NETmundial Internet Governance Meeting Closes With Less Than “Rough Consensus”

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Russia, Cuba, India and the civil society stakeholder group did not agree to the final outcome document of the NETmundial internet governance meeting in Sao Paulo, Brazil yesterday.

Humbly labelled as the “NETMundial Multistakeholder Statement” of Sao Paulo, the document did not move far enough from the status quo, Niels ten Oever, acting head of the Article 19 group, said presenting the dissenting opinions of civil society groups. Russia, Cuba and India also read their objections into the record of the meeting. But Vinay Kwatra, deputy secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of India, added, that he had learned a lot from NETmundial’s process.

The controversies over how to address surveillance in the first multistakeholder developed Internet Governance Principles text on the global level, the dispute about net neutrality and to some extent also the rift about protection of intermediaries form liability took their toll in the end of the ambitious, two day conference.

Fundamental Rights Focus – Still Too Weak?

“We are disappointed because that outcome document fails to adequately reflect a number of our key concerns,” ten Oever said. “The lack of acknowledgement of net neutrality at NETmundial is deeply disappointing. Mass surveillance has not been sufficiently denounced as being inconsistent with human rights and the principle of proportionality. And although the addition of language on Internet intermediary liability is welcomed, the failure of the draft text to ensure due process safeguards could undermine the rights to freedom of expression and privacy.”

The intermediary liability subject is too much about business and not enough about human rights, said Robin Gross, executive director of IP Justice.

The draft proposal for protection of intermediaries read: “in order to ensure that these rights (information and access rights) are available in practice, it is essential that internet intermediaries are protected from liability for the actions of their users within the limitations of law.”

The final version was reworded to say: “Intermediary liability limitations should be implemented in a way that respects and promotes economic growth, innovation, creativity, and free flow of information. I this regard, cooperation among all stakeholders should be encouraged to address and deter illegal activity consistent with fair process.”

IP Protection Wins, Net Neutrality Loses

“We are supposed to ‘cooperate’ to protect IPR,” Gross sighed, acknowledging at the same time, that there were some positive points, including the reference to Article 19 free expression of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and “we got some language on democracy.”

Another big disappointment for civil society, but to some extent also for the Brazilian hosts, was the lack of consensus on net neutrality – regardless of all the applause for the newly passed Marco Civil which includes net neutrality. Together with the roles and responsibilities of stakeholders in internet governance, jurisdictional issues and benchmarking systems to check the application of Internet Governance Principles, net neutrality was put on a “non-exhaustive list” of points to discuss further.

Reconciling Multistakeholder and Multilateral

The quarrel about the roles and responsibilities of the various stakeholders in internet governance was one of the most divisive points between governments. Representatives of Russia, China and Saudi Arabia pushed for the acknowledgment of sovereignty and multilateral internet governance solutions, in short, a special role for states.

One of the goals of the Brazilians had been to reconcile the traditional multilateral and the new, shiny multistakeholder approach.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff in her opening speech had already touched on the issue, pointing out, “We see no opposition whatsoever between multilateral and the multistakeholder nature of the internet.”

The opposite to multilateral “would be a one-sided unilateral internet which is untenable,” she said. At the same time an internet subject to intergovernmental arrangements that would “exclude other sectors of society is not democratic,” she said. The attempt to bring both concepts closer turned out to be one of the overly ambitious goals.

Russia’s delegation in their objection to the NETmundial Multistakeholder Statement argued that NETmundial itself failed the very transparency and inclusiveness rules postulated by the multistakeholder model, because in the end the High Level Multistakeholder Committee compiled the document weighing what they had got. Russia’s proposals – especially ideas on a UN or International Telecommunication Union mechanism for internet policies – had been neglected.

Way Forward – Keep Process Innovation

The process of the 23-24 April meeting was 1.5 days of plenaries on the two major subjects, with the High Level Group going back to make additions, which could be watched at least by those in Sao Paulo.

The Committee then finalised the text on the final night, and came back to present the text, read out by Jeanette Hofmann (roadmap) and Adam Peake (principles). The readout was applauded, followed by the dissenting opinions. (Peake is a research fellow at the Center for Global Communications [GLOCOM], a research institute in Tokyo, and Hofmann is director of the Humboldt Institut für Internet und Gesellschaft, Berlin.)

For most participants, it was the very process at NETmundial that was the genuine added value. Bringing participants in Sao Paulo together with people gathered at 30 hubs all over the world – plus other remote participants – and allowing everybody “equal footing” in contributing to the text allowed a glimpse into what multistakeholder might mean in practical policy making.

NETmundial Chair Virgilio Almedia said during the closing session, “This meeting is an undeniable proof that inclusiveness has its rewards, resulting in transparent and a democratic spirit towards a common goal.“

The process had been designed as an open one, acknowledged Jeremy Malcolm, IP law expert and a contributor to internet governance processes for years. Malcolm wrote in his evaluation of the process that NETmundial illustrated “that multi-stakeholder Internet governance remains a work in progress.”

It was still possible for industry lobbyists to dictate language when the text moved from plenary to smaller drafting groups. “But even then, those groups were exposed to public view, with the drafting process being open to all stakeholders to observe. This lies in stark contrast to the closed process of negotiation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, for example, whose negotiators often claim that text on contentious issues cannot be negotiated in public – a claim that NETmundial now shows to be false.” Malcolm wrote, he hoped the innovative processes would be kept when going forward at the Internet Governance Forum in Istanbul in September.

Tangible Outcomes – Funding for IGF

Discussion over the issues – including the transitioning of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority towards a new oversight arrangement – will go on over the coming months.

“It remains to be seen if this crucial multistakeholder meeting marks the beginning of a new journey or just another phase in the ongoing World Summit on the Information Society process,“ commented Jovan Kurbalija, director of the Geneva Internet Platform (GIP).

Only time would “show how many ‘followers’ the NETmundial document will attract,” GIP experts wrote in their quick analysis of NETmundial. The biggest achievement for GIP for now was “the clear stand with regard to the continuation of and support for the Internet Governance Forum.”

That clear stand for IGF already translated into some tangible outcome. The President and CEO of the Canadian Internet Registry Authority (CIRA), Byron Holland, announced that he had gathered a group of stakeholders willing to fund the IGF with no less than US$100,000 annually over the coming years. More funding ideas included: using some parts of the domain name fees to sponsor more participants from poorer regions to the next internet governance event or open source and free software developments.


Monika Ermert may be reached at

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