Q&A with Markus Kummer

Markus Kummer

Markus Kummer is the Interim Chair of the Open Consultations and Multistakeholder Advisory Group (MAG) meetings for the global Internet Governance Forum (IGF). He is the Vice President of Public Policy at the Internet Society (ISOC).

Before joining the Internet Society in February 2011, he was the Executive Coordinator of the Secretariat supporting the United Nations' Internet Governance Forum.

What is your role in the upcoming IGF in Bali, Indonesia?

The Internet Society participates in the IGF; we think it's an important platform for multistakeholder dialogue. It's the only multistakeholder platform under a UN umbrella, and it's proved its worth in its years of its existence. It brings people together who would not otherwise talk to each other, and the UN flag gives confidence to some people, who might not necessarily go to a meeting of Internet institutions.

How do you see the process has evolved from the beginning?

There is a clear evolution. To begin with, there was a lot of nervousness, and it was a bit of a jump into the unknown; Secretary-General Kofi Annan even called it "a journey into uncharted waters" as we from the beginning created an environment where all stakeholders participate on an equal footing. Gone were the place settings where governments have a reserved seat in the front of the room, and all the others in the back. Everybody could sit down where they wanted. That was partly due to the fact that there were far more participants than were anticipated so we just had to accommodate them.

It worked remarkably well, sometimes it was a bit rough, sometimes people shouted at each other and there was a lot of blaming and shaming going on in terms of countries, but also companies; people didn't expect that. We had to caution them to be maybe a little bit more conservative at future meetings – not to shy away from the issues but maybe don't mention names – focus on issues rather.

Over the years, I think people got more comfortable with the setting. Immediately prior to the third meeting in Hyderabad in 2008 there were terrorist attacks in Mumbai and some people cancelled their journey, understandably, because their employers were governments and they thought it was too dangerous to go to India. But that created some sort of feeling of camaraderie among those who actually were in Hyderabad. From then on, there was a feeling of growing a community of IGF participants who did not necessarily agree on everything, but were happy to engage in the discussions.

There were some issues that were considered to be maybe too difficult to begin with, and gradually people didn't shy away from discussing them. We have also seen an evolution in terms of issues: the broad categories of access, diversity, security, openness – they kept, and were also expanded. For example, security and privacy were banded together as people felt they are closely linked. But those themes have more or less stood the test of time. Another one, Internet governance for development, has been difficult to fill in a way, with the content we're still struggling a little bit, but these broad categories have helped to shape the agenda for the workshop organizers. They cover basically all the aspects, both societal and technological.

So, yes there is an evolution over the years, and human rights has come very strongly into the foreground. Issues related to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly obviously that have a political context of the Arab Spring, but these are also linked to some practices in western democracies. Governments sometimes take action and human rights activists make a point that they aren't always compatible with basic human rights standards, so this has become an issue in our sphere. Digital content was on the agenda right from the beginning and that stays with us, I remember back in Athens there was a European Member of Parliament who said it was necessary to adapt intellectual property regime to the digital age, and that I think remains relevant today as it was back in 2006.

The agenda is evolving and I think it will also evolve in Bali. The format has maybe become a bit stale with the main session – we always had the same broad themes in the main session. In the last meetings when I participated as a participant and not as an organizer, I found the workshops very interesting, with lots of vibrant discussions. The main sessions might be a little bit repetitive, and there may be a need to rethink a bit, but we will have this discussion [this week at the MAG Open Consultation/ WSIS+10 Review, held in February 2013] and we'll shape the format and agenda of the Bali meeting.

Why is it important for as many people as possible, from a wide range of stakeholders including government, business, the technical and academic communities and so forth, to participate?

Everybody pays lip service to multistakeholder cooperation, but not everybody does it. We [the Internet Society] hope the view that all areas related to Internet governance, as defined by the Tunis Agenda – that's not just the technical coordination of the Internet, but issues related to content, digital content for instance, also security etc – these are best dealt with in a multistakeholder setting. That is the message that came out of Tunis: governments cannot do it alone, they need to work together with the technical community, with civil society, with business.

It's only together that we can find viable solutions. Politicians cannot solve the problems without knowing whether it works from a technological point of view, and at the same time technologists cannot solve the problem if politicians don't tell them what the problem is they are supposed to solve. So we do need a dialogue of all parties involved, that relates to all the issues, and quite often we see one or two of the parties missing. Some areas talk to business, but not to civil society or the technical community. The IGF is the platform where you can actually push for that, and again, because it is under a UN umbrella it has a certain credibility with governments.

The IGF is not the decision-making body; it is a platform, a dialogue, that can shape decisions that are taken elsewhere. The IGF can draw attention to an issue; it can signal potential pitfalls, unintended consequences. Governments usually react: the problem happens; then someone in parliament says this needs to be solved; they come up with a quick fix; and then quite often unintended consequences are overlooked. That can have a negative impact on the Internet, so that's why it is important for the entire community and also everyday users.

The Internet is not a technology for itself, it is here to help users, to empower people, so I think this is also important for the everyday user, who usually takes it for granted and doesn't get involved too closely. The characteristics of the Internet: its open, interoperable nature and its global character, need to be preserved. They make the strengths of the Internet, and they also empower the user. It is this very nature that has empowered users, and it has allowed for innovation.

Any kid in a garage can add innovation to the Internet, and it's also important for economic growth. That's an argument governments usually do understand: economic growth, job creation. It's visible that the Internet has contributed to growth, it has created jobs, and not just in the industrial world but also in developing countries where champions have made smart use of the Internet and embraced its open, bottom-up nature. These key characteristics that add value to the Internet, these are the values that need to be preserved. The Internet Governance Forum is a very good platform where everyone can engage to precisely preserve these values.

What would you say to someone who wants to get involved for the first time?

One of the evolutions was also that national and regional IGF initiatives have sprung up all over the world, on all the continents, and quite often it makes more sense to engage at the local level because there you also have more impact. At the same time the discussions can be more difficult because they do have impact at a national level. But it is, and I have seen this in some areas, for the first time the Internet community was given the possibility of engaging in direct dialogue with their government representatives. But you can also go straight to the global IGF, go there, listen around. It can be a bit confusing because there are so many events in parallel and that's a remark we have received, that there is far too much happening.

When you look at the agenda carefully, there is something there for everyone: if you're interested in accessibility for people with disabilities, there will be a number of workshops there you can go to, make contact and learn. If you're more interested in technological issues, say the deployment of IPv6, there will be workshops on that. Or on setting up IXPs, there are bound to be workshops on IXPs. Spam is another issue that was big, it was dealt with comprehensively and fell off the table in the IGF agenda, but somehow it came to the fore again in last year's conference on the International Telecommunication Regulations. Many countries said spam was a problem, so I expect there will be people who will say, okay let's put spam on the agenda, let's show how to deal with spam. There are many issues that do not necessarily interest everybody, but the newbie can also pick issues he or she is interested in.

Will there be remote participation options available?

There is remote participation, yes. Over the years there was great progress made, and now everything is webcast live and also recorded. There are remote moderators for each session. Over the years we've found technology is not necessarily the main obstacle, it's also how to involve remote participants in the session; so remote moderators are there to help. By now this is a standard feature, and I think the IGF has been fairly pioneering in remote participation. Also we have pioneered the idea of remote hubs, where there are people who get together at a university or technical institution, and they meet to watch the proceedings remotely and interact themselves. That has been proven to be fairly successful, I think over the years. Starting maybe at five or six and now there are about 60 remote hubs at each IGF for local communities watching remotely and forming their own IGF community.