RIF 2016 – almost everything about Internet governance and regulation

RIF 2016 was a programme accompanying the 7th annual conference on the development of the Internet globally and on the .RS and .СРБ domains in Serbia – DIDS 2016 – organised by the Serbian National Internet Domain Registry (RNIDS) Foundation. This second Regional Internet forum, held 16th March at the Hyatt Regency Belgrade hotel, was attended by some fifty representatives of national Internet registries from south-eastern Europe, representatives of state bodies, local Internet communities and global Internet organisations and legal experts from the region. The topics of discussion at RIF 2016 included opinions and examples from the practice of professionals in the region in regard to the multistakeholder model of Internet governance, the development of e-government in Serbia and the region, net neutrality and legal regulation in this area, as well as online security.


In the first block of talks titled “What’s cooking in the region?”, discussion centred around the practical administration of the Internet, as well as successful business models in the domain business in the region. Gabriella Schittek, GSE Manager for Central & Eastern Europe at ICANN, explained that the multistakeholder model, the basis on which her organisation also operated, was a way for all interested parties, organisations and companies to get involved in the process of Internet governance. In July the US government was expected to relinquish supervision of the IANA functions, she said, and then they would have greater responsibility in ensuring the proper operation of the network. She also invited interested students to apply for the NextGen@ICANN programme, which supports successful applicants as the Internet users of the future. Applications will be open until 18th April.

Iliya Bazlyankov, Chair of the Executive committee at CORE – the Swiss Internet Council of Registrars – talked about the practical side of running the Internet and underlined the need to broaden knowledge in this area, especially in our region. He said that partnership would be stepped up with organisations involved in Internet governance, such as the DiploFoundation in Serbia.

After these introductory talks the delegates at RIF had a chance to hear about progress in the development of e-government in Serbia and Croatia from Marija Kujačić, head of the Department for Implementation and Support in the Directorate for e-Government within the Serbian Ministry of Public Administration and Local Self-Government and Tomislav Vračić, Head of Sector for ICT Infrastructure at the Croatian Ministry of Public Administration. Marija Kujačić presented the benefits of Open Data in government. These are public, digital data that are freely available on the Internet and which can be processed and analysed in this form, the advantages of which are transparency, added value and the potential for new jobs to be created. Arguments for the rejection of this concept are still common in our society, ranging from claims that the quality of Serbian public data is very poor to the opinion that Open Data deprives the government of revenue. Despite this, and the lack of professional analysts, this country was gradually moving towards opening data up to the public, Marija Kujačić concluded. Her colleague and fellow advocate of Open Data, Tomislav Vračić, presented the Croatian e-Građani (e-Citizens) service, which in the two years or less in which it has been up and running, has reached a figure of 13,000 daily logins. Four years ago, when development of this project began, anyone with bureaucratic business to get done could expect to spend a great deal of time standing in long queues. However, since 2014, Croatia’s citizens have been able to register and receive a username and electronic key, and then use the online e-Građani service to file tax returns, register births and get information on benefit payments for new mothers, doctor’s appointments or the expiry of personal documents. Electronic school records even allow parents to check the grades and absences of their children in around 450 schools. Tomislav joked that it was no longer the parents that were nervous before parents’ evenings – now it was the children’s turn to worry, since their grades and absences could easily be monitored with a few clicks.

Davor Šoštarič, Director of the Institute of Information Science (IZUM) in Maribor, Slovenia, was the author of the first shared cataloguing programmes and head of the team for systems analysis and programming of the bibliographic applications from which COBISS – Co-operative Online Bibliographic System and Services – came about. This was the model for a system that became the platform for national bibliographic information systems in Slovenia and another six countries of south-eastern Europe. For this system to function, libraries need to be ready to exchange data, and while they conduct the necessary data entry the system is continuing to develop rapidly. Now, anyone can use an Android or iOS mobile app to check which library has a particular book and whether it is available, as well as a great deal of other useful information.

The second panel debate in this block was opened by Domen Savič, an Internet activist from Slovenia who is an advocate for free Internet, effective mass media and other open communication channels. Before activists got interested in net neutrality this topic did not have a high profile, Savič says, since the public was not aware of this issue and so did not put pressure on governments. As a result, governments also did not feel the need to inform the media in regard to neutrality, and because of the lack of interest in this subject on the part of the media it did not reach a wider audience. This “vicious circle” of apathy was broken by activists. Savič explained how the battle for net neutrality played out in Slovenia, beginning with raising public awareness of the importance of this topic and continuing on to discussions with politicians on the influence of telecommunications companies and the online business sector in general. The next phase involved clear and purposeful calls to action. Here the battle focused on active pressure on members of the national government and on Slovene members of the European Parliament. Events took a similar course across the continent, and last year the European Parliament finally voted to put an end to mobile roaming fees and to establish the principle of net neutrality in the whole of the EU, thus thwarting the telecoms companies that wanted to continue blocking or throttling certain content. Savič ended his talk with the message that regulatory bodies perhaps could not always be objective but could at least try not to work in the favor of industry to the detriment of ordinary citizens. Industry would always have other ways of surviving and ensuring profits, while the same was by no means certain where the public were concerned.

