Very few people are aware of it but several *open* discussions in the next few months are going to decide on the formation of a new forum that could well grow to become one of the most important bodies on the planet – the Internet Governance Forum.
The IGF's creation was agreed at the World Summit in November and at the moment is but a list of pretty vague wording on a government-agreed paper [pdf] – see paras 67-79. But an official meeting will take place on 16-17 February at the United Nations headquarters in Geneva that will decide how the IGF's first meeting is run, how the IGF is set up, and what its priorities are.
At the details about it and the meeting can be found on the IGFs website.
It could well become an historic event. Every day the Internet becomes more vital to global and local communities and societies. Because the IGF explicitly does not have decision-making powers, from the various government officials I've spoken to, there is a determination to try to keep politics out of it. Everyone agrees that the Internet has thrown up unique problems and issues and all agree that getting everyone together to discuss them can only be a good thing.
It could all fall to pieces of course – but only if others allow it to happen by not getting in there and making it impossible for discussion to veer off in unhelpful directions.
Governments will be there. Plus of course they already have pre-formed teams of highly talented and eloquent diplomats in place. But it is vital if the Internet is to benefit most for other groups to make an equal showing. Academia, civil society, commerce and individual Internet users really need to make their voices heard.
Today I saw an interesting article by Jonathan Zittrain, who is Professor of Internet Governance and Regulation at Oxford University, and a very pleasant and smart bloke, which outlined the exact need for a body such as I have painted.
He wrote in Without a Net, in the January/February 2006 edition of Legal Affairs, found at the Legal Affairs.org website, about the unavoidable problems coming with the Internet as it is at the moment, and concluded:
What is needed at this point, above all else, is a 21st century international Manhattan Project which brings together people of good faith in government, academia, and the private sector for the purpose of shoring up the miraculous information technology grid that is too easy to take for granted and whose seeming self-maintenance has led us into an undue complacence.
The group's charter would embrace the ethos of amateur innovation while being clear-eyed about the ways in which the research Internet and hobbyist PC of the 1970s and 1980s are straining under the pressures of serving as the world's information backbone.
I couldn't agree more. I am going to do my best to highlight this opportunity to build a useful Internet forum for future generation and hopefully encourage others to get involved.
We shall see what happens.