Swiss IGF 2015: Messages from Bern

The first regular Swiss IGF was held on 19 May 2015 in Bern, Switzerland, assembling around 80 participants duly representing all stakeholder groups of the country. It was conducted in three languages (D,F,E) by providing multilingual inclusiveness. The full-day program (3 plenary and 2 workshop sessions) was based on a prior public call for issues and designed by the Swiss IGF multi-stakeholder steering committee. All sessions were held involving directly all participants in an interactive debate, without needing to resort to panelists.

Key outcomes of the three plenary sessions at the 2015 Swiss IGF

Plenary 1: focused on the Snowden revelations and related consequences for Internet users. Keywords were confidence and trust and how to ensure or achieve data authority and digital self-determination of end users.

  • Citizens face a dilemma put to the fore by the Snowden revelations, as they share sensitive information on networks and platforms. The use of this data by these platforms is not entirely of their choice, with privacy, profiling and big data processing implications.
  • Who can they trust? There is a common feeling that a shared democratic multistakeholder debate is needed, looking for shared responses and solutions, which should include transparency measures, practice-oriented capacity building, coding-in privacy standards by default and awareness-raising, in particular in the education of the younger generation.
  • A potential avenue for going forward suggested by participants: advocate for a democratic international framework addressing these issues, which should have as its pillars the digital self-determination of users, taking into account the trans-border impact of information shared online. It’s not so much about privacy, it’s all about control of personal data.

Plenary 2: focused on security, ISP liabilities, data retention, service level agreements and consumer protection. Keywords were reciprocal responsibilities.

  • Security is a shared responsibility, where end-users, service providers, and technology providers play different roles. The precise delimitation of such roles has to consider technical possibilities, be future-proof and provide for transparency.
  • Proprietary systems vs. Open Source Software. Both have their limits. Open source breeds less responsibility from a single source – but support of the package comes as a shared responsibility, with or without a vendor involved. Proprietary software keeps responsibility high on the vendor itself – but if the vendor goes out of business, support ends. Both scenarios generate strong concerns from users.
  • On service level agreements (SLAs) the just balance has to be found between minimal, understandable, user-friendly rights and an innovation compatible environment. User peer-review of SLAs or simple, commonly agreed labelling might be tools in this regard. This is a socio-political debate, where the limitations of national solutions have to be borne in mind.

Plenary 3: focused on access to content and services – accessibility and its enduring limits.

  • There was wide agreement that although an appropriate national and international legislative framework on accessibility is available, a lot of work remains to be undertaken on its actual implementation, both by private and public actors. Awareness-raising, education and training of specialists is needed. Otherwise we risk a growing divide, as access to new digital services and content grows more and more pervasive, missing the chance for fuller integration and losing the opportunity of reaping the benefits for the wider population which stem from accessibility.
  • Accessibility requirements should be mandatory for all government procurement.
  • On the role of copyright as a possible barrier to a full access to contents, a fact-based approach was advocated. The need to adapt existing rules to the new digital environment and new forms of use, while maintaining pre-existing public interest uses – as for public libraries and the archiving of relevant public digital native content – and established user rights as the possibility of private copying, was identified by participants. In addition, open access solutions for publicly funded scientific publications and research results were also mentioned as a good way forward. Or: Anything paid by the public must be accessible for the public.

(This message from Bern was compiled by our reporting team Jorge Cancio, Olivier MJ Crepin-Leblond and Nicolas Rollier)