Second Arab Internet Governance Forum, Algiers, 1-3 October 2013  

The second edition of the Arab Internet Governance Forum was held under the theme “Partners for Development” at the Nations Palace, Club des Pins, Algiers during the period of 1-3 October 2013. The three-day forum covered four main thematic areas: access, security and privacy, openness and content, and youth and Internet resources with 12 workshops discussing various related topics. The reports of the sessions and workshops were submitted by Hivos’ fellows for the Arab IGF as part of their participation in the programme.

ACCESS: INFRASTRUCTURE AND CRITICAL INTERNET RESOURCES

Reports submitted by Nadira Alaraj and Sami Saadaoui.

Broadband Internet deployment is becoming a strategic initiative in many Arab countries due to its demonstrable positive impact on GDP growth, employment and innovation. In particular, mobile broadband is witnessing a quite rapid growth in adoption due to smart phone affordability, adoption of broadband wireless protocols as well as market competition.

Being the entity responsible for managing the technical infrastructure of the Internet, namely the Internet Protocols and the Domain Name System, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN)’s strategy to promote the Domain Name System (DNS) ecosystem in the Middle East through a community driven approach was presented. ICANN has three main objectives of in the region: fostering two-way engagement between ICANN and the community, building strong and competitive domain name industry and promoting multi-stakeholder Internet Governance mechanisms. In late 2012, a working group consisting of 22 experts from 11 countries covering the 22 Arab countries, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan was formed under the umbrella of ICANN. The working group studied the current situation of the DNS and Internet Governance ecosystems in the region, and devised a strategy and implementation plan to cover pressing issues related to the Internet in the region.

Though the uptake of Internationalised Domain Names (IDNs) in the region was strong, the number of users remains very small. Some argued this is because of the lack of key applications (i.e. emails) and the poor IDNs support to these applications (i.e. browsing). Others pointed out the fact that IDNs are yet one component in an ecosystem that includes other companies, like infrastructure, Internet Exchange Points (IXPs), and diversity of local registrars. On the other hand, some speakers indicated that the approach of many country code Top Level Domains (ccTLD) registries in the region, and the industry in general, does not adequately consider end user’s needs, since these registries sometimes find themselves bounded by outdated legislation. In fact, there was a consensus that there is a problem in the domain names industry in the region and a community initiative is required to address this problem.

Moreover, the challenge to make the Internet Exchange Points (IXP) available in the Arab countries was discussed. Some of the countries have already implemented these infrastructures while others are not yet at this level. Now there is a rising importance of having IXPs in Arab world to reduce the cost of access, produce Arabic content and increase its volume, and subsequently increase Internet access on different levels. It mostly lacks the political will to bring new IXPs to the region.

In conclusion, two key components are affecting access to the Internet in the Arab region, namely availability of infrastructure and critical Internet resources. More specifically, key broadband strategies currently adopted in the Arab region were explored, with key questions related to investment models and role of government vs. role of private sector in investment and deployment of broadband infrastructure. A critical market development is the introduction of new generic Top Level Domains (gTLDs) in the Arab region.


SECURITY AND PRIVACY: TOWARDS AN ENVIRONMENT OF TRUST AND SAFETY

Reports submitted by Ahmed Al-Marwani and Fahmi Albaheth.

The Arab world is expressing a huge growth of number of Internet users, social media usage and use of e-commerce services online. Under the security and privacy theme, a range of the current challenges and risks related to the cyber security and privacy in the Arab world were explored. This includes the status of national cyber security policies, and regulations and how the different stakeholders can be engagement in this policy development process.

Many Arab countries are planning to or have already established Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT), the level of coordination as well as the required steps to enhance future cooperation between Arab CERTs are main concerns on the regional level. On the local level, in order to ensure proper legislation in managing CERT, three dimensions should be covered: (1) internal code of conduct; (2) internal and external control followed by CERT; and (3) security information management (applications). In general, security should include three main areas: (1) protection of critical infrastructure; (2) fighting cybercrimes (virtual weapons are always available on the Internet); and (3) economy (sharing the information on incidents, which is not mostly done by governments since they hide the flaws they know to use them as cyberweapon).

