Debating commences as Internet Governance Forum convenes

By: nart on 31 October 2006
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The Inaugural Meeting of the UN-sponsored Internet Governance Forum (IGF) -- a dialogue bringing together over 1,000 Internet experts and stakeholders from 90 countries -- opened on Monday, Oct. 30. Issues under discussion at the four-day meeting include openness, security, diversity of content, and access or connectivity.

Day 1 saw debates on the rules governing web addresses and domain names (transcripts available at IGF website). Critics of the current system argue that the regulation of domain names by the U.S.-based Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) gives the United States undue control over the Internet. Thus, calls at the IGF for the implementation of internationalized domain names (IDN) consisting of non-Latin characters echo a more resounding call for the formation of a supranational body that would assume regulatory power from ICANN and the United States.

ICANN's chairman has responded by pointing to the technical challenges associated with IDNs and the implications of a fragmented Internet for global interoperability. However, human rights organizations are raising more fundamental concerns. Reporters Without Borders has cautioned that a new regulatory system could transfer power to repressive governments, resulting in a more restricted climate for online expression. Amnesty International and its delegation to the IGF voiced similar worries in a "Call to Bloggers" issued shortly before the IGF convened: "The Internet Governance Forum needs to know that the online community is bothered about free expression online and willing to stand up for it."