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Forum in Greece tackles internet governance

Extending internet access to poorer nations is a key issue at the conference

(Keystone)

Online access and security are high on the agenda of an international conference on internet governance taking place in Athens from Monday.

The meeting of the Internet Governance Forum in the Greek capital has been organised by the Geneva-based Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG) led by a Swiss, Markus Kummer.

"The creation of the forum was one of the concrete results of the Geneva World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in 2003 and the follow-up meeting in Tunis in 2005," Kummer explained.

"There was a sort of vacuum in the face of problems caused by the internet. No international organisation dealt with them."

The forum aims to be a platform for dialogue to exchange information and experiences.

Kummer, whose WGIG is based at the United Nations, explained that the meeting was not a place for negotiations about the internet. It would not take decisions but could make recommendations.

He added that this was the first time that all the major players concerned by the internet were meeting for the first time.

The four-day talks are bringing together representatives from about 90 governments, the private sector, universities and the internet community.

The deputy director of the Federal Office of Communications, Frédéric Riehl, is representing Switzerland.

Issues

Debate is taking place in 36 workshops on topics including the free circulation of information, access to knowledge, security issues such as spam, cyber crime and the protection of data, and access to infrastructure, particularly in developing countries.

"A billion people on the planet now have internet access. That means that there are another five billion who do not," Kummer stressed.

No agreements were reached on more political issues during previous information summits in Geneva and Tunis, and preparatory meetings for the forum in February and May.

This included control of addresses and domain names by the Internet Corporation For Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) in the United States.

A number of countries would like to see the work of this non-profit body transferred to an international institution, but the US in particular is against such a move.

Kummer said that the role of ICANN was not on the agenda of the Athens talks.

No repetition

"A repetition of the debate held at the Tunis summit would not be useful," but he emphasised that the mandate of the forum was very broad.

"Some governments would have liked to continue the debate on ICANN begun at the World Summit on the Information Society. But others feel that to have a fruitful debate during this first forum, we have to discuss other points raised by internet governance," he told swissinfo.

The forum has also invited young people to give their views on the world wide web.

"Governments are always late when it comes to technology. We expect representatives from the young generation to tell us if the issues we are treating are out of date and if there are emerging topics we should be tackling."

"It's this generation that is changing internet usage," Kummer commented.

The forum has a five-year lifespan. After the talks in Athens, meetings will be held next year in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, in India in 2008 and in Egypt in 2009.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

During the second phase of the WSIS in Tunis in November 2005, the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, was invited to convene a new forum allowing for dialogue among all parties: The Internet Governance Forum.

The forum's first meeting is being held from October 30 – November 2 in Athens and brings together governments, businesses and civil society.

It will debate four main themes: openness, security, diversity and access.

The forum is pursuing the main aim of the WSIS to allow everyone on the planet to take advantage of the internet and encourage development thanks to information and communication technologies.

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