Critics of multistakeholder Internet governance have long focused on ICANN accountability and transparency. But issues of who is accountable to whom exist throughout the Internet governance ecosystem. Traditionally, Internet technical organizations have prided themselves on the way that people participated as individuals, rather than as representatives of organizations or businesses, when developing standards and policy. However, as the Internet has grown and become more integrated with all aspects of life, more stakeholders are wishing to participate. Resource limitations, however, mean individual voices are becoming less common and more organizations are beginning to represent, or claim to represent, their communities in wider Internet governance discussions. In addition, as more stakeholders enter Internet governance discussions, it becomes more difficult to assess via direct experience whether the individuals and those stating that they representing wider groups of stakeholders are acting as responsible stakeholders or have other reasons for engaging in processes.
This workshop will discuss accountability mechanisms and gaps in today’s hybrid multistakeholder Internet governance system where stakeholders participate as individuals, as representatives of organizations or groups of stakeholders, or as representatives of entire nation states. Using accountability literature available in (non-Internet) governance as a starting point, the workshop will examine ways to strengthen the accountability mechanisms available to:
• Stakeholders participating directly in multistakeholder Internet governance decision-making processes;
• Organizations representing the collective voice of their communities in high-level Internet governance discussions such as the UN and IGF; and
• Organizations tasked with implementing policies and decisions by their stakeholders.
Brief substantive summary of the workshop and presentation of the main issues that were raised during the discussions
There was discussion about the asymmetrical nature of accountability discussions in Internet governance: while ICANN attracts a lot of accountability debate, other parts of the Internet governance ecosystem do not receive the attention needed on their accountability issues. For example, while critical Internet resources (CIRs) have clear public policy implications, the accountability discussions surrounding CIRs centre on ICANN and not on the other parts of the ecosystem that manage CIRs.
Issues discussed included where accountability resides in an ecosystem made up of individuals, communities and formal organizations, and how to manage that accountability effectively.
It was also noted that the complexity of interactions in the Internet governance ecosystem, with multifaceted lines of accountability across the various components of the system, were a source of particular confusion to new stakeholders, particularly government representatives, trying to enter the space.
Conclusions drawn from the workshop and possible follow up actions
Below are direct quotes from the workshop, followed by more detail on the points that were made:
1. "What accounts for the intense interest in ICANN accountability? And almost no interest in accountability across the actual entire ecosystem of management of critical Internet resources."
Rather than view ICANN accountability as the sole focus of Internet governance accountability discussions, it would be more beneficial to the health of Internet governance to look at the entire spectrum of institutions and mechanisms within the system, including:
- cyber security governance mechanisms
- standard setting institutions
- interconnection agreements
- infrastructure operators
- Internet intermediaries
2. "Accountability is for everybody and at all levels and we share that."
Accountability was seen to be operating at many layers - from the end user through to the technical bodies and infrastructure operators. Some accountability mechanisms are more formal--such as legal processes--and can be easily called on by stakeholders with the capacity to do so. Other forms of accountability mechanisms, however, are needed to enable other parts of the Internet governance ecosystem--such as Internet users--to participate in holding other Internet governance players accountable. A particular dimension of accountability to be considered in the Internet governance context was how global and national-based accountability interacted and could build on each other's strengths.
3. "One of the interesting things about accountability is stakeholder group boundaries."
Neat stakeholder boundaries tend to blur as new Internet governance issues emerge. For example, the emergence of new gTLDs has blurred the boundaries between what was traditionally seen as distinct registry, registrar and other stakeholder groups such as governments and the traditional business sector. Now all stakeholder types are managing new gTLDs, which makes it less easy to identify what interests and hats stakeholders are wearing in different discussions.
4. "Things are distributed and yet none of us quite knows how it works."
It was noted that the nature of the Internet had changed the clearer lines of accountability in place in telecommunications before market liberalization in the 1980s. No longer was a single incumbent provider clearly responsible for services, but under the Internet model, connectivity, applications, etc., responsibility, and therefore accountability, become diffused amongst many players.
5. "How do things differ from one region to another? ... Accountability may have some regional diversity there - cultural diversity."
It was noted that not all cultures would be equally at home reading through hundreds of documents in English and feel satisfied that a process labeled 'transparent and accountable' was accountable to their needs.
