a context where nationalist and de-globalization movements makes progress in all parts of the world, and where concerns of cyber security is growing, we see a new focus on borders and government control that threatens to splinter the Internet into separate networks based on technology and regulations. 

It is an existential threat to the Internet we know as global, open, and reslient, but as expressed by our CEO Kathy Brown in the IGF opening ceremony, we cannot let policies of fear damage the foundational values that have defined the Internet since its creation. Openness, transparency and inclusiveness is at the heart of the Internet’s governance model, and its technical architecture is designed to facilitate change. Together they are the means to protect it.

The IGF is in this sense more important than ever, because it is the place where concerns, ideas and solutions are exchanged. It was never designed to solve the Internet’s challenges on its own, but on the contrary to support a distributed governance model based on shared principles and objectives for collaborative answers. To this end, the IGF provides a starting point in which the stakeholders can discuss their concerns such as cybersecurity, trade agreements, or how over-the-top services could create fragmentation on digital spaces – issues in which it is more important than ever to shape a common understanding of how they can be solved.  

Following the ten-year review of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), we have entered a new phase where the question is not anymore whether or not the multistakeholder model is a valid approach or not, but rather on how to implement it concretely to address very real issues. To us at the Internet Society, and as described in our 2017 Action Plan, this challenge can broadly be separated into Access and Trust, reflecting the fact that people need to be able to get online, but also have confidence in the system, in order for the Internet to reach its full potential. 

The successful IANA transition, where the contractual relationship between the US government and ICANN on the performance of the key Internet domain name functions was transferred to the global multistakeholder community,  was a good example of how all relevant stakeholders came together and reached consensus on how to govern an important function for the Internet. This was no easy process, but different views were reconciled through a common vision for the good of the Internet.

However, the IANA transition was a relatively simple challenge compared to the issues we are facing now: connecting the unconnected and taking those measures that the users of the Internet can have reasonable expectations of trust while the Internet becomes part of their lives. 

Some say that easy problems on the Internet have been solved 20 years ago, and the challenges that we are facing today are those that we can only solve by realizing that the Internet is a a dynamic systems with many actors that have both self-interests and shared-interests. The Internet is an inherently complex and decentralized system where solutions come about by seeing stakeholders gaining shared understanding, assuming responsibility and taking action globally, regionally, and locally.

At last week’s IGF, we saw examples from Best Practice Forums and the Connecting the Next Billion track. We saw Dynamic Coalitions proving essential in advancing the needle on key issues, and we saw workshops on specific solutions such as the work on community networks. It has also been refreshing to see so many workshops using breakout sessions as a way to engage participants and harness expertise from a diverse audience, making the most of the opportunity that the IGF brings. 

Let us also not underestimate the power of the hallway, the connections that are made between communities and the understanding that is deepened over a coffee or tequila all increase the odds that participants go home and inspire their local community, perhaps with help of new partners, to take action and to address difficult issues head on. 

What is particularly inspiring are the hundreds of young fellows, often under 20, who brought their dynamism and unique perspectives on a variety of topics. This is essential, as these young leaders will be the shapers of tomorrow.

We look forward to the work and cooperations that will keep us engaged until the next IGF.