Azerbaijan host for UN appointed forum on internet governance

Last week, people from around the world, from different walks of life, representing; themselves, governments, NGOs, companies or regulators, met in Baku to discuss developments within the United Nations’ seventh Internet Governance Forum (IGF).

Some 1,500 participants gathered for the four day conference on the shores of the Caspian Sea in Azerbaijan’s capital Baku. The main theme was: “Internet Governance for Sustainable Human, Economic and Social Development”. TeliaSonera was represented by Patrik Hiselius, who participated in one of the panel discussions. He commented that the week in Baku was a real eye-opener for many of the participants, himself included.

“Through meetings like this, people’s understanding for one another has a real ability to grow, and that is really the only way to be able to reach viable solutions to internet governance which is sustainable in the long term”, Patrik Hiselius said.

Progress through interaction

Earlier this year the Eurovision Song Contest was organized nearby. But whereas the Eurovision does not demand much in the form of interaction from the people who view it on TV, the global multi-stakeholder forum, IGF, demands true interaction from all of its participants. Be they non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) such as Human Rights First and Access Now; academics from prestigious universities, private sector participants such as TeliaSonera and Google, government representatives, international organizations like the European Union, UNESCO and the Internet Society, or tech-specialists and Internet evangelists such as Vint Cerf, known as ‘one of the fathers of Internet’.

When the first IGF was inaugurated by the United Nations six years ago, it mostly dealt with technical issues, but today, one of its main focus areas are Human Rights, Freedom of Expression and Privacy.  ‘Access’ to the Internet is viewed by some as a human right. There are still challenges in the development of human rights in many countries around the world, and organizing international sessions and discussions on human rights where it matters most is an excellent way of raising these issues locally. The conference held 35 workshops each day.. Some very frank and outspoken discussions took place.

Operators introduced as ‘freedom providers’

In a discussion regarding the duty of all States to protect human rights and their task to balance such rights against national security, the Dutch Government proposed that; “When in doubt, freedom should prevail”. Vint Cerf, representing Google, argued in a main concluding session that the IGF should receive more resources and the IGF archive should be made more accessible and sustainable. And in conjunction with the panel TeliaSonera participated in, “A plan for rights-respecting telecoms”, the telecom sector was thanked for providing access to the Internet, and telecom operators described as “freedom providers”.

For TeliaSonera, of course, providing access to telecommunications including the Internet is the business model. This business model includes freedom of expression, so that our subscribers can communicate, and protection of privacy, so that our users feel trust in our services.

Access Now, the Swedish Government, a representative of the European Union, a local journalist and activist, the Global Network Initiative, consumer representatives and TeliaSonera participated in the panel on how providers, along with other players, can meet their responsibility to respect human rights. It was made clear that although local governments define the law, each company can and must work with its internal processes and, when possible, measures of transparency. The benefits of working jointly in implementing guiding principles to this regard were also noted.

Firm principles important

Patrik Hiselius noted that during the IGF many participants pointed explicitly to the responsibility of Governments around the world to protect Human Rights, besides the responsibility of the private sector to respect human rights and to provide remedy. The Swedish Government was praised for its proactive work to establish, formally and in practice, that human rights apply online as well as offline.

Human rights are an area which is constantly evolving, and any measures against individuals must be based on the rule of law. Companies need to abide by local legislation whilst respecting human rights.

These two aspects show, that telecoms and human rights at times are in conflict and require difficult tradeoffs, both democratic and economic terms. This means working out and establishing processes based on firm principles. The way forward is not easy, the challenges must be met jointly by the industry, and national as well as international organizations; the UN, the EU, various NGO’s and others, need to be involved. Forums such as the IGF are instrumental as part of the way forward. Next year’s IGF will take place in Bali, Indonesia.

Link to the Internet Governance Forum's archive

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