Tuesday, October 22

Internet Governance Forum meets again [updated]

It is that time of the year, when the annual Internet Governance Forum (IGF) meets again. This year, the event is hosted by Indonesian government and we are in Bali. I won't lie, concentrating in a beautiful place like this, surrounded by stunning beach hasn't been easy (especially when you are the only person dressed in business causal outfit while the rest of the guests walk around in their bikinis and other summer attire).  

This year's general theme is Enhancing Multistakeholder Cooperation for Growth and Sustainable Development. As it has been in the past years, the guests of the conference represent a diverse group- government representatives, civil society institutions, media, academia, human rights defenders, freedom of press advocates, activists, journalists, and bloggers.

I have only been to two IGFs but its enough to compare. Whether it was the internet, the venue or any other logistical matter, IGF2013 was by far, better organized than IGF2012 in Baku. There were shuttle buses waiting for guests at the airport not to mention a registration table set up at the arrival terminal. Of course, visas were issued upon arrival with no difficulties (this is not to say that there weren't visa issues- many participants, especially those traveling from Africa had difficulties to either obtain visa, or missed the forum, because they were managed to get it on time). 

The registration on the first day of the forum was also very quick. Perhaps it was because our delegation arrived early but still it did seem all throughout the day, that the registration line moved more or less quick.

Last year I attended IGF as an independent, this year however,  I am here as part of a kick ass Freedom House delegation and its been a privilege to be here with them (in fact, check out the Freedom on the Net reports published by the Freedom House this year).

Some highlights

Registration: The registration process was very efficient as I mentioned earlier.  One strange encounter was when I received my badge, it had my picture from last year IGF. I don't remember signing any papers letting IGF Secretariat keep my photo. As it turned out later during the day I wasn't the only one. Few more people who attended IGF last year in Azerbaijan were issued badges with photos from last year (as I discovered later, it wasn't only the photos from last year but also USB sticks too). 

Another bizarre experience was meeting Miss Internet Bali 2013- indeed, you didn't misread that. There was Miss Internet, who was the pageant winner (if you are fluent in Indonesian you can learn more about it here). According to an article in Jakarta post I found online the winner is the 19 year old Dewa Ayu Windu Sari Devi. She is a student at the Udayana University's School of Economics. Her extensive knowledge on Internet usage and services in Indonesia got her the prize. Devi is going to be the symbol of using the Internet "smartly and wisely" reported Jakarta post.

Wifi: the internet connection which was terrible last year (not to mention completely inaccessible during some of the sessions which focused on the human rights or freedom of expression issues in particular) was working just fine here (some participants had some difficulties connecting); each meeting room had a giant stand set up with a list of names of each sessions scheduled to take place in these rooms. The leaflet distributed upon registration with the IGF program provided the map of the venue with room names and numbers. 

I think the main reason why it was different this year was because for Azerbaijani government it wasn't so much about the quality of organizing but about simply having an event like this in order to add it to its list of "trophies" (there is an Azerbaijan booth here proudly distributing a report from last year's IGF, but proudly failing to mention anything about the human rights discussions or press freedom related criticism raised during the meetings). As an alternative you can read this report titled "False Freedom" that just came out. 

Issues discussed: Throughout the week some very interesting and important discussions were made-highlighting safety of bloggers, protecting rights of online activists, the role of governments in ensuring safety of users and free access of information and more (for the list of workshops and sessions see here). Surely there were sessions when internet policies of repressive governments was questioned and the lack of accountability measures- of holding governments responsible- highlighted. But whether there is going to be a solution to this any time soon is yet to be seen.

Wrapping up this one week long event, I am looking back and thinking of ways of taking back with me the knowledge (especially on online security) and contacts and hoping that meetings like IGF have more impact on certain governments and issues. But also get their control mechanism in order- because it is no doubt interesting that IGF is hosted in countries where human rights and freedom of the press records are not necessarily at their best. 

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