November 17th, 2009 | Published in Google Public Policy
Delegates from around the world are in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, this week for the annual Internet Governance Forum. This is the fourth year of the IGF, meetings started by the United Nations, the mandate of which is to encourage discussion about cross-cutting international Internet policies. The big question is whether this forum ought to carry on beyond its five-year trial run, which ends next year. We think it should.
Some say that because IGF talks are non-binding, they're ineffective. We think the opposite is true. The unfettered nature of the IGF, while sometimes chaotic, gives it real power. It encourages active participation and free and open discussion. It's this openness and robustness that makes the IGF valuable.
Not that it's always easy, of course. Anyone can attend, anyone can speak, a government official has the same access to the microphone as a civil society representative, a small business as a diplomat. Multiple panel sessions run simultaneously, with delegates choosing the issues that deserve their attention, attendance and time. In fact very much like the internet with no central control but an open platform with choice of direction in the hands of the user and participant.
The IGF thus fosters a textured debate that can serve as an early warning system, alerting stakeholders to important emerging issues. At Google we've used these exchanges to influence our thinking and improve our services. But we've also seen debate influence specialized institutions like ICANN.
We find the healthy debate at the IGF invaluable. We hope it will continue to be a critical forum for important Internet policy issues like open access, Internet abuse, free expression and privacy.