Consensus On Principles Difficult To Bake Into Two-Day NetMundial

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Consensus on the outcome document seemed elusive on day one of the NetMundial meeting that started in Sao Paulo, Brazil yesterday. But ambitions were high for many.

The NetMundial meeting is taking place on 23-24 April.

Representatives from Russia and Saudi Arabia pointed to shortcomings in the prepared draft document containing a set of internet rights and principles and a roadmap for possible institutional reforms. Russia re-tabled its old proposal to establish a UN structure for Internet governance. US Cyber Security Coordinator and Special Assistant to the President Michael Daniel warned against such attempts.

Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff left no one in doubt that the surveillance revelations were the trigger to NetMundial in the first place. Rousseff speaking in the Welcoming Session of the two day NetMundial, that was cordially compared to the upcoming World Football Championship, said refering to the revelations of mass surveillance: “These events are not acceptable, they were not acceptable in the past and remain unacceptable today.”

Surveillance: Insidious and Imminent

Without mentioning the NSA or the US, Rousseff called pervasive surveillance “an affront against the very nature of the internet as a democratic, free and pluralistic platform.” Rousseff referred to her proposal, made at the UN last year, to establish a “global civil framework” for internet governance and the “protection of data that travels through the Internet”.

Together with German Chancellor Merkel, Rousseff said, she had initiated the passing of a resolution about privacy in the digital age at the UN. NetMundial will “provide further momentum” to the effort of protecting online rights of users in the same way as they were protected offline. The meeting, Rousseff said, is living up to a “global yearning” to protect basic human rights, including personal privacy, on the net.

Rousseff’s appeal answered some concerns presented by civil society that surveillance would not be addressed as a topic. Speaking for the civil society in the welcoming session, Nnenna Nwakanma, Africa Regional Coordinator for the World Wide Web Foundation, reminded the Brazilian President of her strong statement with regard to privacy protection before the UN and requested to say “no to surveillance” beside reforms with regard to Internet governance inclusiveness and transparency.

Nnenna also called for a change from the “rhetoric of cyberwar”, and for more efforts to provide global access to the internet and resources for participation in governance processes. “The internet should be able to provide resources for its own governance,” she said, adding, “Maybe part of the domain name fees could be reinvested here.”

The reform of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and the transition of the core functions of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) to a multistakeholder-driven oversight is also on the agenda at NetMundial.

World Wide Web Founder Tim Berners-Lee in his welcoming speech described surveillance as “the most immediate” and “one of the more insidious” threats, “because you don’t see it happening unlike censorship.” He was one of the first to applaud Brazil’s passing this week of the Marco Civil legislation aimed at ensuring civil rights online. After final passage by the legislators on the eve of the NetMundial, Rousseff signed the long-debated law, just in time to present it as what Berners-Lee said was a precedent, to be followed by others.

Marco Civil and Net Neutrality

Marco Civil includes rights and responsibilities of internet users and also a clause to protect internet neutrality. How strongly net neutrality should be protected in the NetMundial also is one of the more controversial debates at Sao Paulo. Behind the scenes, a debate is raging about softening the language to please telecommunications companies, one observer told Intellectual Property Watch. Net neutrality was one of the very issues that delayed the passage of Marco Civil.

Chair’s Report instead of Sao Paulo Principles?

There is quite a list of controversial points with regard to the NetMundial draft outcome document for NetMundial which has been prepared by the NetMundial’s Executive Multi-Stakeholder Committee (EMC) and is now under consideration by the conference and online participants. Besides those fighting for or against net neutrality, the more entrenched positions are more or less inherited from many earlier internet governance discussions.

European Commission Vice President Neelie Kroes argued for stronger language in human rights principles part – contrary to the UK government who cautioned against some rights aspects – and called on the conference to become more concrete with regard to the IANA transition and the strengthening of internet governance, in order to not lose time.

“If we simply do more talking, use more nice words, we will have wasted the opportunity and failed the global community.” Kroes said. “During the next two days, I will be breathing down everybody’s neck until we have a discussion on concrete actions.”

While it remains to be seen how Kroes will enact that threat, the conference is clearly divided with regard about what institutional reforms might be necessary.

The Russian Minister of Communication and Mass Media, Nikolai Nikiforov, asked for a “specific international structure aimed at development and introduction of international norms and other standards on internet governance,” plus additional international relevant structures and organizations “for the realisation of these objectives within the framework of the UN or ITU.”

The Internet Governance Forum (IGF), Nikiforov said, is no decision-making body, and ICANN is “not a globally respected international global organisation,” which prevents compliance with the principles of the equality of states.

Abdullah Abdulaziz Aldarrab, Minister of Communications and Information Technology, Saudi Arabia, offered criticism that the “Netmundial’s draft documents lean towards maintaining the status quo which was not satisfactory.”

Aldarrab underlined that “internet is the right of governments and that public policy should be developed by all governments on an equal footing,” and questioned if the document was well in line with the Tunis Agenda.

Vinay Kwatra, deputy secretary at the Indian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, called for inclusion of “the core internet infrastructure, to be anchored in appropriate international legal framework.”

All three countries were – to a varying degree – hesitant to sign off on the draft outcome document. Russia and Saudi Arabia recommended to make it just a chair’s report. India said it would like to see some of its contributions be made part of the document.

The US on its part seemed more comfortable with the outcome document so far. Cyber Security Coordinator Michael Daniel applauded NetMundial and other multistakeholder gatherings for the “resistance to the challenge” to “use the recent disclosures about our signals intelligence programs as an excuse to upend the successful multi-stakeholder approach and the openness it promotes in favor of a state-driven system that impedes it.”

Brazilian Ambassador Benedicto Fonseca Filho in a session that presented the goals and workings of the NetMundial defended the draft outcome document and the process so far.

“Certainly this is not a perfect document,” he said. “But we would like this to be seen in the light of something that has a framework. We are not inventing something new, we are trying to implement something that has already been agreed.”

Berlin researcher Jeanette Hofmann, academic co-chair of NetMundial, also invited further discussion. “The document is still open,” she reminded participants in Sao Paulo.

Monika Ermert may be reached at

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