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A Digital Protocol From Kyoto and a Cyber Message From Hamburg: IGF and ICANN Are Well Prepared for the Future

On October 12, 2023, the 18th Internet Governance Forum (IGF) ended in Kyoto. It was, with more than 9000 registered participants, the largest IGF since its inception in 2006. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Japan Prime Minister Fumio Kishida opened the five-day meeting. The tangible output included 89 “IGF Messages from Kyoto,” four substantial reports with recommendations from IGF Policy Networks (PN) for Artificial Intelligence, Internet Fragmentation, Meaningful Access and Cybersecurity, as well as thousands of pages of transcripts from more than 300 sessions plus summary reports from the High-Level Panels and the Parliamentarian Track.

The IGF Leadership Panel (LP) presented its paper “The Internet we Want,” where it expresses its belief that the Internet has to be “1. whole and open; 2. universal and inclusive; 3. free-flowing and trustworthy; 4. safe and secure; and 5. rights-respecting.” The Leadership Panel invited the global Internet Community to discuss the five objectives and to produce in an open, inclusive, transparent and bottom-up process a conceptual framework that could be seen as the “Kyoto Protocol for the Digital Age.” The IGF took place in the same convention center where, in December 1997, the original “Kyoto Protocol” was adopted, which operationalized the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change by committing industrialized countries and economies in transition to limit and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

A Broad Marketplace with Weaknesses and Gaps

The IGF discussed nearly everything which is on the global digital agenda: Artificial intelligence and emerging technologies, Internet fragmentation, cybersecurity, cybercrime and online safety, data governance and trust, digital divides and inclusion, human rights and freedoms, sustainability and environment, digital trade and digital taxation, platform regulation, fake news and disinformation. The Kyoto IGF was indeed the big marketplace for the free exchange of ideas, information, knowledge and expertise among stakeholders from governments, parliaments, businesses, civil society, technical and academic communities, as well as young people from around the globe. What the founding mothers and fathers of the IGF in the UN Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG) anticipated in 2005 became step by step a reality.

However, there are still weaknesses and gaps. Governments are represented now on a high level, but only a few ministers made it to Kyoto. Business is everywhere, but the C-Level of the big Internet corporations is missing. And for small and medium-sized enterprises or new Internet start-ups, the incentives to spend five days in an expensive city are still low. The Global South was well represented, but the number of speakers from Asia, Africa and Latin America is still low. The tangible output is now impressive, but it is still open to how to translate all the knowledge and wisdom of the messages and reports into political actions at the national and international levels.

The “Parliamentarian Track,” established during the 2019 IGF in Berlin, is meanwhile well recognized. But whether this “MP Roundtables” will lead to better Internet legislation at home needs to be seen. It also depends on a deeper interaction among MPs and non-governmental stakeholders. Sitting in silos is not enough. There is room for improvement. This is also a problem for intergovernmental negotiations. The IGF Leadership Panel has understood that part of its mission is to liaise with the negotiators in the various UN and other intergovernmental bodies, where issues such as artificial intelligence, platform regulation, cybersecurity, cybercrime, digital trade, digital human rights, digital infrastructure development and others are negotiated. But it needs two for a tango.

It was encouraging to hear what Japanese Prime Minister Kishida said in his opening speech: “I believe that by bringing together participants from all over the world, from different perspectives and bringing together their wisdom through a multi-stakeholder approach, we can maximize the benefits of the Internet while reducing risks. The Government of Japan, as the host country, believes that it is an important responsibility to contribute to the discussions.”

But contributing to the discussion also includes listening to what non-governmental stakeholders have to say. The time is ripe for the “multistakeholder wisdom” to be reflected in intergovernmental projects like the UN Convention against Cybercrime, the annual reports of the OEWG Chair on cybersecurity or in the WTO negotiations on digital trade and a “Data Free Flow with Trust (DFFT). In a multipolar world where geo-strategic conflicts feed enhanced confrontation, the informal discussions within an IGF can help to identify areas where enhanced cooperation is possible.

Global Digital Compact

A good test could become the negotiations on the Global Digital Compact (GDC). The idea for such a compact emerged within UN Secretary General’s “Our Common Agenda” in September 2021. Among the 12 commitments of the “Common Agenda” was the proposal to improve digital cooperation. A GDC was seen as a reasonable instrument to push such a process.

