MEAC School on Internet Governance in Tunisia

As part of the ICANN Middle East Strategy devised by the Middle East Strategy Working Group (MESWG), the Middle East Adjoining School on Internet Governance launched a new educational initiative in partnership with Internet Society chapter in Tunisia (ISOC). Through a five-day intensive training, the program sought to stimulate discussion within the regional Internet community and promote effective participation by stakeholders from the Middle East and North Africa in regional and global Internet governance processes.

The Middle East and Adjoining Countries School on Internet Governance (MEAC-SIG) covered the political, legal, economic, socio-cultural, and technological aspects of Internet governance within the context of a rapidly changing Arab world (popular revolutions, ethnic cleansings, economic underdevelopment, and regional disparities).

The program was carried out in the capital of Tunisia (Tunis) through practical workshops, roundtables, and case presentations. It targeted a wide range of fellows from the MENA region. The initiative brought together students, practitioners, researchers and professionals from academia, civil society, government, the private sector, and the technical community.

During the first day of the school, MEAC fellows learned about the history and evolution of Internet governance, as well as institutional development : the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) 2003 in Geneva, the WSIS 2005 in Tunisia, the first Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Athens, Greece, and now the upcoming IGF 10 in João Pessoa. Internet governance experts and fellows discussed the prospect of the UN General Assembly extending the IGF mandate for another five years, which would enable the annual gathering to continue beyond 2015.

There was a panel discussion on global, regional, and national IGFs. The session enabled MEAC-SIG participants to get more insights into the technical and institutional environment in which the Internet operates at the local and regional level. Session participants also discussed the international organizations involved in the process of Internet governance, such as Regional TLD Organizations (RTLDOs) that define and support the development and implementation of several regional TLDs or top-level domain extensions (TLDs).

The second day of the program focused on the technical aspects of the Internet ecosystem, including issues related to the Domain Name System (DNS) industry in the MEAC region. The session offered a unique opportunity for the school participants to present snapshots on policy development related to Generic Top-Level Domains (gTLD) and Internationalized Domain Names (IDN), in addition to the technical deployment of the internet routing services related to gTLDs and IDNs globally and regionally, including the MEAC Region.

The group also discussed the history and role of ICANN in the administration of the Domain Name System (DNS). Participants learned that one of the reasons that ICANN was established was to introduce and promote competition in the registration of domain names in the largest Country Code Top-Level Domains (ccTLDs) in the MEAC region. Other parts of the second-day addressed specific practical questions related to the DNS: How do you pick your domain name? What makes a successful TLD? Will apps replace websites? What are the key takeaways from the DNS Market Study on the domain name industry in the MEAC region?

Due to growing demand for address space, the supply of Internet addresses under the existing IPV4 system is reaching exhaustion. The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) developed IPV6 with longer (128-bit) IP addresses, creating many more available addresses to use. IPv6 is intended to replace IPv4, but adoption of IPV6 has been uneven. Participants brainstormed policies that can bridge the digital divide between developed countries that are increasingly adopting IPV6 and developing countries that are still using IPV4 : How can developing countries effectively shift to using IPV6 more widely?

The fourth day focused on policy. ‘Understanding Public Policy and Exploring Internet Public Policy’ covered regulatory measures, laws, and funding priorities both at global and regional levels with special attention given to implications for the MEAC region. Fellows discussed the quest for an open Internet, the value of net neutrality, individual rights like online freedom of expression and information, the end-to-end non-discriminatory flow of traffic, competition and consumer choice, and Internet public policies that can drive societal development.

IGMENA was actively engaged during the session, providing information about the Internet Policy Analyst (IPA). IPA is a platform to support advocacy and engage grassroots-level stakholders the Arab world. Through the IPA, authors, journalists, academics, and members of the technical community share original write-ups and case studies on topics relevant to online freedom of expression, censorship, surveillance, data protection, and privacy in their respective countries. On those issues, there is a great need in the MENA region to enhance the awareness of end-users with the goal of securing safe and more inclusive Internet.

In the MENA region, we need to more effectively elaborate on a civil society policy agenda and advocacy framework. There is a great need to use social media advocacy tools to raise awareness among end-users regarding online behavior. It is also important to enhance content about Internet governance in Arabic to create an enabling environment for understanding the Internet as an open space for sustainable innovation.

Effective advocacy efforts could garner support for more inclusive and democratic national laws and promote greater international collaboration around cybersecurity and digital rights in the region, especially in the area of privacy and consumer data protection, which is one of the policy priorities for the MEAC region.

The programme also included case studies and workshops that allowed participants to put their knowledge of Internet governance topics into practice. For example, a session was conducted to discuss proposed amendments to the cybersecurity laws of Egypt, which were recently introduced by the Council of Ministers.

Fellows were divided into different multitstakholder groups and worked together on drafting proposals to improve some of cybersecurity articles. There was also a vibrant discussion of how to deal with terrorist groups on the Internet, including a conversation about the consequences of blocking content. Net neutrality advocates in the school argued that all internet users should have equal access to the Internet. Without this open access, which most of us take for granted, startups like Google, Twitter, and Facebook might never have flourished.

The last day focused on the Internet of Things (IoT), a term used to describe smart digital devices that are connected with each other using one of several protocols, such as Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, to send and receive information among themselves. These devices often function without depending on humans for input because they receive information through digital sensors. The Internet of Things is penetrating all aspect of end-users’ consumer behavior by connecting the physical and the digital worlds. Fellows asked questions about the challenges and implications of the proliferation of IoT in the Internet ecosystem.

During the last day, fellows participated in a simulated version of the Multistakeholder Advisory Group in which they practiced preparing an IGF agenda and reviewing IGF workshop proposals. An important discussion took place on next steps for developing IGF outputs, such as the IGF Best Practices. A Best Practice document focuses on sharing lessons learned on urgent and tangible issues and offering proposals for making the Internet Governance Forum more effective and productive. Topics covered in such a document may include net neutrality, cybersecurity, data protection, and privacy.

The MEAC-SIG school offered a unique opportunity for selected fellows to grasp new technical and policy concepts and wear different hats while intellectually interacting, voicing concerns, and sharing recommendations with different stakeholder groups, including civil society, the technical community, the business sector, and academia. In addition, the MEAC-SIG helped to bridge the gap between policy and technology and contribute to a more transparent and accountable ecosystem for end-users in the Middle East and North Africa region.

Post originally posted on igMENA. Written by : Hamza Ben Mehrez – Policy Analyst Lead IGMENA (Internet Governance MENA Region Program)