NETmundial: The Future of Internet Governance

April 24, 2014 | 23:29
NETmundial: The Future of Internet Governance
NETmundial: The Future of Internet Governance
NETmundial is a major conference on Internet governance organized by Brazil and NET1 which took place April 23–24. Representatives of governments, civil society and the tech community convened to discuss the future of the Internet with the main focus on how it should be governed.

The direct cause for the event were the unceasing revelations of Edward Snowden about the mass surveillance of digital communications by the NSA. President of Brazil, Dalma Rousseff, who turned out to be one of the high profile political targets of NSA snooping, made a scathing speech at the 68th U.N. General Assembly where she stated that the activities of the Americans were 'a breach of international law'. She then continued to make a strong case for the right to privacy: 'In the absence of the right to privacy, there can be no true freedom of expression and opinion, and therefore no effective democracy.'

Soon thereafter the Internet governance institutions including the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) released a joined statement renouncing activities of mass surveillance. They expressed 'strong concern over the undermining of the trust and confidence of Internet users globally due to recent revelations of pervasive monitoring and surveillance', and they 'identified the need for ongoing effort to address Internet Governance challenges, and agreed to catalyze community-wide efforts towards the evolution of global multistakeholder Internet cooperation.'

The Internet is run by a multistakeholder model (MSM) in which representatives of the private sector, governments, civil society groups and the tech community all have their say. However, a battle has been raging for decades in which different parties have wanted to gain greater power over the Internet. Especially the historically grown dominant role of the United States in Internet governance has often been a thorn in the eye not only of other nations but also of Internet libertarians.

The battle over Internet governance raises its head every few years, most recently at the UN International Telecommunication Union (ITU) conference in 2012 when governments of mostly non-Western nations attempted to delegate more influence to governments. Back then, the US and its European allies were able to ward off demands for changes to Internet governance.

But now the NSA scandal has severely undermined the legitimacy of US dominance over Internet governance. And many those the US could count as its allies in 2012 now have their own reasons to demand globalization of Internet governance.

In October 2013 Fadi Chehadé, chair and CEO of ICANN met up with President Rousseff and soon thereafter Roussef announced Brazil would organize an Internet summit.

The aim of NETmundial or the Global Multistakeholder Conference on the Future of Internet Governance is twofold: producing universal principles by which the Internet should be governed and a road map toward the globalization of Internet governance institutions like ICANN.

The conclusions and decisions made on the summit will be laid down in what is called the outcome document. A draft outcome document has been disseminated prior to the start of the summit. The groups and people gathered at the summit will have a chance to propose changes to the document with the aim of creating a final version all can agree on. Considering the circumstances out of which NETmundial was born it wasn't naïve to expect the document to include strong measures to protect the privacy of citizens, protections against mass surveillance and concrete steps toward the globalization of Internet institutions.

However, after the first day of the summit, civil society organizations have issued a press release expressing their alarm over the weakness of the draft document. The signatories include Article 19 an organization defending freedom of expression and information, the World Wide Web Foundation and Free Press. The coalition is proposing a number of amendments of which the three most prominent are:

1. Concrete measures to insure surveillance and interception is done in accordance with international human rights law;
2. Stronger action to reinforce the right to privacy;
3. A clear road map toward the globalization of ICANN to be completed by September 2015.

At the time of writing the heated negotiations about the final version of the text are coming to a close. The next post will be an interview with Niels ten Oever, head of Digital at Article 19. He is at NETmundial participating in the process of drafting the outcome document. In the interview he discusses the input of the civil society organizations, the importance of Internet governance and shares his thoughts about the final text of the outcome document.

Photo: NASA
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