Global Partners is travelling to Egypt at the end of this month to kick off its Transparency and Open InformationÂ project, funded by the Arab Partnership Initiative under the FCO. GPA will be working the its project partner AFAÂ (the Arab Forum for Alternatives) to help set up an information taskforce. The task force will be made up of civilÂ society, academics and public officials. They will draw on experiences from the Global South, specifically KenyaÂ and South Africa, to draw up an action plan around access to information and open data systems for Egyptians.
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The internet is changing the world. Like the printing press before it, the internet is transforming the way humans interact and instigating change, which is spreading through all elements of life. It brings with it a huge range of challenges and opportunities, not least the challenge of governing in a world which is fast changing, decentralised and trans-boundary. The issue of governance was on the agenda at the World Summit on the Information Society in 2003 and 2005. The model adopted was the Internet Governance Forum â€“ an annual open forum where all stakeholder groups (governments, businesses, civil society and the technical community) come together to discuss internet governance issues. The IGF does not make decisions or recommendations but allows multi- stakeholder, bottom-up policy to be made and shapes norms through an inclusive global dialogue. The sixth Forum was held in Nairobi, Kenya, at the end of September, but the future of the IGF is uncertain. Various countries have tired of the dialogue approach and calls for new internet policy bodies abound. Many of these come from developing countries concerned that the â€˜institutional gapâ€™ is being filled by actors who are economically or politically powerful. These include the OECD, the Council of Europe, and global companies, many of whom are western-based. In recent months, IBSA (an initiative by India, Brazil and South Africa) has called for a new global body, and China, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan have jointly suggested â€˜an international code of conduct for the information societyâ€™. These challenges to the multi-stakeholder model are worrying. Top-down policy making is not well-suited to the internet, which is a fast-changing network of networks â€“ some of which are publicly owned, the majority private. Furthermore, the inclusion of stakeholders other than governments is essential to prevent heavy regulation and protect openness, inclusivity and consideration of the broader public interest. At the same time, some concerns about the IGF are genuine, and if it does not contribute effectively to governing the internet, it will be sidelined. As we look towards the 2012 IGF in Azerbaijan, the challenge is daunting, but clear: the Forum must realign itself to be effective in the changing world of internet governance. A working group on improving the IGF is investigating whether it might make non-binding recommendations. This would be a positive move, enabling it to more directly influence decisions in other forums. Similarly, in Nairobi we heard growing calls for the IGF to develop a set of multi-stakeholder principles for internet governance by 2015. As the only truly global principles, these would have significant influence. There were also calls for human rights to be the main theme of the next Forum. As the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is, in many senses, the international Magna Carta, such a theme would allow all stakeholders to see shared valued in a people-centred internet environment. Dixie Hawtin