In order to maintain the infrastructure in a useful way, information sensitivity should also be protected. Now, the economic prosperity depends, from different aspects, on the cyberspace, therefore the confidentiality of information is of vital importance. To this aim, the legal framework should tackle cybersecurity law, information system law and personal protection law.

Arab Internet users’ personal information is under risk as long as they are not aware of how to safeguard it and protect their privacy online. It is affected also by the increased level of malware attacks in the Arab region and the weaknesses in protection measures. These factors combined are depriving the Arab region from development opportunities due to the lack of users’ trust in electronic transactions through the Internet.

Therefore capacity building is significant since most of the time Internet users have no entity to report the online threats they encounter. Capacity building should start by the CEOs, then move to the second level management, and end with the third level: practitioners. Diplo and Hivos training program on Internet Governance is an example of efforts done to build the capacity of Internet users and different stakeholders in the region.

Amid the discussion on security and privacy, an allusion was made to the mistrust in Internet big companies, i.e. Google and Facebook, especially after the leak of Snowden documents and Prism programme and the fact that regaining this trust requires serious actions from these companies to restore users’ confidence.

The online child protection in the Arab region is a another key issue to security and privacy with different risks facing the Arab children on the Internet, that include kidnapping, sexual abuse, pornographic content, contents of a violent nature, social risks (i.e. social isolation), extortion, intellectual terrorism and exploitation. These risks mostly take place when children get online access without protection.

According to a regional study conducted by GSMA, Egypt came on the top of countries where children use mobile phones and tablets, followed by India then Chile and Japan. This means there is a need to adopt legislation on online children protection. The study also showed that the use of social media by children in an Arab country like Egypt is 46.5%. As for Iraq, the study recommended raising awareness of parents about the risks of using mobile phones by children and not giving them to children less than eight years old.

Within the context of security, the work on the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in the field on cybersecurity could be explained in two strands. First, the cybersecurity is an issue of responsibility of the ITU and it was put into effect by launching the ITU global cybersecurity agenda and signing MoU with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Second, the ITU has a working group on the Legal Aspects of Child Online Protection in the Arab Region to reach model legislation for Arab countries. This working group aims to identify actions that pose a threat to the children in cyberspace, develop guidelines for regional legal framework, and make general recommendations guided by the principles at the national levels.

In general, the discourse on the online security and privacy tackled various related issues from the perspective of governments, private sector and regular users. It dealt with the implications – societal, political and industrial – that could emerge from poor online security and weak online privacy amidst the increasing cyber risks in today’s increasingly interconnected world. It was agreed that Internet users are feeling vulnerable following reports exposing digital surveillance practices carried out by some governments without due process. Women and children Internet exploitation needs to be addressed too.

Among the issues that were discussed is means to confront cybercrime that have had damaging effects due to the lack of sufficient education among regular users. Those issues are among the fundamental problems that face Internet users today, particularly in the Arab world where awareness of good practices to strengthen online security and privacy are badly needed. Finally, challenges facing governments aiming at improving online security were touched upon with an emphasis on possible regulatory, economic and technical measures.


OPENNESS AND CONTENT: RIGHTS AND ACCOUNTABILITY

Reports submitted by Karim Boussak, Sami Saadaoui, and Wafa Ben Hassine.

The openness and content discussion witnessed the participation of speakers representing different stakeholders and experiences who stressed the need to be responsible and accountable while promoting an open and content-rich Internet that respects the norms and the traditions of the region as a whole. In this regard, the need to respect citizens’ right to access and deliver content through all means including the Internet was stressed.

Some of the challenges that face Internet freedom in the Arab world were explored. For example, Saudi Arabia targeted bloggers and online content producers through prosecution, intimidation and threats, and Jordan started blocking access to hundreds of Jordanian news websites.

