This year’s Canadian IGF was quite nostalgic. Its approach was similar to some of the past United Nations Internet Governance Forum. A couple of years ago at the UN Internet Governance Forum, the narrative that shaped the human rights discussions was more about our rights on the Internet than the Internet threatening our rights. It was about how we used the Internet to the benefit of humankind and how its governance enabled Internet users to communicate and use information services on the Internet regardless of the geopolitical tensions. Those days are gone, as the UN IGF has been turned into a battle of states and stakeholders wanting to regulate the Internet to prevent us from being harmed and protecting our rights. Perhaps the UN IGF needs to revisit its approach by learning from Canada IGF.
Canada’s Different IG Narrative
The Canadian IGF was a breath of fresh air in terms of reminding the Internet community that by using the Internet they transcended borders and brought the most isolated users a form of communication that dominates many aspects of our life today. While the sessions did not deny the problems, and in fact the final session was about Internet control and challenges that the Internet faced, there was no cyber-doomsday narrative dominating the discussions. They were rational actors discussing problems, and considering solutions.
Byron Holland from the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA) told us that we ought to find solutions for the problems we face on the Internet but also consider how these solutions affect our freedom and freedom of speech. Not having lost his optimism about the Internet, Byron invited us to think about how to bring the other 3 billion online (and not only Canadians). The keynote delivered by Tucows CEO, Elliot Noss started with an old but perhaps timelier than ever message, that the Internet is a post-nation technology, it is transnational and it should be kept that way. He also warned us against fearmongering when it comes to global technology with a lot of potentials. He asked the Canadians to stand up and shape policies and governance mechanisms regarding the Internet in the Internet global community.
The Future of Internet Governance
During the panel on Canada’s role in the future of Internet governance, it was mentioned that States are increasingly regulating the Internet and as a result, its global interoperability might be endangered. An interesting interaction regarding the extraterritorial impact of regulations took place when Marie Aspiazu of Open Media asked the panel whether people from outside Europe have the right to be concerned about regulations that affect the Internet globally, such as the EU Copyright Directive. Konstantinos Komaitis of ISOC, who has been working on unintended consequences of extraterritorial regulations, responded: “hellz yeah, you have the right to be concerned and you should be.”
The divide between the Internet governance community and the governmental cybersecurity agencies that frame many cybersecurity issues as a national security issue was also mentioned as a threat to multistakeholder, bottom-up processes of Internet governance.
As to the role of Canada in the future of Internet governance, the Canadian Internet community and its various stakeholders at least declare the importance of respecting rights on the Internet and some in practice show us better than others that they practice what they preach. With a ‘post-national’ approach to Internet governance, Canadian stakeholders could be the initiators of novel processes for Internet governance. They are in a strategic position as comparatively more rational actors, to help initiate multistakeholder Internet governance processes globally and bring the world together to preserve the global, interoperable nature of the Internet.
* The 2019 Canadian Internet Governance Forum represented an unprecedented level of collaboration between Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA), Innovation, Science, Economic Development Canada (ISED), CANARIE, the Internet Society (ISOC), Youth IGF Canada, and the Samuelson-Glushko Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic at the Centre for Law, Technology and Society (CIPPIC) at the University of Ottawa.