Between December 5th and 9th, researchers from the Institute for Research on Internet and Society (IRIS) participated actively in the discussions of the Internet Governance Forum – IGF 2016, held in Guadalajara, Mexico. Associated with the United Nations General Assembly, this is a multi-stakeholder forum, which includes the most diverse actors in discussions on public policies relating to the Internet.
One of the main advantages of this event is the possibility that developing countries, civil society, academia, business and technical personnel have to sit at the same table and optimize consensus on the risks, challenges, and futures presented by the Internet. Like the global computer network itself, the IGF brings together different perspectives on issues common to many stakeholders. Although there are no binding results in its panels and outside, the IGF informs and inspires those with decision-making power in the public and private sectors, serving as a forum for discussion and debate for new ideas that may eventually become public policies in the most diverse countries.
The central theme of this edition of the Internet Governance Forum was “Enabling Inclusive and Sustainable Growth”. Although there were dozens of panels, workshops, open forums and dynamic coalitions happening simultaneously at all times, the main sessions, protagonists of the event, focused mainly on issues such as the use of information and communication technologies in achieving the goals of Sustainable Development of the United Nations in an inclusive way. Also discussed in the main sessions were the influence of trade agreements on the Internet, the role of human rights and the challenges of connecting the next billion users.
Internet and Jurisdiction
One of the most recurring topics in the IGF panels in 2016 was the jurisdiction and governance theme of the internet. Increasingly, there is a need to reach consensus on different mechanisms for determining jurisdiction, whether for the application of laws on privacy and protection of personal data or for combating cyber crime and international cooperation. The general notion is that most of the factors and rules currently used are insufficient for the proper definition of conflicts of jurisdiction and applicable law.
In this sense, another consensus among the most diverse actors is that Mutual Legal Assistance Treaties – MLATs do not sufficiently and efficiently serve the jurisdictional and cooperation demands among states, because they are too slow and bureaucratic for the reality of the Internet and investigations involving issues of cyberspace.
In addition, there are procedural problems with requests for information made by research entities and members of the judiciary to providers of application and connection in other countries. Who are the authorized agents to request information? Is there a minimum criterion and format for accepting these requests? The need for better compliance and application of due process principles in international cooperation procedures for the data request, removal or maintenance of contents and resolution of conflicts related to domain names was emphasized.
According to Bertrand de La Chapelle, Director of Internet & Jurisdiction, jurisdictional disputes require multiple factors to be taken into account. One cannot determine just one criterion, such as the location of servers or offices of application providers since the demands are complex and need to be analyzed on a case-by-case basis. The researcher also calls for greater emphasis on alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, which can be very useful in some contexts, such as domain names
Intermediary Liability and Private Adjudication
Much has been discussed about the role of intermediaries in the internet governance ecosystem. To a large extent private agents, these intermediaries – providers, applications, social networks – have increasingly been involved in the adjudication of conflicts related to content removal, freedom of expression, copyright, and so on. They questioned the legitimacy of these private actors to decide on issues involving not only transactional rights but also a number of fundamental personal rights. On the other hand, state courts are often inefficient, unqualified, and even disconnected from the reality and pace of Internet interactions.
There is an increasing need to strengthen and develop a notion of a digital due process of ensuring that users’ rights on the internet be protected and any conflicts awarded with the same criteria, as they are outside the environment of cyber space.
A Growing Demand for Transparency
Another theme raised in the various panels of the event was the need for greater transparency in different spheres of internet governance. Civil society demands that the executive and judiciary branches of their states be clearer as to the information they request in their civil and criminal cases, the number of content removals made, as well as the degree of vigilance in progress by their investigative agencies. In addition, more uniformity is sought in relation to transparency reports published by providers. This would contribute to the oversight work by civil society and academia.
Transparency also involves defining a common vocabulary in terms of internet governance. Although English is a very convergent language in the area, there are still substantial conceptual differences in some key terms, depending on jurisdiction, such as network neutrality, freedom of expression, human rights, accessibility and digital inclusion, among others. There is an absence of members of the national judicial authorities in this forum, which contributes to the misinterpretation of terms and laws on the subject in the exercise of their functions.
Interinstitutional Partnerships and Ways Forward
The participation of IRIS in this edition of the Internet Governance Forum, in addition to the updating of our researchers’ contents and their insertion in the main debates of the international society on the subject, also aims to establish institutional partnerships for the future. Increasingly, our Institute has contributed to the deepening of the study of these themes in Minas Gerais and Brazil.
If you are interested, the Internet Governance Forum website provides the transcripts and videos of the discussions that took place, as well as being able to check all forms of online participation on the various topics of internet governance. To continue following our publications, subscribe to our mailing list!