Interview with Sally Wentworth, Vice President of Global Policy Development at the Internet Society | February 2015
Could you explain what the Internet Society is to someone who is not familiar with the Internet ecosystem?
The Internet Society is a global non-profit organization founded in 1992 by some of the fathers of the Internet. The Internet Society was created with two main purposes: one was to be the home for some of the core technical work that was emerging in order to make the Internet global, and second, to promote the values of the early founders of the Internet (i.e: the idea that the value of the Internet will increase with the number of people that could access it). These two core values are still very much valid and we have taken on a broader role along the years to promote global public policies that fulfill that vision of a global and accessible Internet.
Where does ISOC stand in the nebula of Internet governance actors?
It is definitely true that there are a lot of actors involved in various aspects of the Internet and I would say that this is an important added value of its governance. The Internet Society is closely linked to the core technical functions that make "bits" move around the globe (the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and the Internet Architecture Board (IAB) being under the administrative umbrella of the Internet Society), which is why we are often seen as part of the Internet technical community. But the Internet Society also works in the policy and advocacy arenas and invests a significant part of its activities in promoting the Internet as a platform for economic and social development, for Internet users and members of the Internet Society around the world.
We heard a lot about ICANN recently. What are the differences between ICANN and ISOC and how do they relate to each other?
ICANN is one of our strategic partners in the Internet ecosystem. There are a lot of interactions between our respective organizations but we have different functions. To synthetize, ISOC and its technical community are involved at the level of Internet technical standards, while ICANN is operating the global Domain Name System. Despite these functional differences, we share many common objectives when it comes to promoting an open Internet, including in our activities in Geneva.
How is ISOC funded?
Our funding comes from a variety of sources. First, we receive funding from our members, both individual and institutional. In addition, the Internet Society has a subsidiary organization that manages the ".org" domain name. Revenues from this activity support the work and mission of the Internet Society.
What are the main challenges that lie ahead of Internet governance?
I think the real question is how to enable this bottom-up self-governance to continue to exist. The Internet and Information and communication technologies (ICT) in general have become a horizontal piece of every sectors of the society. The way the Internet grew and its governance evolved was very decentralized, innovative and driven by new ideas and organizations. Now that we depend upon this technology as a medium, the key question is whether or not we are going to allow this decentralized and innovative way of working to continue. We feel a lot of pressure towards more centralization and control from various entities, whether they be government or corporate. What is this going to mean for the future of innovation? Are people going to be able to continue to create new Apps and services if they have to ask for permission to do so or if security systems are so locked down that they have no ability to participate?
What are going to be the key events in 2015?
In 2003 took place the first World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Geneva followed by a meeting two years later in Tunis. In December 2015, a High-Level Event on the 10 years of the WSIS will take place at the General Assembly of the U.N. in New York, with the objective to review progress made since Geneva and Tunis and looking ahead at what should be the agenda for the community beyond 2015. This WSIS process is accelerating this year and a number of preparatory events will take place in Geneva in the coming months.
In addition, in November will take place the 10th meeting of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Joao Pessoa, Brazil. This meeting is going to be of a particular importance because the IGF (whose Secretariat is based in Geneva) was created as an outcome of the WSIS in 2005 and is currently in the process of a mandate renewal beyond 2015.
Another key process and discussion that is going to take place this year is the transition of the Internet Assigned Number Authority (IANA) away from the oversight of the United States government towards enhancing the multistakeholder model of Internet governance. A lot of work is being done across the Internet governance ecosystem to determine how to enable this transition, especially with the United States government having set the target of September 2015 for the transition.
What is the value of being located in Geneva?
The Internet Society opened its Geneva office in 1998 with two employees. Given the location of some major United Nations agencies in Geneva, including technical agencies that have key roles in the information society, the city has emerged and grown as a central hub in regards to the governance of the Internet since the 2003 WSIS summit. Discussions about Internet governance are taking place all around the world but we find extremely valuable to have personal relationships with the various UN agencies, Diplomatic Missions, ICANN and other non-governmental actors, and to link the technical community to the Geneva based global policy discussion. The growth of our Geneva office (about 15 employees today) is the proof of the value we put being here.
Do you collaborate with other Geneva based institutions?
The Internet Society has a consultative status with the United Nations' ECOSOC which allows us to participate broadly across the United Nations system. We are a sector member of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and increasingly interact with the Permanent Missions in Geneva, not only on specific negotiations but also on the work that we might be doing in their countries. Lastly, we have strong connections with non-governmental organizations such as the Geneva Internet Platform.
How do you envision the role of Geneva based institutions in regards to Internet governance in the future?
I believe that the role of Geneva is going to continue to grow. Many of the preparatory meetings for the WSIS+10 Review process have and will continue to take place in Geneva. Even if the WSIS High-Level event is taking place in New York in December 2015, the follow-up discussions will involve many organizations located in Geneva and elsewhere. Geneva has established itself as a valuable hub and network within the Internet governance dynamic and seems well placed to continue playing this role going forward.