IGF Day One: Global Conventions and Local Interventions

With the 12th edition of the IGF officially underway, Monday saw the first formal sessions. It was an opportunity for the biggest thinkers – and the biggest actors from business, government and civil society – to offer their assessment of how the Internet was working, and what needed to change.

It was in this context that we heard three different viewpoints. First of all, the Russian minister argued that governments – through the UN system – should be given the final say. This, he argued, was the only way to prevent the Internet going off the rails. This view has raised concerns for some, given that it is already governments that are involved in Internet shutdowns and censorship. More power risks further limitations on the flow of information.

Secondly, Anriette Esterhuysen (APC), backed up by Göran Marby (ICANN) made the case for an Internet run by ‘us’ – its users. Given how central the Internet is to people’s lives, it was essential that the people be at the heart of the Internet. The Internet Governance Forum itself is an example of this, and IFLA and libraries benefit from the possibility of being at the table, underlining the importance of access to information.

It was Brad Smith, President of Microsoft, who made a third suggestion – a Digital Geneva Convention. We’ll hear more about this later in the week, but if it models the original Geneva Convention, it seems likely to focus on preventing the most harmful or disproportionate acts by states – and others – online.

For libraries, these discussions are worth following. A series of national Internets benefits no-one, in particular those countries and communities who stand to benefit from universal access. Yet it is clear also, as highlighted in yesterday’s blog, that there is a growing consensus for action. Ensuring that this is done in a way that is genuinely focused on those activities that are genuinely harmful will be vital. Free expression and access to information cannot become mere collateral damage.

On a more practical note, at the session presenting the 3rd Connecting and Enabling the Next Billion project, we heard about the work of Kafuta Community Library in the Gambia. Alongside other innovative projects bringing people online and giving them the ability to make the most of it, Kafuta is providing everything from basic skills to coding.

Importantly, it retains its community role, offering books and other services. This is a great example of how the Internet and digital skills can be woven into daily life, potentially in a way that enhances uptake. In unconnected communities, where there may still be uncertainty about the Internet, the trusted, familiar role of libraries can be critical.

Work on any international rules is likely to take a long time. But projects like Kafuta are delivering already.

 

Tomorrow, we’ll be speaking at two sessions. The Dynamic Coalition on Public Access in Libraries will start exploring the policy levers available to make public access work (Room XXIII, 12:30pm), and IFLA is organising a Lightning Session on Digital Preservation (IGF Village, 2:40pm).

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