Global Internet forum opens

The first Internet Governance Forum (IGF) under the auspices of the United Nations opened yesterday at the Divani Apollon Palace in the seaside suburb of Vouliagmeni, south of Athens. The meeting, set to last until Thursday, will tackle a wide range of issues, including domain name registration, security, cybercrime, spam, access, freedom of speech and privacy. The number of delegates swelled to 1,500, making it impossible for almost half of them to fit into the venue’s main conference room. Outgoing UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who was scheduled to attend, canceled. In his place, he sent his special adviser for Internet Governance Nitin Desai, UN undersecretary-general for economic and social affairs. Other attendees include the so-called «fathers of the Internet,» Vinton Cerf and Robert E. Kahn, the joint inventors of the TCP/IP protocol used for communication in the Internet; Yoshio Utsumi, secretary-general of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU); Viviane Reding, European commissioner for information society and the media; and Paul Twomey, CEO of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which assigns domain names and is at the center of an ongoing controversy about Internet governance. Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis opened the forum and Transport and Communications Minister Michalis Liapis presided over the morning session. The differences over Internet governance were apparent from the opening session. Utsumi expressed the clearest reservations about the role of ICANN and repeated objections that the California-based organization is essentially a Western tool that neglects «local priorities.» This sort of criticism implies that developing countries are given very little say on issues such as domain names. It has been said that the ITU wants to supply ICANN as the overseer of domain names. But Utsumi himself stressed that «the future of Internet governance is inevitably local rather than global.» He pointedly rejected suggestions, many coming from the ICANN people and their allies, that this debate pits technicians against international bureaucrats who «don’t get it.» By cutting its ties to the US government, ICANN has at least managed to shift the debate away from whether the US does, or wants to, dominate the Internet. Cerf, one of two US members on the ICANN board, insisted that the issue of the domain names and the demand for «multilingualism,» that is, the ability to have domain names in any language and not just in Latin characters, is a technical issue, a view directly contradicted by Reding.