Another Example of “Multistakeholder Governance” in Action: The Global CyberSpace 15 “Unicorn”

Posted on April 19, 2015


The Global Conference on Cyber Space 15 (GCCS) has just concluded in the Hague, Holland.

Of course, there are a dozen conferences a week on the Internet, the Digital World, Cyberspace and so on. But this one was meant to be slightly different. Not just a run-of-the-mill trade show, or a trotting out of show-boating pilot projects or demo’s, or folks developing positions for pursuing their interests in Cyber Space…

But this one was meant, well, to have gravitas… to be a collection of sympathetic governments and the full panoply of “stakeholders” and thus to have some sort of broader impact on Global Governance of the Internet (and thus dear readers, or at least those who haven’t spent the last five years in a cave, an impact on the on-going global governance of all and everything.)

So this is how the conference describes itself:

On 16 and 17 April 2015 representatives of governments, international organisations, businesses, civil society, academia and the technical community gathered in The Hague, the Netherlands, to discuss key developments in the cyber domain with a view to presenting a forward-looking agenda to promote a free, open and secure cyberspace.

The Conference has taken stock of key developments in the various fields and has offered a platform for presenting and discussing important issues for the near future. It aims to be a catalyst for discussions on key aspects of the cyber domain, presenting an integrated strategic view of the issues. We welcome the general agreement that there is an urgent need for international cooperation on cyber issues among all stakeholders.

The use of ICTs, and in particular the Internet, has become a matter of strategic importance for governments, businesses and citizens alike. Governed through a partnership between all stakeholders concerned, the Internet is an engine for economic growth and social development that facilitates communication, innovation, research and business transformation.

The Conference reaffirmed its commitment to the multistakeholder model of Internet governance and called upon all stakeholders to further strengthen and encourage the sustainability of, participation in and evolution of this model.

From the beginning of the London process, through Budapest and Seoul, there has been a growing commitment to cooperation among stakeholders. Governments were urged to ensure that cyber policy at national, regional and international level is developed through multistakeholder approaches, including civil society, the technical community, businesses and governments across the globe. Only then can the increasingly complex cyber challenges be fully addressed. To ensure that the Conference reflected the above principles, the Netherlands facilitated the organisation of a civil society pre-conference. The participants encouraged future editions of the Global Conference on Cyberspace to include a civil society pre-event.

To unpack what is being said a bit. The conference is endorsing the multistakeholder governance model. The conference has now organized itself to include the range of “stakeholders” i.e. including “Civil Society” and thus has now entered (through this laying on of “civil society’s” legitimizing hands), into that sacred state of “multistakeholderism” where the shackles of ordinary modes of governance and their banal and outmoded rituals of democratic accountability, transparency, representivity (with all their “baggage”) can be thrown off and they (and we) can enter into that blissful state of consensus decision making by means of the sanctified apostolic group of (multi)stakeholders.

We can thus expect these “multistakeholders” to perform their incantatory rituals of faux consultation and ceremonies of participation among the carefully anointed “chosen”, and thus reach the nirvana where they are in a position to make their divinely and mystically conjoined multistakeholder consecrated decisions for us all.

This particular “multistakeholder conference” has assigned itself the task of developing “an agenda” and a “platform” for Internet Governance specifically in the area of Cyber Security. It is clear from the announcements leading up to the conference and the outcome statements from the conference that the GCCS is meant to be a next step in the on-going process of setting out the framework for “Global (Internet) Governance” following on from the NetMundial, the Internet Governance Forums, the NetMundial Initiative, and so on… but in this case with a specific thematic interest in developing an agenda for the global governance of the Internet in areas concerning Cyber Security.

(Since this particular kind of quasi-, sort of, not quite “official”, but in fact (meant to be) more or less official and very very influential (Internet) Governance activity, doesn’t yet have a name, I’m suggesting that we call these “multistakeholder decision processes” — “unicorns”— beautiful mythical beasts; beloved of illusionists, flim flam artists, and purveyors of fairy tales; shifting shape at will; but which have the unfortunate quality of disappearing as soon as one gets too close (or begins to ask serious non-mystical questions…

So what of this particular “unicorn” the GCCS 15?

The fact that it was convened by the Dutch government, that it was the fourth in a series, that many governments attended (but notably not many outside of the charmed OECD circle) and that the meeting issued a final statement which “received broad general support” after “consultation” “with the attending stakeholders” suggests that something of some significance took place. And clearly the intention is that the meeting and the Outcome Statement/Chairman’s Report will have some status more significant than an ordinary trade or sectoral meeting press release. In fact, of course it is meant to be one of those increasing number of unofficial/official meetings of the form of the NetMundial; i.e. not quite on the level of the clearly “official” WSIS+10 process, but having a normative and quasi-official status rather more than say, TED talks or an ordinary Internet technical convening.

As well, the activities of the designated/appointed/hired (by the conference organizers) Civil Society interlocutor/coordinator has been such as to give the “unicorn” the appearance of something with some broader on-going significance as for example, through circulating to the broader civil society e-lists the draft Outcome Document for comment and input.

