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This session was guided by Mr Yves Mathieu, Co-director Missions Publiques, Mr Antoine Vergne, International Project Manager Missions Publiques, and Ms Carmen Bouley de Santiago, Project Officer Missions Publiques. The organisers started by highlighting their conviction that there needs to be a permanent dialogue about issues related to Internet governance (IG). Citizens should be involved always, not only at election times.
The organisers identified a lack of procedures that could connect experts with non-experts. Citizens have a very valuable perspective to add, based on their life experiences and their life circumstances, that is easily overlooked by IG practitioners and often not recognised in IG processes. In other words, the organisers stressed that it is important to have the input of 'ordinary people' in IG debates. They also emphasised that the aim of fostering global citizen debates is to connect the disconnected and to bring together those who are already Internet literate with those who are still developing these skills.
Mathieu and Vergne argued that a global citizens’ debate is best described as 'bringing the voice of ordinary citizens of the world into the discussion and negotiation of global challenges' with the aim of 'supporting the strategy of stakeholders with the views of non-experts who have gone through a process of deliberation'.
The session took the form of small group discussions. Questions posed by the organisers guided the discussions and each group reported their findings back to the plenary.
A first round of discussion addressed the relevance of a global citizens debate. Participants were asked to think about the opportunities and obstacles of such a debate and to reflect on its possible influence on other discussions about the future of the Internet. Summarising the discussion in their respective groups, the following points were highlighted:
Participants were then asked to reflect on some of the key topics that such a debate should address. Issues which were highlighted during the discussion include net neutrality, cybersecurity, privacy, data protection, artificial intelligence, entrepreneurship and the digital economy, how to address the digital divide, the Internet and democracy, human rights, the impact of culture on the Internet.
In addition, a number of questions that can be asked as part of global citizens’ debates were mentioned during the discussion These include:
Mr Vint Cerf, American Internet pioneer and recognised as one of 'the fathers of the Internet', who was asked to provide a round-up for the debate, stressed that it is important to have global citizens’ debates and that such dialogues should be seen as a two-way opportunities. On the one hand, it can serve to create more awareness among the general public about the benefits and hazards associated with the Internet. On the other hand, governments and the private sector have the opportunity to learn about needs through citizen dialogues. This is a great opportunity to uncover what drives behaviour online and what can help create beneficial behaviours. He argued that there is 'no such thing as an Internet drivers license', which means we need to find other ways to ensure that everyone understands the rules and is able to use the Internet safely. We need such dialogues to create better opportunities for everyone to participate in IG discussions and to use the Internet.
By Katharina E Höne