Only by having open and unrestricted access to online content and services can citizens be empowered and consequently result in greater levels of knowledge in society. Similarly, imposing restrictions on online content will only degrade the quality of life for citizens and reduce their ability to learn and receive quality education in an interconnected and globalising world.

Censoring websites is not the answer to oppose what could be perceived as ‘harmful’ content but rather, raising awareness and enhancing education standards are the right approach to deal with such societal problems. On a more global level, the digital divide between poor and rich countries is a major obstacle to achieve a knowledge-based society and hence, working to reduce this gap through providing citizens with means to access the Internet without restrictions is essential.

The light was shed on different models of Internet openness from the Arab region. The Jordanian government stifles freedom of expression through trying online journalists at military courts, where only civilian courts ought to be the venue for such trials. Moreover, it occasionally blocked blog websites that had violated no law and required no licensing.

In Sudan, Internet shutdown by the government was officially claimed to be due to having some demonstrators set fire to the main Internet Service Provider in the country. However this is not convincing given that some Arab countries had shut Internet access down in the past in an attempt to prevent political opponents from voicing their opinion.

Prior 2011, instructions used to come from security apparatuses connected to the Yemeni regime to block particular dissident and political websites. Nevertheless this politically-motivated censorship policy has been abandoned following the popular revolution of February 2011 and today; the government had decided not to block any website without due process. The level of openness in Yemen has increased tremendously since this policy has changed and business owners on the Internet as well as investors in Internet services seem to be gaining confidence knowing that arbitrary blocking will not take place again. Furthermore, a decision was made to not block any of the Over-the-top (OTTs) often used for voice communication on hand-held devices (e.g. Tango, ooVoo, WhatsApp, Viber). However, the firewalls on the national level to prevent access to nudity/pornographic content remain in place and are based on algorithms set up by the software producers. Such a measure is prompted by the conservative cultural norms that are dominant in Yemen.

Before the revolution, the Tunisian government used to spend money on blocking the Internet; however after the uprising, Tunisia was the first Arab nation to have a national dialogue on the Internet. Tunisia is also the first MENA country to join the Freedom Online Coalition and has organised the third Freedom Online Conference in June 2013 under the theme “joint action for free expression on the Internet”. Holding this conference in Tunisia with the representation of different stakeholders was a step toward building a better Internet Governance model that respects human rights principles.

There was a common consensus on the significance of raising the awareness of citizens and governments that shutting down access is not the solution. More freedom and discussion and stronger involvement of Internet users are what could help solve societal problems. Moreover, the need for more online security measures was further stressed to protect data from various threats that include malware, cyber weapons, piracy, poor protection, cyber terrorism and Internet militarisation. This protection does need to take into account citizens’ right to access the Internet freely in order to allow them to practice their right to information and communication. Online activists should not be considered a threat because they are patriotic and willing to help their country as many other groups. Hence, they should be recognised and appreciated, not targeted.

Taking measures against hackers due to their online activities was strongly opposed and a suggestion was made to turn into an approach of coaching and taking advantage of the skills and potentials of such individuals. Having a free Internet contributes to the development of the country as it allows for innovation and development; therefore free Internet should be promoted for youth to use.

Governments should refrain from restricting or regulating Internet access because it is a network transcending boundaries and is not the property of any single state. The government’s role is rather to ensure quality access to the Internet to its citizens.

When the floor was opened for discussion, a civil society actor put forward the open letter addressed to the Arab governments and drafted by a group of activists, technologists, and civil society organisations concerned with Internet freedom. The open letter noted the violation of human rights by the Arab governments, and demanded the right to privacy and data protection, and Arab governments to be transparent on the regulations and procedures followed vis-à-vis the Internet.

Another topic that was tackled within the openness and content framework is living labs and Internet Governance in the Arab world. A Living Lab is an open innovation space between citizens, companies and government for better citizen participation and representation in the proposal process. This new concept can help develop and facilitate complex co-creation processes, where mutual business partners and customer become involved as active players in the development of new solutions. Living Labs also bring organisations closer to their customer’s everyday life, and help transforming insight into unmet customer needs, into strategies for innovation.

