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Last Updated: Monday, 30 October 2006, 07:09 GMT
UK perspective on the net's future
By Emily Taylor
Director of legal and policy, Nominet

The Internet Governance Forum takes place in Athens from 30 October, at which the future of the net will be discussed by thousands of stakeholders - governments, organisations, companies and individuals. But what does the UK have at stake in the discussions?

Without doubt the Internet is an integral part of our everyday lives. Consequently the issue of how the internet is governed is of growing interest to all sections of society.

The Internet Governance Forum (IGF) was established by the United Nations at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in 2005. Although it has no powers to make binding decisions, the IGF is a multi-stakeholder forum that debates a range of issues relating to Internet Governance.

Emily Taylor
The IGF meeting is an opportunity to increase understanding of issues from the perspectives of different stakeholders and nationalities
Emily Taylor

The IGF represents a huge procedural step forwards because as recently as 2003 it would have been unthinkable to some that major issues on internet governance would be debated by anyone other than governments themselves.

It seems logical that something so distributed and open as the internet would benefit from a multi-stakeholder approach, and it is encouraging to see that this is beginning to happen.

High interest

The first annual meeting of the IGF will be held in Athens from 30 October to 2 November 2006, and it is designed to promote dialogue between all stakeholders, internet users, governments, industry and the private sector.

The IGF has attracted a high level of interest with over 1,500 people registered to attend and promises to be a global gathering with representatives from the international community, business, government, and civil society preparing to take part.

The discussion will focus on four specific areas: openness, security, diversity and access.

Nominet, an independent and not-for-profit internet registry services specialist, whose core business is management of .uk domain names, recently held a pre-IGF event in London.

This provided a platform for UK internet community stakeholders from a range of backgrounds to consider and discuss topics from the Athens agenda from a UK perspective.

A key theme that emerged from Nominet's event was that the UK can boast a number of success stories that highlight the benefits of the multi-stakeholder approach to governance.

'Good citizens'

A specific example is the work of the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) who, by working closely with government and the internet industry has significantly reduced the number of images of child abuse held on UK servers in the past 10 years. In 1996 the figure was 18%, compared with less than 1% currently.

This is one of a number of initiatives taken by "good citizens" that have not required legislation to bring them into effect.

The traditional barriers between regulators and the rest of the world are being blurred by organisations taking responsibility for their own actions, and for the welfare of the communities they serve.

The IGF meeting is an opportunity to increase understanding of issues from the perspectives of different stakeholders and nationalities.

For instance, on the topic of access, UK internet users may focus on accessibility for disabled users, whilst for many overseas representatives, particularly those from developing countries, the main issue would be the costs of inter-connectivity.

Anti-spam toolkit

In addition to the discussions there will be a number of practical takeaways in terms of workshops: Nominet is co-organising one on participation in internet governance organisations which will illustrate how the internet community can positively influence existing institutions; and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is running a very practical anti-spam toolkit workshop.

Representatives from UK government, private sector and civil society will find the IGF is a good opportunity to form "coalitions of the willing", building common interest groups by networking and forging new relationships.

One of the major benefits is that the IGF is open to all.

As Nitin Desai, chair of the UN Advisory Group to the IGF said at the Nominet event: "The IGF has no membership, it's an open door, a town hall, all views are welcome."

Emily Taylor is director of Legal and Policy at Nominet and the only UK-based member of the Advisory Group to the Internet Governance Forum.

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