6. "Choice is a luxury we don't all have."
One of the mechanisms of market-based accountability is the ability for the market to take its business elsewhere. However, in the world of Internet governance, competition does not always exist. In many developing countries, in particular, there is no competition in the marketplace that can be leveraged to hold a monopoly provider accountable. In cases like this, raising awareness and framingthe policymaking becomes very important.
7. "When people understand what the policy is and that there is no way around it, no special exceptions, that is then accountability."
Policy processes in Internet governance need to be open, fair, transparent and clear. It should not be possible for someone claiming to represent the people to request special treatment for any single person (abuse of power). It was suggested that if faced by such an abuse of power, one way to respond was with uniform openness and transparency: in accommodating such a request, it would also be necessary to inform other affected parties why they had been treated differently.
8. There are differet forms of accountability available for individuals, organizations and communities.
There is a lot of experience with organizational accountability, but less experience with how to ensure communities are accountable. Community participant accountability is associated with being transparent on the interests the members represent and conflicts of interest that may have a bearing on the community's processes and decision-making. In addition, it was suggested that there needed to be enforceable sanctions available within Internet governance communities to make members of those communities accountable for their behaviour.
9. "How do you manage the multiple representations of wearing many hats?"
In Internet governance, individuals often play multiple roles in multiple forums. It was suggested that there are ways to ensure accountability in such an environment:
1) personal transparency: be clear about your background and history
2) formal transparency: maintain a register of participants' statements of interests
3) be clear about which role you are speaking from
4) have clear conflict of interest policies that enable everyone in the community to be aware when they should or should not be participating in a discussion or decision-making process that they may be seen to have a conflict of interest in.
10. Accountability of processes that have input from both individuals and collective voices
In terms of how processes can be accountable in the face of having input from both individual and collective voices, there was discussion that it depended on how the process itself was defined. For example, the IETF uses meritocracy rather than democracy, meaning that no matter how well-funded or powerful any participant may be, the characteristic that guides adoption of ideas is the quality of the idea. Similarly, an ex-board chair of an Internet-related organization noted that when faced with lots of input from many different sources--some with more clear sources of power than others--his approach was always to "try to make data‐driven decisions rather than personality‐driven decisions". It was noted that in democratic processes, it could be more difficult to "differentiate between real interests and when there is lobbying behind and money", which is where transparency in declaring interests and financial support become important tools for ensuring accountability of participants. It was noted, however, that while meritocracy enabled the best ideas to thrive, it did not automatically enable equal participation by less well resourced stakeholders, particularly from developed countries. In this way, while a meritocracy is accountable to those with the minimum level of resources to participate, it may lack accountability to those who would be interested in participating but lacked the resources to do so.
11. "It's easy to be part of a community when you know the codes, you know the processes, you know the people there. But there are enormous barriers to enter into these communities from the outside."
Although it had been established earlier in the workshop that transparency, through producing documentation, was not necessarily a cultural appropriate form of accountability in all situations, it was also noted that access to documentation did have the benefit of enabling new entrants to more easily understand the processes and to actively evaluate and improve those processes.
Finally, some quotes summing up the workshop:
Laura DeNardis: "There's no one solution to accountability. We have different kinds of institutions and we have different kinds of tasks. We've talked about the IETF as a model that works. And I agree with that. And even in a situation like that that works completely well, there are still barriers to involvement for everyday people. People are involved in their individual capacities but many work for corporations that pay to send them there. So we can't have a democratic, completely participatory environment but we can have processes that are open in terms of the potential for participation, open in terms of how things are implemented and procedurally, transparency, all those kinds of things and then the result is open in how they actually proceed once the technology is developed. [...] There's not one solution for everything, but different kinds of approaches depending upon what the layer is of the Internet Governance task."
Patrik Falstrom: "My recommendation would be for people to think about people and organizations, private and public, to think about what responsibilities you have yourself. And then what you can do yourself about it. And then everything else need to talk to each other about. I think it's a little too much finger pointing at others and look for things that you can take care of yourself."
Adiel Akplogan: "Accountability in this Internet Governance environment is about everybody. [...] And it is also a process. It is not something that can happen overnight. It's improved with the maturity of organizations, the maturity of the community, of the understanding of what is at stake. So that is an ongoing process. But also from a developing point of view, accountability has a cost, a financial cost."