There is a need to evolve a formal body of knowledge; it is important to recognise the need of Internet Governance (IG) as a formal discipline.
Asia is developing fast as a buzzing hub for ICT based industry. Therefore, due consideration needs to be given to various Internet Governance issues with an inclusive approach towards various issues like: security, privacy, freedom of expression, human rights, access, cybercrime, multilingualism, public-policy, cross-jurisdiction issues etc.
Worldwide there has been an ongoing dialogue under the WSIS-World Summit on Information Society and various bodies under the guidance of the United Nations like: WGIG- Working Group on Internet Governance, IGF- Internet Governance Forum etc. to foster a multi-stake holder participation. To promote a multi-stakeholder approach in Asia, there is a need to sensitise and involve the stakeholders in this process. Hence, there is a need to have Internet governance capacity building for the government, the corporate sector, academia, NGOs, and civil society at large.
While there is a common understanding of the Internet, there is not yet a shared view of Internet governance, hence the mandate from the WSIS for the WGIG to develop a working definition of Internet governance. During the 10 years in which the Internet evolved from a research and academic facility into ‘a global facility available to the public’, five very different points of view emerged about the scope and mechanisms of Internet governance. The WGIG first considered the five criteria, namely that the working definition should be adequate, generalisable, descriptive, concise and process-oriented.
Second, the WGIG analysed a wide range of public-sector, private-sector and multistakeholder governance mechanisms that currently exist with respect to different Internet issues and functions. Finally, the WGIG assessed a number of alternative definitions proposed by various parties in the course of the WSIS process and related international discussions. According to the Report of the Working Group on Internet Governance: Internet governance is the development and application by governments, the private sector and civil society, in their respective roles, of shared principles, norms, rules, decision-making procedures, and programmes that shape the evolution and use of the Internet.
Further, the following public policy issues have been identified that are relevant to Internet governance:
Administration of the root zone files and system
Internet stability, security and cyber-crime
Meaningful participation in global policy development
Allocation of domain names
Intellectual property rights (IPR)
Freedom of expression
Data protection and privacy rights
The recent initiative under the mandate from the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) is the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), which is a new forum for multistakeholder policy dialogue.
The IGF Agenda is being organized as per the following themes, with ‘Capacity Building’ running across all the themes.
Freedom of expression and free flow of information, ideas and knowledge
Creating trust and confidence through collaboration
Promoting multilingualism and local content
Internet connectivity: policy and cost
WGIG to IGF
The scenario has evolved and activities have intensified. The voices of the stakeholders identified in the WGIG process have echoed in the IGF as well. There are good number of people from across the world that are raising their concerns, hopes, desires and rights with reference to the Internet Governance. The governments have come forward to deliver their point-of-views. The civil society is also becoming active in this area, which was evident from the large number of NGOs and individuals that participated in the IGF. The industry and academia have also got interested in the issue; and there are a number of dynamic coalitions that have evolved as a result of the process so far.
While there is a certain representation of people from Asia in the Internet Governance process, a large number of people in the region are still unaware or indifferent about the issues pertaining to IG. The governments have taken initiatives and the industry has shown interest but the civil society involvement in the process is still nascent. World over, it is the civil society that is working in close association with the other stakeholders to give a meaningful direction to ongoing process. This is required to be done for Asian region as well, as it is important to raise the region specific concerns and contribute to the process.
Thus there is a significant need to have suitable capacity building initiatives for Internet governance in Asia as we intend to be the part of the process that is very vital in form of policy vibes enabling the ICT industry growing rapidly in the region.
It is very evident of the list given above that the IG has the potential to affect the public policy affairs related to diverse areas ranging from technology to human rights. This is the time when one must have views regarding the same and this should be inclusive.
The key issue here is that this will need a sensitisation across all levels: from policy-makers to the end users, to achieve this. In order to understand the complexities of the issues involved, like cross-border trade on Internet, regional/local jurisdiction, human rights, freedom of expression etc., it is essential to make to the stakeholders aware about the upcoming challenges.
This is also the time when the governments in the region are forming or have just formed their Information Technology policies or Acts. Most of the policies are still evolving and one do not have a comprehensive documentation of regulations related to cyber-crime, e-Commerce, taxation, security etc. Also the existing systems need to have experts to handle such issues in the government, judiciary, police, and industry.
Rationale of IG
Many Asian countries have done significantly well in the domain of e-Governance which is a harbinger of transformation as it calls for myriad policy reforms, hence there is a rationale for IG concepts and capacities being disseminated widely. For example, the e-Governance initiatives also result in government process re-engineering and this can be utilised as an opportunity to affect the areas of policy-making, judiciary etc. to address the IG issues as well.
There are certain other vital coherences between the two areas: both are ICT related or enabled phenomena. One is related to the policy for technology, the other is the application of technology for policy, thus they compliment each other and both call for policy reforms. Many issues in the IG domain are to be addressed in the e-Gov initiatives as well. Most importantly, even the key stakeholders involved are same and so are the policy makers. Thus, there is a need to realise and taking advantage of this synergy that exists.
Capacity building for IG
Various Internet IG issues keep surfacing from time to time when there is any incident that renders the policy premises insufficient to address it. These issues are going to affect each one of us in time to come and the challenge is that, there are diverse views, understanding, and requirements of the stakeholders. Hence, there is a need of suitable capacity building interventions.
There are a number of ways in which capacity building can be initiated for IG in the region. The precursor to this is a massive awareness campaign that gives the initial feeler to the stakeholders. There is a need to evolve a formal body of knowledge; it is important to recognise the need of IG as a formal discipline. In Asia, there are a few organisations that presently have the expertise or resources to develop content and deliver programmes in the field of IG. Also, there are no formal programmes or courses available and there is a general non-availability of trained professionals in the area.
Industry, governments an academia will have to commit some resources towards the whole initiative. There is a need to have a dialogue for developing a regional consensus through stakeholder participation and forums etc. It is also important to forge alliances with international organisations that are already working in this area and working out relationship with upcoming and existing e-Gov initiatives, wherever possible, would be another forerunner of the Internet governance capacity building.
“In only a few years, the Internet has revolutionised trade, health, education, and, indeed, the very fabric of human communication and exchange. Moreover, its potential is far greater than what we have seen in the relatively short time since its creation. In managing, promoting, and protecting its presence in our lives, we need to be no less creative than those who invented it. Clearly, there is a need for governance, but that does not necessarily mean that it has to be done in the traditional way, for something that is so very different.” Kofi Annan – Global Forum on Internet Governance