Member of the European Commission responsible for Information Society and Media
Why the Internet must be open, global and multilingual
Opening speech at the Internet Governance Forum
Sharm El Sheikh, 15 November 2009
I n her opening speech to the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Sharm El Sheikh, EU Commissioner Viviane Reding says that the IGF must continue "as a unique forum where we can engage in open, non-binding and multi-stakeholder dialogue". The EU therefore calls for an extension of the mandate of this unique forum of the global Internet Community until 2015. The Commissioner also draws attention to areas of internet governance that can be addressed by this kind of dialogue: international domain names and child safety online. She announces the EU’s intention to let internet users and businesses have internationalised domain names on Europe’s own Top Level Domain – .eu – as soon as possible. She stresses the responsibility public authorities in making sure the internet is free and open. She calls the new arrangements for ICANN regarding accountability and a more multilateral approach “promising” and calls for their effective implementation “in the real time of the Internet community”.
Excellencies, Ministers, Parliamentarians, Honoured guests, and, most important: dear internet users!
I am delighted to have the opportunity to address this meeting of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF). Since my participation at the first forum in Athens in 2006, the IGF has continued to show its value. The consistently high number of participants at the IGF, as well as the quality of the discussions, demonstrates the need for such a forum and is a mark of its success. It is a unique forum where the global Internet Community can engage in open, non-binding, multi-stakeholder dialogue, in order to examine and try to address the many issues that arise from our heavy reliance on the internet, in our homes, schools, businesses, universities, research labs and governments.
I am aware that some would criticise precisely this recipe for success. But I would ask them: how else can we build together global responses to the global challenges raised by the internet? Where else can any internet player from anywhere in the world come and express his or her view on these global responses? Where else we could have such open, enriching debate? The unity of the internet has brought so many positive effects and we must strive to maintain and strengthen this.
This is why the introduction of internationalised domain names is a big step to a truly global and at the same time local internet and it is therefore a key part of our talks today. Around the world, work on IDN Top Level Domains is now well advanced, and final steps towards their introduction should be taken in the coming months. This is especially important to the European Union, which works in so many languages. Non-Latin characters are essential for languages like Bulgarian, which uses Cyrillic ; and Greek – the Greek alphabet has been used to write the since the early 8th century BC . We want to let internet users and businesses have internationalised domain names on our own Top Level Domain – .eu – as soon as possible.
Many existing and future internet users come, or will come, from countries where languages are not based on the "a to z” Latin script. Users in China, Russia, here in Egypt and many others naturally may want to use their own scripts.
The internet is as much about the local and the personal as it is about the global, after all. That has helped in the promotion of freedom of expression and of access to information. We need to work hard to ensure that this remains the case.
The IGF succeeds because it deals with such a wide range of issues. Indeed it provides us with the possibility to address the "a-z" of internet governance challenges. Because the internet keeps growing and affecting key areas of life, not just technical issues, the forum is essential to addressing all these issues. Take safer internet for children, for example. As we come to terms with the fact that our "digitally native" children are way ahead of us in the way they use the internet, we have had to accept that their protection online is a matter of governance that must be addressed. The European Commission has been working to make the internet safer for young people since 1999. We know that despite the many advantages of the internet there are also dangers like illegal and harmful content, and risks of illegal online conduct, such as grooming. We have to actively ensure that children are protected on the web. Our Safer Internet programme supports awareness raising activities towards children, parents, and teachers and is run by local bodies across Europe, under the umbrella of the Insafe network.
Finally, I want to underline that IGF also succeeds because of the participation of governments and public administrations, which each must play their special part in the governance of the internet. A bottom-up, private sector led approach is certainly best suited to the day-to-day management of internet domain names. However, government can and must play a role in public policy internet issues where the general public's interest must be protected.
I am thinking of the billions of internet users who do not participate in governance meetings such as this one. They expect their governments to protect and promote their interests. I just mentioned child protection online. The parents of internet users expect governments to make sure their children are safe online. And e-Commerce: what would an online shopper say if he or she asked whether governments should combat fraud and protect their consumer rights online?
But in addition to helping our citizens online, we should not overlook the key role governments have to play in keeping the internet free and open. We all know that the Internet has grown so rapidly because of its openness. This is why it has become such a valuable economic resource. If users want an open and neutral internet, they must actively encourage their governments to protect it. And governments must respond as positively as the European Union, following the call from the European Parliament, did this month in the reform of Europe’s telecoms rules, where we reaffirmed for the first time in transnational law the fundamental rights of internet users against government measures that could limit their internet access, notably the right to effective and timely judicial review, to prior, fair procedures, the presumption of innocence and the right to privacy.
I also recognise in this context the important step that was made by the United States with the reform of ICANN anno unced at the end of September. The new arrangements for ICANN regarding accountability and a more multilateral approach look promising from the EU’s perspective. Let’s now work together to make sure that they are effectively implemented in the real time of the Internet community.
An open Internet is also an inclusive Internet. There are billions of people still without internet access. They must not be forgotten, nor must we make decisions now that they will regret in the years to come. We must act now to make sure that the global community can participate fully and equally in the important processes that underlie the development and future of the internet. The IGF, with its emphasis on the local as well as the global, with its depth and range of issues, and its diverse audience is and will continue to contribute to this objective. That is why we need it, and must encourage it. I have no doubt about its continued success, not just at its fifth meeting in Vilnius next year, but beyond.
Before that next meeting there will be discussions on whether the IGF should continue to meet beyond 2010. For me the answer is easy: the IGF must continue, and I invite you all to support a first extension until 2015 .
Thank you very much for your attention.