Page last updated at 05:44 GMT, Sunday, 15 November 2009

Net talking shop kicks off debate

Sir Tim Berners-Lee
Web pioneer Sir Tim Berners-Lee will deliver a keynote speech

Egypt should not have been picked as the venue for a key net talking shop, say human rights activists.

Reporters Without Borders said it was "surprised" that the Internet Governance Forum will take place in Egypt's Sharm-el-Sheikh resort.

Set up by the UN, about 1,400 participants are expected to attend the three-day meeting which gets under way on 15 November.

Delegates will debate security, access and the growth of social networks.

In a statement Reporters Without Borders said: "It is astonishing that a government that is openly hostile to internet users is assigned the organisation of an international meeting on the internet's future."

The Internet Governance Forum (IGF) brings together government officials, business folk and net luminaries. Web creator Sir Tim Berners-Lee is due to deliver one of the keynote speeches at the event.

The IGF grew out of a previous meeting called World Summit on the Information Society that was held in Tunisia in 2005.

Originally the IGF was given a five-year mandate and at this year's meeting it will "take stock of the accomplishments...and discuss whether it should be maintained for the future".

The IGF is not a decision-making body, which has led critics to question its role in the running of the net.

Markus Kummer, executive co-ordinator of the IGF, said the forum played an important role.

Equal weight

"It recognises the issues that are significant and puts them on the agenda of those with the ability to do something about it," he said.

"Initially the net community was not keen to have yet another meeting but they have been converted. While it is hard to offer empirical evidence of our success, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence," he said.

He recalls a Pacific islander who travels every year to the conference.

"It is his one-stop meeting to get updated on net developments. As a result of the IGF he has set up an Internet Exchange Point on his island," he said.

The meetings have spawned smaller, regional ones in Africa, the Caribbean and other parts of the world.

The nature of the IGF where government ministers, business leaders, non-governmental organisations are given equal weight has also been important, he thinks.

"One senior official in Kenya said that the government had never talked to stakeholders and now they do, while the head of a large telecommunications firm said he had never spoken to NGOs before but doing so proved beneficial in the development of their products," said Mr Kummer.

Likely to figure high on the agenda will be the debate about how to balance access to information with protecting copyright.

It is a hot topic at the moment as the UK government introduces tough penalties for those who persistently download illegal content, including removing persistent pirates from the net.

France and the US are also pursuing similar policies, while the European Union is also considering how to deal with pirates and whether to make the internet a fundamental right for users.

The growth of social media will also figure large at this year's conference as the forum asks whether the content available via social networks is ushering in a better-informed society.

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