What is the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) and how was it created?

The Digital Summit (IGF – Internet Governance Forum) is a UN initiative that has been held annually for 16 years now. The impetus for the initiative was the dynamic development of the Internet. The main goal guiding the creators was to create a platform for the exchange of ideas related to the evolution of the Internet, which brings together representatives from all walks of life, including government, academia, the private sector, NGOs and international organizations, as well as experts. The forum helps to achieve mutual understanding on such important aspects as maximizing the opportunities of the Internet’s development and the risks associated with it. Discussions held at the Digital Summit do not directly result in legal changes, but their conclusions are an important voice that inspires legislators.

The origins of the IGF date back to 2003, when the World Summit on the Information Society in Geneva expressed the need to continue the dialogue on Internet governance and asked the UN Secretary-General to establish a Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG). Its task was to prepare a report defining what Internet governance is and what are the tasks and spheres of responsibility of stakeholders. The report was presented in 2005 during the second phase of the World Summit on the Information Society, held in Tunis. Summit participants again approached the UN Secretary General, this time to establish the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) as a transparent, democratic, multi-stakeholder platform for discussing Internet governance issues.

The competencies of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) are defined in Section 72 of the Tunis Agenda. These include facilitation of discourse on the Internet, particularly in the area of Internet governance public policy; identifying emerging issues and bringing them to the attention of relevant bodies and making recommendations; fostering the exchange of information and good practices using the expertise of the scientific, academic and technical communities; and helping to find solutions to problems arising from the use or misuse of the Internet.

Structure of IGF activities

The annual meetings of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) consist of several panels. The core one is the main session – organized by the Multistakeholder Advisory Group (MAG) – where discussion of the most important topics of the meeting is undertaken. Unlike the other panels, no other meetings are held at the same time during the main session, so that everyone involved can participate. Another panel is called the Open Forum, which presents the activities of international organizations and governments in the field of Internet governance that have been carried out over the past year. Workshops are also held during the Digital Summit. Proposals for workshop topics are publicly announced and then evaluated and selected by the Multistakeholder Advisory Group within three months before the meeting.

After the Digital Summit, a summary of the proceedings is drawn up to highlight the most important issues, including recommended actions and solutions.

The Internet Governance Forum is not only an annual meeting, but also an inter-session activity. Dynamic Coalitions (DCs) are multi-stakeholder, self-organizing initiatives focused on exploring selected Internet governance issues. There are currently as many as 21 Dynamic Coalitions, and the topics they address include child safety on the Internet and Internet laws and rules. The Best Practices Forums (BPFs) are a platform for sharing experiences among stakeholders. They help create and share best practices in Internet governance. The Best Practices Forums have dealt with the topics of spam and cyber security, among others. Other activities overseen by the IGF Secretariat, of which there are as many as 135, are the IGF’s National, Regional and Youth Initiatives (NRIs). These focus on the issues most relevant from the perspective of a particular region or community.

The theme and program for this year’s IGF 2021 Summit in Katowice, Poland.

This year’s Digital Summit was held December 6-10 at the Katowice International Convention Center and followed a hybrid format. The organizers reported that as many as 7,000 participants from all over the world attended the event over five days. The slogan for this year’s event was “Internet United”. – an open, indivisible and free internet for all users.

The IGF 2021 program was centered around two main thematic areas. The first was economic and social inclusion and human rights, while the second was universal access and meaningful connectivity. In addition to the main topics of debate, four cross-cutting problem areas were set. The first concerned new regulations on market structure, published content, data, and consumer rights and protection. The second was devoted to the topic of environmental sustainability and climate change. The third was inclusive Internet governance ecosystems and digital cooperation. And the fourth dealt with trust, security, stability.

More than 300 sessions and side events were held throughout the Summit. Out of 203 workshop proposals submitted, 83 were selected and held, which best fit into the problem areas of this year’s meeting. Topics covered at the workshops included freedom of speech on the Internet, protection of child users, e-commerce, responsibilities and digital rights, among others.

On the inaugural day, a debate was held on smart cities of the future, the so-called smart cities. The discussion was attended by representatives of central and local governments, experts, representatives of international institutions and cities.

The organizers’ intention was to involve young people, who make up the majority of network users, as much as possible. With this in mind, the Youth Internet Governance Forum was organized as one of the accompanying events.

The official inauguration of the Summit was attended by Polish President Andrzej Duda. He remotely delivered a speech in which he stressed the importance of digital transformation for global well-being. The President also noted the need to collectively seek answers to the most important questions related to the development of technology: how to best benefit from digitization on a global scale? How to protect human rights online? How do technological advances affect the vision of future education?

UN Secretary-General António Guterres noted in his speech that: “Digital technology has helped save lives by enabling millions of people to work, study and socialize safely online. But the pandemic has also widened the digital divide and exposed the dark side of technology: the instantaneous spread of disinformation, the manipulation of human behavior and much more.” The Secretary General also stressed the need to intensify cooperation to cope with the challenges.

The summit was attended by our experts, who participated in a number of panels, such as: Youth Talk about IoT Security and AI misuse and Youth in IG policy-making process: Let’s talk about the MHLB. We encourage you to check out the photo report below.