The 12 key inter-governmental meetings of 2012

The Internet governance dance card gets fuller every year as each stakeholder group adds its own meetings on various isssues to the mix. Below is a list of 12 meetings within the global inter-governmental space to keep an eye on in 2012.


February


1. Panel discussion on freedom of expression on the Internet

To be held during 19th Session of the Human Rights Council (HRC).
When: 27 February - 23 March
Where: Geneva

What it is

Tentatively scheduled for 12pm-3pm, 29 February 2012, a multi-stakeholder panel of experts and representatives of governments, the UN system, the business sector and civil society will discuss the issue of freedom of expression on the Internet. The panel is the result of a decision at the 18th HRC session sponsored by Sweden, and supported by countries as diverse as Austria, Brazil, India, South Africa and the USA.

Why it is important

The HRC provides supporters of an open Internet with a more sympathetic venue following the publication of the Special Rapporteur report, one of the few major documents within the UN system that argues for freedom of expression of the Internet. Contrast this with United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) First Committee and ITU work, which concentrate more on cybersecurity and the associated need to curb uses of the Internet deemed to be security risks.


April


2. Global INET 2012

When: 22-24 April
Where: Geneva

What it is

Although Global INET 2012 is not an intergovernmental meeting, it is included in this list because of role of the Internet Society (ISOC) in facilitating the participation of stakeholders from around the world in a wide spectrum of Internet governance issues. Global INET 2012 marks the 20th anniversary of the founding of ISOC and will be the biggest INET event to date, looking at current issues in Internet governance as well as looking at where the Internet might be in another 20 years.

Why it is important

With many of the UN-related discussions on the Internet this year focusing on how agencies can enhance their involvement in Internet governance, Global INET 2012, most likely to be attended by "friends of the Internet", will be a venue to promote the current model of Internet management and governance. Given the expected 1,000 attendees at the Global INET, it is likely to be a good place for policy makers to hold side meetings to discuss how to prepare for the rest of the year's intergovernmental Internet governance events, including the enhanced cooperation consultation in May.


May


3. WSIS Forum

When: 14-18 May
Where: Geneva

What it is

Every year since the 2005 WSIS Tunis Phase, there has been a May meeting to discuss implementation of the 11 WSIS action lines. The WSIS Forum is open to all WSIS stakeholders, and provides remote participation options. In 2010 and 2011, IGF preparatory meetings were held during the WSIS Forum week.

Why it is important

The IGF and the concept of "enhanced cooperation" are both outcomes of the 2005 WSIS Tunis Phase. As such, their developments are part of the larger WSIS family of outcomes. Add to this the 10th anniversary of the WSIS Geneva and Tunis Phases coming up in 2013 and 2015, resulting in discussions at the UNGA and ITU about how to mark the occasion with a WSIS+10 event (possibly in 2014). Finally, with some discussion within the CSTDWG on IGF improvements suggesting IGF should have a stronger link with WSIS, and with the second phase of IGF ending in 2015, the 2012 WSIS Forum is worth keeping an eye on.


4. Enhanced cooperation open consultations

When: 18 May
Where: Geneva

What it is

Held just before the CSTD 15th Session and parallel to the last day of the WSIS Forum, this consultation will be the latest in a long running discussion held sporadically since the WSIS Tunis Phase on what "enhanced cooperation" is. This consultation is being held with the aim of reaching some sort of consensus amongst different stakeholders on what "enhanced cooperation" is and how it should proceed. If the consultations follow the model of those held in 2010, anyone from an organization with ECOSOC consultative status or WSIS accreditation can attend.

Why it is important

For some governments, "enhanced cooperation" is a governments-only process. If this were to be the agreed way forward, then there would be two Internet governance systems in place: one being the multistakeholder (including governments) system in place through IGF, ICANN, etc, while the other would be an intergovernmental UN system. While there are already intergovernmental processes in place to discuss Internet governance (for example, OECD and IBSA), it is not yet clear how a global intergovernmental system of enhanced cooperation would affect the multistakeholder model of Internet governance.


5. 15th Regular CSTD Session

When: 21-25 May
Where: Geneva

What it is

This is the annual meeting where the 43 Member States of the CSTD review the past year's activities and make resolutions about its future work in the areas of science and technology for development. Discussions on the Internet are a relatively new addition to the CSTD's activities.

Why it is important

This is the meeting where the Chair of the CSTDWG on IGF improvements will present his final report. Also, based on its 2011 WSIS resolution, the meeting will consider a report from the Secretary General on the Action Plan for WSIS+10. Note that although the CSTD is hosting the enhanced cooperation consultations just before its own meeting, the report of the consultations will be presented by the Secretary General to the 67th UNGA session.


June


6. Council Working Group on International Internet-related Public Policy Issues

When: 8-11 June
Where: Geneva

What it is

Formerly the Dedicated Group on international Internet-related Public Policy Issues, but re-designated after the 2011 ITU Council meeting, meetings of this Member States only group discuss Internet governance issues in a governmental context. Issues that have been discussed in the past include the transition to IPv6, the ITU and other intergovernmental organizations' roles in a number of Internet governance issues including cybersecurity, domain names (particularly the management of dot-int and development of IDNs), and a "new alternative Internet" later renamed the "future Internet". Note that the meeting is not yet listed on the group's own web page, but is listed in general ITU events calendar.

