The Directors of the Internet & Jurisdiction Policy Network Address Stakeholders in Ottawa

Published on
March 13, 2018

The following speech by Executive Director Bertrand de La Chapelle and Deputy Director Paul Fehlinger was delivered to Stakeholders at the second Global Conference of the Internet & Jurisdiction Policy Network on February 26-28, 2018 in Ottawa, Canada.

The Directors of the Secretariat addressed over 200 senior level representatives from governments, major Internet companies, technical operators, civil society and international organizations on the first day of the Conference.

The outcome document consisting of the Secretariat Summary and the Ottawa Roadmap is available here.

Deputy Director Paul Fehlinger:

I’m amazed to see everybody here and I’m amazed to see what this Policy Network has become.

Seven years ago, many stakeholders still had to be convinced that there is a structural problem with jurisdictions on the internet. Today, this sounds quite unbelievable. The Internet & Jurisdiction Policy Network was created in 2012, after a series of international consultations with key actors. Those consultations confirmed that there was a need for stakeholders to have an ongoing space for discussions and policy development. Since 2012, this Policy Network has grown: today, it engages over 200 entities around the world, who share a commitment to jointly develop solutions. This is the second time, after the first Global Conference of the Internet & Jurisdiction Policy Network in Paris, that such a diverse and critical mass of actors is gathered and united in one room. We have three days to progress. This is a precious opportunity. Let’s make it count.

When we leave Ottawa, we need to have a clear roadmap, with clear Work Plans for how to progress together in this Policy Network. We don’t have to reiterate how wrong things can go; we all know that. These problems will not magically go away; neither will the solutions magically appear. Those are unprecedented challenges, and the stakes are high.

The responsibility to find solutions is bestowed upon our generation. We will be measured by history on how we collectively address them. We all know that the decisions and the actions that are taken now, or not taken, will have a long-lasting impact on future generations to come. Let us not pretend that it is easy, because easy, it is not. Even Vint Cerf wrote last Wednesday, in the Financial Times, that our work here in Ottawa is more difficult than inventing the Internet itself. Nobody, not even in this room, has the silver bullet.

What we know is that solutions have to be as transnational as the Internet itself, to scale and adapt to this fast-changing ecology. You are gathered in this room today to advance and to figure out what path we want to go down together and collectively.

We all know that the decisions and the actions that are taken now, or not taken, will have a long-lasting impact on future generations to come.

Can we continue doing nothing, waiting for things to solve themselves on their own? Clearly not. The cost of inaction has already been dire. It empowers those who subvert this amazing creation of mankind, to do harm and to exploit social fractures. But can we simply continue to frantically take patching actions under the pressure of urgency, without properly considering the consequences? Clearly not either. Short-term fixes for these fundamental issues produce a legal arms race, and this is detrimental to all - even for those who initially triggered those in the first place.

Executive Director Bertrand de La Chapelle

And this is a difficult situation. It is a difficult time.

When the very legal tools that are available become the obstacle; when they are actually preventing mankind from finding the solutions to the transnational problems that we are all facing - then it is the joint responsibility of all concerned actors to assemble, to gather their thoughts and to develop improved mechanisms for policy-making and new governance frameworks. I think nobody is better placed than the people in this room to understand and to feel the frustrations and the limitations that are attached to the status quo.

As I said in the very introduction, you are striving, but also struggling many times to find the solutions to the problems you are confronted with. And of course, a compounding factor is that there is mistrust between the actors.

There is mistrust between governments, there is mistrust between the governments and the other actors, and there is mistrust and competition between the other actors. No solution will be found without overcoming this mistrust. And this is precisely what this Policy Network is intended to do: building the relationship; allowing all of the actors to overcome this fundamental mistrust and work towards a common purpose.

The good thing, I must say, is that the intersessional work that has been done between Paris and Ottawa in the different Contact Groups that have been set up is actually very encouraging, because it shows a remarkable degree of commitment by the people who participated. More than 60 people have worked through many months, in virtual meetings, with the help of the Secretariat, and across timezones, to produce the basis that is going to be used for this Conference. The Policy Options Documents are not perfect, and they are not the final say on all those issues. But they are at this stage, I think, a proper image of the best effort that the stakeholders have made to describe where the debate is, and to help frame the discussions further. The way the participants in the Contact Groups discussed was very encouraging, and we hope that the spirit that was animating them will continue to feed this discussion.

There is always the question: why are we here, and what is it that we want to achieve? There are many reasons why we are here, but let me mention a few. There is a sense of powerlessness sometimes, in front of the amplitude of the questions that we are facing. There is also a fear, let’s be frank, that we might in the end kill the benefits of the Internet by trying to fix it. There is also a need, as I said earlier, to step back from the pressure of urgency, because what is being done - constantly patching the problems that have just emerged a couple of days before - is not a solution that is lasting in the long-term.

But fundamentally, there is one thing that I want to highlight. It is the belief that the people in this room, and in the Policy Network, share something that is not often highlighted, that is not often clarified. It is this deep belief that we need to reconcile competing objectives: namely that we want to collectively fight abuses, but also defend, develop and protect human rights, and at the same time make sure that we enable the digital economy, the cloud economy. And reconciling those three objectives is a very difficult and ambitious goal, but I think this is something that unites the people in this room. Fundamentally, he bottom line is that there are legal problems, there are economic questions, there are human rights-related questions, there are security questions. But overall, what is at stake is this fundamental question: “What is the digital society that we want to build together? And what kind of governance should it have?”

The people gathered collectively in this room, and the participants in the Policy Network, represent a critical mass of actors, as Paul said. You have the power, if working together, to shape the future of digital governance, to preserve the global nature of the Internet and its benefits, and to catalyze change. Nobody else can do it if you don’t do it. And you cannot do it alone either. This is why the Network is intended to grow, why it will reach out to other actors and engage them, and strive to be as inclusive as possible. This is a very important message regarding the capacity to actually address those issues and create the solutions that we need.

What is at stake is this fundamental question: “What is the digital society that we want to build together? And what kind of governance should it have?”

Deputy Director Paul Fehlinger

I would like to add to this that after a long period of not addressing these issues, things have recently accelerated. One and a half year after the first Global Conference of the Internet & Jurisdiction Policy Network, we all here in this room are now witnessing an increasing spread and proliferation of public and private initiatives in many parts of the world. And many of you here in the room are actually leading them.

This is a priori a very positive signal. But we also need to collectively acknowledge that measures are taken today under great pressure and urgency - and that unfortunately those measures are also often taken in an uncoordinated manner. To avoid a legal arms race and prevent losing the benefits of the cross-border Internet, we need to take one step back. It is clear that we are now beyond problem-framing. Two things are now required.  First, we need, policy coherence between the multiplicity of initiatives and between the policy silos of digital economy, human rights and security that Bertrand mentioned. Second, we need joint action to develop the necessary frameworks that can deal with the transnational nature of the Internet. 

After this speech, the Stakeholder Plenary Session “Towards Policy Coherence and Joint Action” begun. You can watch this session here.