Rights take centre stage at 3rd global internet forum in India

The 3rd Internet Governance Forum (IGF) commenced in Hyderabad, India to continue addressing the issue of managing and harnessing the potential of Internet for the globalized world. Once again, the raging debate is whether the Internet should be controlled in view of challenges such as security, privacy, and pornography.

By: Gayathry Venkiteswaran, CIJ Executive Director

 

Hyderabad, India (7 December 2008):
Rights to the internet, gender perspectives and pornography were among
the hot issues that dominated the recently concluded 3rd Internet Governance Forum in Hyderabad, India.

From
civil society groups, to academics and governance institutions, there
was somewhat a feeling that the debates around internet and information
society had to take a step back to reflect on the fundamentals of human
rights.

These
reflect some of the developments and issues in many societies,
including Malaysia where the lack of data protection and rights to
privacy couple with strong efforts to control the Internet is bound to
make the space highly contested and challenged.

The
rights-based approach was a constantly heard phrase in a number of the
main sessions and the workshops as well as the dynamic coalitions that
had formed in the last three years around specific issues.

"The
issue of internet access and use is not within the human rights
framework, and I wonder about the absence of the UN Special Rapporteur
on Freedom of Expression," said Prof Wolfgang Benedek, one of the
advocates of the Dynamic Coalition on Internet Bill of Rights.

Former
European Union Privacy Commissioner Stefano Rodota said that it is not
sufficient to reinterpret the UN Declaration on Human Rights on freedom
of expression, and that "some contribution through this (IGF) process
could be important as the new generation of fundamental rights cannot
be compromised."

K.
Gurumurthy of IT for Change, India said that the internet should be
viewed as a fundamental right like and linked to right to express,
right to information, right to education etc.

The Dynamic Coalition of Gender also made its representation
on the issue that "ultimately, a rights based approach to Internet
governance is the only safeguard for women to fully enjoy the potential
benefits of the Internet."

"Two of the five themes clearly
illustrated the ways in which Internet governance implicates rights of
central concern to women – on access and the questions of openness,
privacy and security", said the coalition, in a statement read out on 6
December on taking stock of the IGF.

A statement
prepared ahead of the IGF and endorsed by 107 organisations and
individuals also called for serious attention to address the "threats
against the publicness and egalitarian nature of the Internet," and how
the unconnected billions are being impacted by these threats.

At
the same time, other rights to multilinguism, child protection and
development were also highlighted as needing more attention in the IGF
forum.

The annual forum was held from 3 to 6 this month in the
midst of high security alert in various large cities in India following
the 26 November attacks in Mumbai. The first two forums were held in
Athens, Greece and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, respectively. The IGF was
set up as an outcome of the second phase of the World Summit on Information Society to provide a new forum for
multi-stakeholder policy dialogue. The next IGF will be held in Egypt.

The
three themes for the forum this year were"Reaching the Next Billion"
through access and multilinguism; "Promoting Cyber-Security and Trust"
discussing cyber security and cyber crime, openness, privacy and security; and "Managing Critical Internet Resources" with the transition from the IPv4 to IPv6 and other emerging issues.

Attending the opening of the forum was UN Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, Jomo Kwame Sundaram who represented the UN Secretary General.

Transcripts of the some of the main sessions can be found at the IGF website.

igf-gaya.jpgGayathry
(left) participated in the IGF under the auspices of the Association for
Progressive Communications – Women's Networking Support Programme
(APC-WNSP) and with the support of the OpenNet Initiative project. She
also read out the statement on behalf of the Gender Dynamic Coalition
on the session on
Taking Stock of the IGF. With in the picture is Dr. Heike Jensen, a project team member at the convention centre hosting the forum.