So I think that we can assume that the GCCS is meant to be one of that increasing stable of multistakeholder global Internet Governance unicorns whose intention is to replace more formal and democratically constituted global Internet Governance assemblies and processes. (It might be noted in passing that, the Chairman’s Report while mentioning “stakeholders” and “multistakeholders” as a central element of Internet governance 24 times (in a nine page document), failed to mention “democracy” or “democratic processes” even once.)

Why this matters of course, is because the clear intention is that this unicorn (and more importantly its’ “Chairman’s Statement”) is meant to have a similar status to the NetMundial Outcome document i.e. something that is widely quoted, referred to (for example by the Internet Society) as a “foundational document”, and meant to have the status of some sort of soft international statement of Internet guiding principles, deriving it’s legitimacy directly from the fact of its multistakeholder origination and its authentication through “broad agreements” of the meetings’ multistakeholder plenaries etc.

The question of course, is what legitimacy does this unicorn have on its own terms as a “multistakeholder” process?  What significance or legitimacy can its outcome statement have beyond being a statement by certain individuals selected on the basis of non-transparent critieria, with no accountability to anyone other than the funders, and thus presumably selected and designed to reinforce and ratify already decided upon policy positions as determined by the unicorn’s organizers/sponsors/controlling agencies.

• The somewhat hasty and last-minute process of facilitating Civil Society participation was completely lacking structures of transparency or of accountability to any agency outside of the organizational and decision making processes of the unicorn itself presumably under the direct supervision of the sponsoring governmental bodies.

• The selection and contractual terms of reference of the Civil Society interlocutor (co-Chair of the Advisory Committee) were completely non-transparent and non-accountable to anyone other than the unicorn’s organizers/funders.

• The Civil Society interlocutor’s organization receives primary funding from several of the governments with dominant roles in Internet Governance and thus strong interests in maintaining the current Internet governance status quo

• The facilitation of CS participation was done through non-transparent and non-accountable control over travel funding

• the holding of the editorial pen concerning CS inputs into the documents were equally non-transparent nor accountable and were transmitted again via the Civil Society interlocutor.

• The GCCG’s civil society “Advisory Board”, presumably selected on the advice of the Interlocutor/co-Chair is notably not broadly representative of CS active in the Internet Governance space for example,

     o it does not include representation from any of those who either individually or organizationally refused agreement to the UNESCO “Connecting the Dots” Outcome Document which deliberately chose to reject a commitment to “democratic governance of the Internet” in favour of “multistakeholder governance of the Internet”;

     o nor does it include any representatives from the Just Net Coalition whose proposal for an Internet Social Forum has just received wide acceptance and support in the context of the recently held World Social Forum with 50,000 representatives of Civil Society in attendance.

It is notable, but perhaps not surprising, given the above that there would appear to have been no objection on the part of the Civil Society Advisory Group to the failure of the unicorn to address the escalating issues concerning those (human rather than “cyber”) “security” issues of most importance to the vast majority of Internet users–social and economic inequality, job and income insecurity, and the concentration of wealth and power in the global 1% facilitated through and by the Internet; evidently accepting the bland generalities of a concern for Internet “access” (as indicated in the Chairman’s report) as an adequate substitute.

Also, there appears from the proposed unicorn outcome document, to have been no discussion on the relationship between “security” and “social justice”. Why for example, is the discussion concerning “cyber security” only framed in military or law enforcement terms rather than as is broadly seen as appropriate in global civil society, recognizing that economic and social security for all, provide the only realistic long term solution to the current cyber (and other) security threats.

Again we have an example of a purportedly “multistakeholder” process which by its very nature is biased and which lacks any of the formal processes of transparency and accountability out of which the legitimacy of any governance process must be built. Yet we have the clear intention of inserting this as an element in emerging Global Internet Governance on the basis that it is “multistakeholder” and thus has broad acceptance and legitimacy.

So dear readers, hold on to your hats – we are all in for a wild ride on and through these mythical unicorns as we finally and irrevocably are induced to give up any illusions of democratic governance of the Internet (and most likely everything else) in favour of governance by “multistakeholder processes” i.e. by the corporate and governmental 1% and those camp followers willing to be turned into rent-a-mobs for the price of an airplane ticket and a few nights in a 4 star hotel.

I must say that I think the folks in the backrooms doing the strategic planning for the Internet Governance processes are a lot smarter than their fellows across the hall looking after the TTIP processes, for example. A few strategically placed small grants to selected compliant “civil society” organizations (names available on request), a few “concessions” on Human Rights issues in the area of free speech and free expression (which notably are completely supportive of current dominant government strategies for example, through the US State Department and major corporate Internet business models as for example, for Google and Facebook) and hey presto not only do you not have to worry about Civil Society opposition but for the price of the grants and a piddling amount for travel funding you can be assured of active, even ferocious support from “Civil Society”.

Much better than worrying about leaks, and demo’s, and angry electorates as in the case of the TTIP and if anyone questions why for example, the real economic and social issues attendant on Internet Governance aren’t being dealt with, your “Civil Society” friends will say, but look at what we did achieve in the area of Human Rights (hey we did some really really heavy pounding on those open doors).  Isn’t that enough?

We look forward to seeing all of you who are somewhat uncomfortable with these processes (and unwilling to be trampled into silence by herds of rampaging unicorns) at the upcoming Internet Social Forum where among other things we will be figuring out how to make the Internet both democratically governed and a basis for ensuring democratic governance in all global spheres.