How do you get the ball rolling and so do sustainably? There are no structures that help facilitate cooperation between Arab countries, neither commercial nor state-owned. So the first step is to create student clubs that promote cooperative innovation and hold annual training sessions. It was emphasised on the need to adopt this culture of cooperation and look beyond the divisions that plagued the region in the past. The youth will raise awareness with their peers. For example, a student club in Tunis came to Biskra, Algeria to organise a joint project for environmental awareness for students. Another project Webdays organised a “Startup Weekend Biskra”. All of these projects include regional cooperation with other spaces both in Arab and African countries as well.

In summary, the discussions throughout the openness and content were open, transparent and on occasions, tense. The argument against censorship was advocated by most panelists while some panelist and even participants in the hall argued for censorship, saying that it is governments’ right to withhold access to certain content that they deem to be a threat to national security or social harmony. This demonstrated how multi-stakeholders could argue and discuss issues in a civil and constructive manner without having to degrade the quality of the discourse. Furthermore, the outcome of the discourse illustrates the importance and need for continuous dialogue between the different Arab stakeholders when it comes to the scope, limits and challenges to openness and content in the Arab region.


INTERNET AND YOUTH: THE CULTURE OF INNOVATION AND DEVELOPMENT OPPORTUNITIES

Young people today are sophisticated Internet users, navigating through it with ease and enthusiasm. However, they must understand the impact that these technologies may have on their future life, their work and their privacy. We should make sure that our youth are provided with necessary tools and information to make smart decisions. Whether we have like it or not, our society is changing and this change is led by youth. In the MENA region, 40% of the population is between the age of 16-36 years. Whether we admit it or not; we are living in a virtual world. We have moved beyond the concept of globalisation to a world with no borders, youth are adapting fast to this world, and have to live, work and socialise in this new world. There are some challenges that we are aware of and we have not even thought of that we need to be ready to face.

To work in this environment, to improvise, to innovate and to develop, is becoming more and more a challenge for the new generation. All stakeholders think that they are up to this challenge; governments and regulators believe they are doing a good job controlling it, private sector is becoming busier with financial evaluations and SWOT analysis, and NGOs are carrying the big bucket of complaints and challenges from a social perspective. International organisations are looking at a global view with lots of papers to write, conferences to plan and reaching out to those who are out of reach. The demand for high speed broadband is indisputable, since countries that have it are boasting high penetration rates, providing a tool for development, innovation, new business models, new young players that would lead us into the future.

In order to achieve the required innovation for economic development, governments would be wise to pursue structural economic reforms that aim to incorporate innovative policy agenda into key public institutions and sectors of the macro economy. These structural reforms have the potential to inject growth into the private sector, improve public sector productivity, transform the pipeline of available labor in the medium and long-term, make the most of existing physical infrastructure, and optimise research and development investments for the long-run. None of these ideas are groundbreaking on their own, and many are already under active pursuit within expert communities. What ties them together is that they put key qualities that have made the Internet such a vibrant source of innovation at the center of driving economic growth and renewal.

On the other hand, creating an environment of innovation is similar as creating an environment of trust; where innovation is the application of new solutions that meet new requirements, critical needs, or existing market needs. The advent of the Internet has also set new trends that are enabling and fostering a culture of innovation especially among the youth who are seeking entrepreneurship ventures.

Within this context, the main challenges to the MENA revolve around three critical themes:
  • Education, and how the 21st century school should look like, a knowledge intensive digital one that allows the Arab countries to start building knowledge-intensive societies by leveraging technology that allows big leaps easily.
  • Employability, and how to bridge the opportunity divide for youth in MENA through the Youth Spark initiative (www.ta3mal.com) and how it can help youth and jobs seekers to make a successful transition into the world of work.
  • Entrepreneurship teaching through the LaunchPad E-Teaching and the building blocks of the methodology of setting up an e-learning program to vulgarise the matter and how to make an innovative idea into successful product, and thus via Internet.