Nataša Đukanović, Director of Marketing at the .ME registry, told of the new ways Montenegro had devised to sell domains: public auctions from which it had earned 2.7 million dollars and the Premium Program, which couples domain sales with support for quality Internet projects and from which it has taken 1,800,000 dollars. The first domain actions were held in 2008 in New York, when the domain date.me was sold for 70,000 dollars. Montenegro is somewhat unusual in that only 0.97% of its domains are registered by locals, while most of its customers are from the US and China. Of course, this is largely due to the potential of the “.me” extension for creating English language phrases from the domain name.

The Macedonian experience in establishing the .МКД domain was shared by Sanja Simonova from MARnet, who told the story of how this country succeeded in registering its Cyrillic TLD after a public debate and voting. Daniel Kalchev from Digital Systems, who founded the Bulgarian ccTLKD registry in 1991, explained that Bulgaria had gone through a much longer procedure in registering its domain. For years industry professionals in Bulgaria pressurised first their own government to get more actively involved in the struggle for the .БГ domain, and then ICANN, which at the time declined to allow Bulgaria this domain, with little by way of explanation. It was only two years ago that Bulgaria finally acquired the right to this domain, but on condition that it establish two registries, one which would control the Cyrillic domain and one for the Latin domain.

In block two, titled “Lawyers’ session” there was discussion of regulations, academic opinion, best practices and regional legal challenges relating to the Internet. David Taylor, a partner in the company Hogan Lovells, which employs 2,500 legal experts and lawyers, explained how a dilemma from the real world spilt over into the virtual world in a case in the wine industry. It had been clear to many for some time, David explained, that an industry producing 38.4 billion bottles annually would want its own top-level domain. After a debate on what the extension ought to be, Donuts Inc launched both the .WINE and the .VIN gTLDs – which turned out a good business move since the sunrise period for these domains was one of the most successful in its history.

Georgi Dimitrov, manager and partner at the Dimitrov, Petrov & Co. law firm, shared examples with attendees at the Hyatt from the practice of Bulgarian courts, notable amongst which was the decision to recognise electronic documents on an equal footing with paper documents, meaning that emails would be treated as valid documents, which would come into force at the moment in which the message arrived in the recipient’s inbox and not the moment at which it was read.

Maja Bogataj Jančič from the Slovenian Intellectual Property Institute shared her thoughts on the EU reforms of this legal area, especially in the context of the development of the Internet, which was its greatest challenge. In order to modernise the legislative framework for this sector, which dated from a time when broadband Internet was not widespread, the European Commission has set reform of copyright laws as one of its priorities. German Pirate Party MEP Julia Reda was given the task of writing a copyright evaluation report which led to a turbulent debate in the European Parliament and more than 550 amendments in just a month and a half. The report sets out the requirement for copyright laws to be worked on, for European regulations to be harmonised across all states and for the interests of all stakeholders to be balanced. However it also contains some provisions that were the subject of much discussion, such as the demand for public domain material to remain the property of all.

Dušan Popović, assistant professor at the University of Belgrade Faculty of Law for the subjects Intellectual Property Law and Competition Law weighed in on the discussion on reforms of copyright law in the EU. On the question of whether the EU should introduce the right of publishers to royalties for the use of excerpts from news articles, his talk suggested that it should not – such use did not involve use of the entire work, nor was it “stealing” readers.

Neda Zdraveva from the Iustinianus Primus Faculty of Law at the Saints Cyril and Methodius University in Skopje, said that national governments needed to work together in improving consumer protection, while Albina Dlačić, attorney from the Croatian Dlačić practice, explained in what cases Internet providers were liable when they were the sole access provider, and in which cases in Europe the courts had “turned a blind eye” in regard to provision of services to those violating copyright laws, whether it be Pirate Bay or YouTube.

The last block of talks concerned issues of security, with examples of how children and adults could be protected from online fraud, as well as ways of raising awareness of cyber-security, shared by Gorazd Božič, Director of the Slovene SI-CERT team for the prevention of security risks in ICT systems. In addition to Božić, Domen Savič also took part in this discussion, presenting the Cryptoparty in Slovenia, which was dedicated to raising awareness of the importance of privacy in communications, especially in a time when we could expect the rapid development of technologies (such as the Internet of Things) that would bring new dangers.

At the end of this fruitful working day, two events relevant to the industry were announced – SEEDIG (the South Eastern European Dialogue on Internet Governance), to be held in Belgrade in April, and EuroDIG (the European dialogue on Internet Governance) in Brussels on 9th and 10th June 2016.

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