NETmundial, a two-day conference on the future of internet governance concluded this week, producing an outcome document advocating a few core internet values, a multistakeholder approach towards decision making, and a roadmap for further action.
Neelie Kroes, who heads the European Union’s “Digital Agenda” policy group, has praised NETmundial’s outcomes, providing “a clear set of issues that must be addressed to strengthen and refine models for internet governance.” She said she would continue to push all parties to deliver on the concrete actions identified.
Much like the Tunis Agenda that created the Internet Governance Forum, NETmundial advocated a multistakeholder model aimed at welcoming the contribution of all stakeholders. It also stressed that internet governance should promote sustainable and inclusive development and for the promotion of human rights globally.
However, in his reaction to NETmundial, technology policy researcher Eli Dourado notes that many civil rights representatives are upset that net neutrality did not make it into the final draft and the language around surveillance was weakened.
Just prior to the opening of NETmundial in Sao Paulo, Brazil had just passed its “Marco Civil da Internet,” a set of legislation designed to enforce net neutrality in the country, protect Brazilians’ freedom of expression, and give Brazilian citizens a reasonable expectation of privacy.
This created an atmosphere where action seemed possible, or even inevitable. Yet, as observer Jean Christophe Nothias notes, multistakeholder-ism (or “MSism”) runs counter to the democratic rationale behind the Marco Civil.
Nothias writes, “Democracy is losing ground to MSism, especially since MSism enforces a simple idea: ‘equal footing’ means rights for all participants, putting corporations and governments on the same starting and ending line when it comes to defining or vetoing policies of public concern, in a digital space that is becoming more and more of an enclosed, corporatized version of what should be a public global commons.”
Web Foundation’s regional coordinator for Africa, Nnenna Nwakanma in her speech pointed out that involving different bodies is central in garnering trust in a governance system. But she also pointed out that the term multistakeholder can be misleading: “the idea of multistakeholder engagement is getting muddled and losing its meaning.”
The document was created with the consultation of government representatives and various industry and citizen groups, to show a consensus of these parties. Although, it didn’t receive full consensus, given that government representatives from Cuba, India, and Russia – while expressing admiration for the process – withheld support for the document.
Nothias also points out that NETmundial missed the opportunity to addressing the practical legal problems with enforcing internet rules across borders. For instance, some have pointed out that it may be difficult to enforce regulations such as Brazil’s own data privacy and retention laws to businesses holding Brazilians’ data in foreign data centers. A digital international agreement, law or framework would certainly help, he says.
In response to the NETmundial report, i2Coalition Co-Founder and Public Policy Working Group Chair David Snead stated that as a “global brainstorming session,” the Netmundial process was a success.
Snead placed special emphasis on the multistakeholder approach in which i2Coalition has been largely supportive of since its inception.
Speaking for the the i2Coalition, he stated, “We welcome the report’s frequent emphasis on the multistakeholder model of Internet governance. The Netmundial process has shown that businesses, civil society, individuals and governments can work effectively together to help move the Internet governance process forward. We support statements in the NetMundial report emphasizing that governments should continue to have advisory roles in Internet governance, and not stewardship roles.”
Sneed states, “Importantly, the report addressed and issue of key concern to our members: jurisdictional and standards based decisions. By highlighting the importance of global connectivity, and open standards, the report helps emphasize the importance of a unified Internet. Fracturing the Internet within governmental boundaries goes against the very nature of the Internet’s growth.”
The NETmundial report also set out a roadmap of actions that need further development, including jurisdiction issues relating to legal disputes, the globalization of ICANN, and net neutrality.
What is clear is that the global internet is a big enough deal for key players to meet to discuss it, but it also shows that two days is too short of a time to figure out international internet governance.