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Last Updated: Friday, 27 October 2006, 10:57 GMT 11:57 UK
Q&A: Internet Governance Forum
The first United Nations' Internet Governance Forum opens in Athens on Monday with thousands of delegates attending to discuss the future of the net.

Q. What is the Internet Governance Forum?

The IGF was set up by the United Nations as a forum for stakeholders in the internet to discuss its future.

Stakeholders can be anyone and any organisation - from national governments, commercial organisations, charitable bodies to individual interested parties.

It was formed out of the World Summit for the Information Society meetings, the last of which was held in Tunis in last year.

The first IGF will be held in Athens from 30 October to 5 November.

Q. What happens at the IGF?

Discussions. The IGF is not a decision-making body. It has no control over the internet or power to make any decisions about the internet's constitution and future.

The purpose of the IGF is to get all interested parties together in one place to discuss key issues about the internet, to help form consensus so that those who do have control over the net sit up and take notice.

Q. So who does run the internet?

Oversight of the internet effectively rests with the US Department of Commerce. But much of the day to day organisation of the net - from what domain names, i.e. .com, .uk, can be issued to what unique identifying numbers for machines connected to the net will have - rests with a body called Icann.

Icann has constituents from all over the world who oversee the development of the net in their respective countries.

Q. So what kinds of discussions will take place at IGF?

The forum has been divided into four key areas - openness, security, diversity and access.

Q. What are the issues around openness?

The debates will concentrate on freedom of expression and free flow of information, ideas and knowledge.

With ever increasing amounts of personal data being stored on the net and ever more sophisticated search engines able to find personal information, how can privacy be maintained?

Some believe that total transparency online will mean privacy is sacrificed for greater openness but others feel that those with power are always less transparent than those without.

The forum will also debate issues around freedom of expression and the methods some governments have used to block people from exchanging ideas and information.

Q. What are the issues around security?

The net has become an indispensable tool for government and for finance but security issues such as spam, phishing and viruses remain. The forum will discuss how better to protect people online.

Better tools for filtering out spam e-mails are being developed in the private sector but there is a fear among some groups that these tools can also be abused and used by oppressive regimes not just to block spam but to selectively block any information they choose.

Q. What are the issues around diversity?

There is a feeling among countries such as China and India that the internet is too anglicised and not enough work has been done to allow non-English speakers to use the internet in their native language.

The problem is not with the content of web pages but with the way people have to navigate the internet. At the moment all websites, no matter where in the world and for whom, have to have an English url, or link in the Latin script.

For example - users of Yahoo in China have to type www.yahoo.cn, even though the majority of people in the country do not know the Latin alphabet.

Many countries want more effort placed on internationalised domain names. Icann, the body with responsibility for domain names, say it is moving as swiftly as it can.

That has not stopped warnings from some that the net could be broken up into different linguistic ghettoes if internationalised domain names do not become a reality soon.

Q. What are the issues around access?

The net has developed as an essentially regulation-free tool over the last two decades. But as the net's importance grows some countries feel the net should be more closely regulated.

The development of sites such as YouTube and MySpace has resulted in calls for closer scrutiny of the types of content that can be posted online.

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