The GDC preparation, when it started in 2022, could build on more than 20 years of discussion within and outside the UN on Internet Governance and digital cooperation. The WSIS Geneva Declaration of Principles (2003), the WSIS Tunis Agenda (2005), the NetMundial Declaration (2014), many reports of UN Expert Groups and a UN High-Level Panel (2019), as well as UN Secretary General´s Roadmap on Digital Cooperation (2022) have produced a good and solid basis for a debate, how to move forward into the new and still unknown spaces of the digital world of tomorrow, which gets more and more complex and is now deeply interwoven with the big global problems of the 2020s: peace and international security, global economy and development, environment and human rights. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. But, there is a permanent challenge to reconsider the strategy for digital cooperation, to identify weaknesses and gaps in existing mechanisms and to adjust processes and procedures, where needed.

The first broad multistakeholder discussion around the GDC took place at the 17th IGF in Addis Ababa (December 2022). It continued during the so-called “Multistakeholder Deep Dive Consultations,” facilitated by the governments of Sweden and Rwanda between January and July 2023. Their “Issue Paper” from September 2023 summarized the debate.

The “Issue Paper” made a number of constructive proposals on how to bridge the digital divide and bring the next two billion people online. High-level recommendations on how to manage complicated issues like cybersecurity, artifical intelligence and sustainable development were presented, and the paper underlined that a GDC “should not duplicate existing forums and processes.” At the same time, it also expressed “the need to identify and address gaps to make the UN system and international cooperation more efficient and coordinated in responding to new and emerging challenges posed by rapid technological developments. To keep pace with technological development, a need for regular review and follow-up mechanisms was acknowledged.”

But next to the many good proposals, there were also some irritating ideas that overshadowed the conversations. The plan to establish a new, more multilateral “Digitical Cooperation Forum” (DCF), the proposal to re-conceptualize the multistakeholder approach by reducing it to a new “Trilateralism” (as we have it in the International Labour Organisation/ILO) and the concept to launch a separate follow up GDC process after its adoption by the forthcoming “UN Summit on the Future” in September 2024 triggered a controversial debate, in particular among the global Internet community.

The fear was that a new DCF could just duplicate or compete with an IGF and waste limited resources. The Tunis Agenda adopted a broad definition of Internet Governance, which included all “Internet-related public policy issues.” The question which was asked was, which “digital cooperation issues” are not “Internet related” and need a discussion outside the existing IGF?

Furthermore, the technical community rejected the idea of being part of civil society. It made clear that it has a special role in managing the technical infrastructure of the Internet, which is different from the role of other stakeholders. Comments were made that reducing the multistakeholder model into a “trilateral mechanism” doesn`t reflect the more differentiated reality of the 21st century. What we see in the day-to-day discussions is not the disappearance of one stakeholder group but the emergence of new ones. Parliamentarians in the IGF now see themselves as a stakeholder group on its own, different from the government. A judge from Africa asked in Kyoto why the judiciary is not recognized as a stakeholder group in the Internet Governance Ecosystem. More and more Internet-related cases are ending in national courtrooms. The academic community—social scientists, economists and lawyers—which had again its annual GIGANET meeting in Kyodo, sees itself as an IGF stakeholder. The Schools on Internet Governance (SIGs) had a two-day preparatory meeting at Kyoto University just before the IGF with hundreds of students and dozens of academics from around the world. Probably, a “new pluralism” reflects the reality in the multistakeholder model better than the “old unilateralism.”

With regard to a potential GDC-Follow Up, Vint Cerf, Co-Chair of the IGF Leadership Panel and Paul Mitchels, Chair of the IGF Multistakeholder Advisory Group (MAG), argued in a letter (July 2023) to UN Secretary-General that there is no need for a new process and offered the IGF as the natural landing place for the GDC.

How to Move Forward?

