World discusses internet future
BBC | October 30 2006
The future of the net is the ambitious topic under discussion at the first global Internet Governance Forum, being held in Athens over the next five days.
It has been set up by the UN to give governments, companies, organisations and individuals space for debate.
Nitin Desai, chair of the organising body for IGF, has said the forum needed "dialogue in good faith".
He warned that the biggest challenge in making the IGF successful was a "potential culture clash".
In a column for the BBC News website, Mr Desai said: "The forum will give voice to the citizens of the global net and help identify emerging issues which need to be tackled in the formal processes."
The forum is not a decision-making body but instead is designed to give stakeholders in the internet a chance to form consensus around key areas.
More than 1,500 delegates from the around the world will be attending the meeting.
The four key agendas for the conference are security, diversity, openness and access.
Emily Taylor, the legal director of Nominet, the UK body in charge of the .uk domain name, said the forum was important to internet users because it would be tackling issues that matter to them.
"Issues around spam, cybersecurity, openness, what are the blocks to freedom of speech? - they speak to all internet users directly."
She added: "Everybody has an experience of spam, sadly a lot of people have an experience of phishing attacks.
"People have got experience of viruses. They might be aware that internationally there are different approaches to freedom of speech - not just the obvious examples of regimes cracking down on content.
"Within Europe there are issues around dealing with content that is perhaps not illegal but distasteful to some countries and not to others.
"These are issues that matter."
The IGF was borne out of the World Summit on the Information Society meetings, the last of which was held in Tunis.
Some felt that the aims of WSIS were overshadowed by debates around the control of the internet and controversy over internationalised domain names - ie giving countries which do not use or understand the Latin alphabet the ability to navigate the internet in their own script.
The move towards internationalised domain names is being overseen by Icann, the body appointed by the US Department of Commerce to oversee domain names such as .com and .org.
Tina Dam, director of Icann's IDN program, said the body had taken a "huge step forward" in resolving the issue.
It has recently started testing internationalised domain names with its engineers.
"People have been waiting for us to start testing for some time," she said.
Ms Taylor said the forum was there to debate issues that relate to the use and misuse of internet.
"I know, from speaking to ordinary users, that these issues are much more on their minds than discussions about who manages the internet and what is exactly the role of the US government."
Mr Desai said the forum was important because it gave people the chance to discuss how the internet was evolving.
"The net has outgrown its origins as a network run by and for computer specialists.
"[The forum] is about the future, the net as it will be some years from now and how we can give a voice to all who use it."
Ms Taylor said: "The key thing is that anyone who is interested can take part - whether they rock up in Athens or take part via blogs.
"That's a major change of process from the past."
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