Why it is important

This will be the first meeting of the group since the ITU Council's decision to include a public consultation process in the group's work. Although the public consultation process will not include the ability for those being consulted to read the documents submitted by Member States to the group, the public consultation process does allow for expert advice from non-Member States to be provided for the group's deliberations. With WCIT-12 occurring later in the year, the discussions from the group may form the basis of Internet governance related resolutions at WCIT.


7. Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development

When: 20-22 June
Where: Rio de Janiero

What it is

Twenty years on from the 1992 Earth Summit - formally known as the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) - UN Member States are regrouping to assess progress on sustainable development and address new and emerging issues. One of the original outcome documents from 1992, the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, includes Principal 9, "States should cooperate to strengthen endogenous capacity-building for sustainable development by improving scientific understanding through exchanges of scientific and technological knowledge, and by enhancing the development, adaptation, diffusion and transfer of technologies, including new and innovative technologies." Similar language exists in the initial draft of the outcome document for Rio+20.

Why it is important

In 1992, the Internet was largely unheard of. Now, 20 years later, given the increased importance of the Internet in all spheres, and repeated references within the ITU and IGF to the need for developing countries to be able to participate in Internet governance on an equal footing with developed countries, it is possible that any Internet-related references coming out of Rio+20 may be used to support further Internet governance resolutions at venues like the UNGA.


July


8. 2012 Substantive Session of the ECOSOC

When: Exact dates tba, but probably 2-27 July
Where: Geneva

What it is

Once a year, the 54 Member States that are elected to ECOSOC meet to review the past year's activities and make resolutions on ECOSOC's activities for the following year. Its subsidiary bodies, including the CSTD, send their draft resolutions to the ECOSOC for endorsement.

Why it is important

With the 15th Session of the CSTD in May discussing the recommendations of the CSTDWG on IGF improvements and hosting open consultations on enhanced cooperation, any decisions the CSTD takes on these issues will be reported back and endorsed, and potentially modified, at the ECOSOC meeting.


September


9. 67th Session of the UNGA

When: September
Where: New York

What it is

The United Nations General Assembly is the ultimate UN venue for all 193 Member States to discuss and make decisions on all manner of global issues, from climate change to security issues. Because there is so much to be discussed by the UNGA, it has created main committees to examine issues that fall under six broad areas.

Why it is important

The Secretary General is to report on the outcome of the enhanced cooperation consultation being held in May as part of his report on WSIS implementation. In addition, Internet governance will continue to be discussed as part of the First Committee (cybersecurity), the Second Committee (WSIS outcomes and implementation, IGF improvements) and the Third Committee (HRC's deliberations on freedom of speech on the Internet).


November


10. IGF

When: November
Where: Baku

What it is

The Internet Governance Forum (IGF) is the biggest multi-stakeholder annual Internet governance event that discusses the full gamut of issues, from multi-lingualism to privacy to Internet names and numbers.

Why it is important

This will be the second IGF in the second five-year phase of its mandate. Last year, the first IGF of the second phase was successfully held despite lacking a replacement Executive Coordinator and Special Advisor in the wake of Markus Kummer and Nitin Desai's departures. This year, with those positions still vacant, and the CSTDWG on IGF improvements due to present their report of recommendations, all eyes will be on whether the IGF can continue to be a successful venue for the discussion of Internet governance issues by all stakeholders on an equal footing.


December


11. ITU WCIT-12

When: 3-14 December
Where: Dubai

What it is

The 2012 World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT-12) will review the international binding treaty known as the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs), adopted at the 1988 World Administrative Telegraphy and Telephone Conference (WATTC-88) held in Melbourne.

Why it is important

The last version of the ITRs were developed before the Internet was widely used, and given the increased importance of the Internet, and increasing convergence in telecommunications, it is highly probably that the ITRs will be updated with references to the Internet. Such updates could include definitions of terms in wide use now, such as cybersecurity and spam. As the ITRs decided at this meeting will be internationally binding, it is important to understand the ramifications of any such Internet-related text that is added to the ITRs.


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12. Group of Governmental Experts on Developments in the Field of Information and Telecommunications in the context of International Security

When: No date yet
Where: No location yet

What it is

The 66th UNGA session has adopted resolution A/RES/66/24, which calls for the establishment of a group of government experts in 2012 to continue studying "existing and potential threats in the sphere of information security and possible cooperative measures to address them, including norms, rules or principles of responsible behaviour of States and confidence-building measures with regard to information space". The resolution refers to "information security" in the context of telecommunications, so includes what is elsewhere called "cybersecurity" or "Internet security".

Why it is important

Although the report of the group is not due to be presented until the 68th session of the UNGA in 2013, given the prominence cybersecurity is gaining in other venues-including the ITU and many regional intergovernmental organizations-the work this Member States only group conducts on how to strengthen national and global cybersecurity could have ramifications for other intergovernmental work on cybersecurity as well as on the Internet technical community's work to develop better Internet security standards. It is also worth remembering that the need for security is often used as a reason for reducing openness and freedom of speech on the Internet.