An important global forum to discuss human rights and the Internet has a new lease on life.

This week, at a United Nations summit on “information society,” the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) was renewed for another 10 years. The IGF, which includes civil society, private sector, and government participants, has become the main forum for discussion of how Internet issues relate to protection of human rights.

While the IGF does not make decisions on how the Internet is managed, it has been an important forum for policy discussion and has helped draw attention to the importance of protecting human rights online. The IGF renewal is a positive milestone in UN engagement on Internet governance. 

The IGF renewal was the main outcome of this week’s UN General Assembly Review of the Implementation of the Outcomes of the World Summit on Information Society, “WSIS+10.” But a number of other positive themes were reflected in the WSIS+10 final communiqué:

  1. ICT for development: Expanding access to information communication technology (ICT) is essential to the successful implementation of the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Preventing a worsening digital divide between connected and unconnected societies – as well as between connected and unconnected communities within societies – is a global priority. 
  2. Human rights online: The obligation to protect human rights online, as well as offline, was affirmed unconditionally. The final document calls on states to review laws and practices that pose serious threats to the enjoyment of human rights online, especially freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and association, and privacy. 
  3. Security online: Countering increased vulnerability to cybercrime, cyberterrorism, and the use of technology that threatens international and domestic security and development was recognized as a shared task that requires cooperation. The document calls on member states to build robust cybersecurity consistent with international obligations.  
  4. Internet governance: The document calls for cooperation on “the management of the Internet as a global facility,” though discussions did little to clarify the “respective roles” of states, the private sector, and civil society. Questions about how to engage in fully “democratic” and “transparent” processes in the global Internet governance arena also were not resolved.

While geopolitical tensions were on display over whether Internet governance should be predominantly “multistakeholder” or led by governments, the renewal of the IGF was a concrete and consequential outcome for the protection of rights.