NCUC at IGF 2016: A Model for the Power of Civil Society

By: Rachel Pollack

NCUC at IGF 2016: A Model for the Power of Civil Society

With two workshops, a pre-event, a village booth, and the presence of dozens of active members, NCUC figured prominently in the 11th Internet Governance Forum, which took place from 6 to 9 December, 2016 in Guadalajara, Mexico.

The event’s overall theme, “Enabling Inclusive and Sustainable Growth”, highlighted the role of Internet governance in achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The week included more than 2,000 participants from 123 countries, who took part in approximately 200 sessions on topics ranging from sustainable development to the IANA stewardship transition, human rights, cyber security, and trade agreements. A helpful overview of the IGF 2016 can be found in the IGF Chair’s Summary and the daily reporting by the Geneva Internet Platform’s Digital Watch observatory.

For NCUC, the week started on Sunday, 4 December with a joint civil society meeting on Civil Society’s Role in Internet Governance. Held jointly between NCUC and the civil society networks BestBits, the Just Net Coalition, the Association for Progressive Communications and the Internet Governance Caucus, the meeting covered areas of increasing interest for civil society in preparation for the IGF. This included a lively discussion of the impact of trade agreements on Internet governance and an interactive mapping exercise on the topics and bodies covered by civil society.

Civil society participants discovered NCUC in a presentation on “why domain name policy matters”, which featured NCUC members Farzaneh Badii, Rafik Dammak, Matthew Shears, Niels ten Oever, Tatiana Tropina, and myself. We spoke about NCUC’s work and the values that it promotes within ICANN, particularly during the IANA stewardship transition and cross-community work on enhancing ICANN’s accountability and in advancing human rights.

During the IGF itself, NCUC organized two animated workshops that critically examined the success of the multi-stakeholder model.

The first NCUC session took place on Wednesday, 7 December, on the “Reality of the Answerability of the Multi-Stakeholder Model”. Chaired by former NCUC Chair Rafik Dammak, the workshop discussed the role of the multi-stakeholder model in ICANN, WIPO, trade agreements and cybersecurity. Participants questioned the notion of “representation” of civil society within Internet governance and its various meanings. While they could not agree a single set of principles for a successful multi-stakeholder model, speakers suggested that some lessons could be drawn from successes such as the WSIS definition of Internet governance, the NETmundial principles, and the IANA stewardship transition.

NCUC convened a second workshop on Thursday, 8 December on “The Power of Non-Commercial Users on the Internet”. Under the moderation of NCUC Chair Farzaneh Badii, the session covered both key successes and failures of civil society – with NCUC members Corinne Cattekwaad speaking about efforts to include human rights in Internet protocols at the IETF and Tatiana Tropina recounting the experience of introducing a human rights bylaw at ICANN. I shared the results of a crowdsourcing exercise conducted of civil society successes and failures within Internet governance. Successes included the example achieving better balance between free expression and trademark protection at ICANN and the defeat of SOPA/PIPA legislation on intellectual property in the United States, while “failures” could be considered in the rise in legislation expanding mass surveillance powers and the continued challenges for privacy and data protection within ICANN related to the WHOIS policy. The lessons that I drew were that civil society had some of its greatest successes when working in collaboration with other stakeholder groups with shared interests.

Other sessions not organized by NCUC, but featuring NCUC members and directly related to its work, included ICANN sessions on a “Post IANA-transition ICANN” and “ICANN New gTLD Program: Exploring Impact & Future Direction” and an NCSG session on “Civil Society Experiences from the IANA Transition Process”.

I also noted several long-time NCUC members, such as Avri Doria and Bill Drake by videoconference, as among the faculty sharing experiences in the workshop on “Teaching Internet Governance: Experiences from 10 Years of SIGs”. Started in Meissen, Germany a decade ago by NCUC member Wolfgang Kleinwächter and now spread to regions across the world, the schools on Internet governance have taught a generation of Internet governance professionals including many members of NCUC.

Outside of sessions, NCUC members often gathered at the NCUC booth in the IGF village. Armed with copies of a new leaflet and the NCUC brochure in English and Spanish, NCUC members spoke with dozens of potential new members about the constituency and its work. New Executive Committee member Renata Aquino Ribeiro successfully brought in a number of new members from the host region, Latin America and the Caribbean.

The next IGF will take place from 18 to 21 December 2017 in Geneva, Switzerland. Here’s to hoping that the NCUC will build on this year’s success and take the IGF 2017 by storm!

My travel to Guadalajara was possible thanks to the generous support of NCUC and its donors. Thank you, NCUC!

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