Interestingly, those controversial proposals did not make it into the “Issue Paper” of the two GDC Co-Facilitaors. The paper remained more general and concentrated on subjects where a broad consensus is realistically possible. This was a good signal and demonstrated that some governments were listening to arguments in the multistakeholder conversations. Those controversial proposals did it also not make it into Antonio Guterres’ opening speech at the IGF in Kyoto. Guterres said: “For nearly two decades, this multistakeholder cooperation has proven remarkably productive—and remarkably resilient in the face of growing geopolitical tensions, proliferating crises, and widening divisions. We must work together to close the governance gap—including by elevating and better aligning the work of the IGF and other digital bodies across the UN system and beyond.”

On the eve of the IGF, Vint Cerf and Amandeep Gil Singh, the UN Tech Envoy, published a joint article in “Nikkei Asia,” which helped further to clear the air and remove misunderstandings. They wrote: “A unique approach to the governance of the internet that involves all stakeholder groups has evolved over the years and has stood the test of time so far. This “multistakeholder” model even kept the internet running smoothly through the COVID-19 crisis when usage surged as 1.7 billion people came online for the first time. Collaborative multistakeholder governance of the online world was originally enshrined in UN practice in 2005 with the establishment of the IGF. In this body, governments, the private sector, civil society and the internet’s technology community meet on an equal footing to discuss governance policies. The IGF is complemented by a number of independent technical platforms, including ICANN and the IETF, which determine technical aspects of internet protocols, addresses and registries. For more than three decades, through many geopolitical twists and turns, this approach has served the world well. As the internet grows, with more users and services, we do need to be able to adapt to fresh challenges while at the same time preserving the multistakeholder approach to internet governance… It is vital that as the digital governance landscape evolves to address emerging challenges and opportunities, including the rise of powerful AI models, internet governance objectives and actions continue to be led by the IGF, ICANN and IETF. The moat around their apolitical structure and functioning is a safeguard that the world cannot afford to lose.”

Those clarifications were helpful in making the GDC discussions in Kyoto more constructive. But it is also natural that critics remain skeptical. They see the GDC process as a risky undertaking, which could move the Internet Governance debate again into troubled waters with more governmental control, censorship and surveillance on the horizon.

On the other hand, many experts see the GDC as an opportunity to reconfirm the Tunis Agenda, deepen the multistakeholder approach and reconfirm the principles for multistakeholder digital cooperation, as laid down in the Net Mundial Sao Paulo Declaration (2014).

However, whispers in the Kyoto conference hall reported that ideas to reverse the “Tunis Agenda” and to substitute the multistakeholder approach with new multilateral mechanisms are not off the table, where bottles of wine and water are still waiting to fill empty glasses.

The GDC negotiations will begin in early 2024. It will be an intergovernmental process with multistakeholder participation. How this participation is organized and how non-governmental input will lead to a real impact in the final document has to be seen.

There is not much time to negotiate a substantial compact. It is even more questionable to find a quick agreement if one takes into consideration that the GDC is only one part of the broader negotiations on the “Summit on the Future,” where compromises have to be found to balance commitments for international security, development, environment and human rights among 193 UN member states. The warning that “intergovernmental horse-trading behind closed doors” in a final night session will sideline digital issues is not unrealistic.

Insofar it would be wise if the GDC negotiators would reduce their ambitions and concentrate on some simple and more general commitments, as proposed, inter alia, in the “Issue Paper” of the two Co-Facilitatos. A GDC of two pages with high-level recommendations could be a reasonable contribution to a process that started in the year 2000 and will continue beyond 2030. A GDC with a strong message to link the WSIS process closer to the Sustainable Development Goals and some guardrails for further discussions of the problems identified in the “Issue Paper” would be a constructive next small step in the right direction.

The discussion will continue after 2024. WSIS+20 in 2025 will be the next opportunity to go more into the details of digital cooperation. One thing the GDC could do is to invite the IGF to report bi-annually to the UN General Assembly about the “State of Digital Corporation in the World.” This would be a good GDC follow-up, strengthen the IGF, avoid duplication and bring more authority and legitimacy to the multistakeholder processes.

By the way, the first “Global Compact” in the UN system was established in the year 2000. The “UN Global Compact” is a non-binding UN pact to get businesses worldwide to adopt sustainable and socially responsible policies and to report on their implementation with 13000 corporate participants and other stakeholders in over 170 countries. The organization of this compact consists of a global agency and local “networks” or agencies for each participating country.

In 2000, there was first the “compact” and then the “institutional network.” In the field of digital cooperation, we do have already an institutional framework. The IGF has dozens of sub-bodies, such as dynamic coalitions, policy networks, and best practices fora, as well as more than 150 national and regional IGFs with thousands of networks. But it is also true that the IGF does not yet have something like a constitution. Its mandate was formulated in paragraphs 72 and 73 of the Tunis Agenda and needs from time to time a renewal. Certainly, the Tunis Agenda can be seen mutatis mutandis as the IGF´s “Mission Statement.” But if a GDC could formulate something like a short “Chapeau” for the IGF, this could strengthen both the legitimacy and authority of the IGF and the multistakeholder approach. It could also introduce some more effective procedures for enhanced communication coordination as well as informal and formal collaboration among state and non-state actors. Small steps are better than big jumps.

In light of the Kyoto discussions, Vint Cerf and Paul Mitchels specified in a second letter to the UN Secretary-General and the GDC Co-Facilitators the substantial and procedural proposals of the multistakeholder IGF community for the forthcoming GDC negotiations. And they reiterated that the “diverse array of structures and processes means that the IGF is well-placed to “keep pace with technological development” and offers an ecosystem suited to address the need for “regular review and follow-up mechanisms,” as called for in your Issues Paper.” It has to be seen how this new “letter diplomacy” will translate into a new approach to drafting a GDC.

ICANN 77 in Hamburg

In Hamburg, ICANN celebrated its 25th anniversary. It was only the second time that Germany hosted an ICANN meeting. The first one took place in May 1999 in Berlin. I remember many discussions in the “Hotel Adlon” where participants approached ICANN with a skeptical view and expected that the new corporation would die within five years.

Twenty-five years later, ICANN is not only still alive, it is today one of the key building blocks in the global Internet Governance Ecosystem. It has a long list of achievements: the Universal Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP), the extension of the DNS by introducing iDNs and new gTLDS, the introduction of an enhanced security protocol with the DNSSEC. The root server system, which, after long and controversial debates, is now under full control of ICANN, manages more than 1500 zone files for Top Level Domains. The registries and registrars of ccTLD and gTLDs have nearly 400 million domain names in their database. Hundreds of millions of IP addresses have been allocated. When ICANN was established in 1998, the world had less than 500 million Internet users. Now, we do have five billion. And regardless of this tremendous growth, the technical infrastructure, which is governed by ICANN, works day by day without big problems.

Only recently, ICANN managed the stress test during the Corona pandemic, when Internet traffic exploded for services like home office, homeschooling, home shopping etc. The Internet is not broken, and the Internet transport layer is not fragmented. ICANN stands for “One World, One Internet”.

ICANN has been the subject of criticism from all corners since its birth. But, ICANN was always able to review itself critically and to make reforms and adjustments when needed. In 2000, it reviewed the first At Large Elections, started the first reform process, and established the At Large Advisory Committee (ALAC) and the NomCom. It is understood that it is better to separate the Domain Supporting Organisation (DNSO) into two Supporting Organisations: one for ccTLDs (CNSO) and one for gTLDs (GNSO). It abolished the Protocol Supporting Organisation (PSO) and established new advisory committees like the “Stability and Security Advisory Committee” (SSAC). ICANN DNS is like try it, test it, learn the lessons. And ICANN did learn a lot of lessons in its first 25 years.

One highlight in its history was that it managed the IANA transition in 2016. For many years, ICANN was criticized—in particular by autocratic states and their governments—that it is nothing more than an instrument in the hands of the US government. And indeed, until 2016, the US government did oversee the A Root Server and reserved its right to authorize the deletion, addition or modification of zone files for top-level domains in the Internet root. The 2016 IANA transition ended this US stewardship role. ICANN moved out of the political line of fire and could demonstrate to the world (as seen recently in the Ukraine war) that it is the neutral steward of the whole global Internet community and works to the benefit of all. In charge is now the “Empowered Community,” which has even the right to remove the ICANN Board if it takes stupid decisions or misuses the budget.

ICANN’s governance model, with a governing board, three supporting organizations and four advisory committees with numerous constituencies and regional units, allows everybody to participate in open, transparent and bottom-up policy development processes. Even the governments have realized over the years that to sit in an advisory role in ICANN’s microcosmos is not so bad.

To put governments on an advisory committee in 1998 was a new approach and shocking for some governments. But the mechanism to leave the final decision in the hands of the affected and concerned constituencies and to allow all stakeholders, including governments, to have a channel to raise their voices in front of the board was proven by the test of time. It was certainly an innovation in global policy-making, which was not welcomed everywhere. It was a pilot project. But the pilot worked. I remember when ITU Secretary-General Hammadou Toure came to the ICANN meeting in Cairo in 2008 and invited governments to leave the GAC and come to the ITU, where they do not have only a voice but a real vote. Governments were thinking twice, and nobody left the GAC, which now has more than 170 members.

In 1998, the GAC was meeting behind closed doors. Now, all GAC meetings, even the drafting of the GAC-Communique, are open to everybody. In 1998, it was unclear what would happen if the ICANN Board rejected a GAC Advice. Today, there are procedures in place to find common solutions to manage a global public good in the interest of the global Internet community if the ICANN Board has a problem with a GAC Consensus Advice.

Political Challenges and a Limited Technical Mandate

There are certainly problems in today´s ICANN. Nothing is perfect, and ICANN has to struggle with many weaknesses and deficiencies. Policy Developments Processes (PDP) are too long. The endless saga of finding a global policy for data protection for registrants of domain names, which started with the WHOIS debate in 1998, can be seen as a sad failure. The process of introduction of new gTLDs is another case for criticism. And the problem of so-called “generics” belongs to the minus-list. There are new issues and new challenges, such as DNS Abuse or alternative namespaces. Even if ICANN is rather safe against capture by individual stakeholders, it is not free from battles of certain pressure groups to dominate decisions. And the global South is underrepresented. It takes too long for the ICANN Board to implement the recommendations of the various review teams that oversee ICANN’s activities. This undermines trust in the functioning of the accountability mechanisms. But to have more than ten review processes in the ICANN cosmos is too much and makes no sense. The idea to start a “Holistic Review” is a step in the right direction.

Another issue is to clarify ICANN’s role in the forthcoming global negotiations on Internet Governance and digital cooperation. In the early 2000s, ICANN was a subject of the big US-China controversy within WSIS. Some governments wanted to put ICANN under an intergovernmental regime. ICANN CEO Paul Twomey was removed from the negotiation hall in Geneva in November 2003, when governments wanted to negotiate without the technical community how to deal with the technical infrastructure of the Internet. Finally, in the Tunis Agenda, ICANN was recognized as the responsible actor for the “day-to-day operation” of the DNS.

In the middle of the 2010s, ICANN, under Fadi Chehade, was again in the line of fire. The IANA transition ended this period. At the end of the 2010s, Göran Marby pulled back and moved ICANN into the shadow of global Internet policymaking. In Hamburg, the discussion circled around the question of how technical and political ICANN should be in the future. ICANN has now to find the right balance.

ICANN is neither the world government of the Internet nor the police of the DNS. It should be made clear to the rest of the world that it has a limited technical mandate. But if five billion Internet users are dependent on an infrastructure that ICANN and its constituencies manage, then ICANN can not escape from its responsibilities to contribute to a stable, safe, free, open and interoperable Internet where the public core has to be protected against attacks from outside.

The message from ICANN´s Hamburg meeting is ICANN is prepared for the next round of the global Internet debate. It understands its limited role but will make its voice heard, both in the GDC negotiations as well as in WSIS+20.

A new CEO, together with the community, has to find the right balance, which is not an easy task. And it will not be an easy task to get a new leader who will meet all the requirements of such a unique body as ICANN. The call for a new CEO is now open until November 27, 2023. Some optimists expect that ICANN’s CEO Search Committee will be able to present a new candidate already in March 2024 in Puerto Rico, when ICANN will have its 79th meeting.

By Wolfgang Kleinwächter, Professor Emeritus at the University of Aarhus

He is a member of the Global Commission on Stability in Cyberspace, was a member of the ICANN Board (2013 – 2015) and served as Special Ambassador for the Net Mundial Initiative (2014 – 2016).

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Error ruddyconsult  –  Nov 21, 2023 11:39 PM

The published phrase “State of Digital Corporation in the World.”
should read
“State of Digital Cooperation in the World.”
Substantial difference

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