Internet Governance and NetMundial in Brazil

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Just got a last minute request from ExO to prepare a briefing on the above due at 2pm. I wonder what will happen with  stuff like this when they get rid of all of most of us in a few months…:)

Background

Internet governance is the name that has been given to the management and administration of Internet Protocol (IP) addresses and domain names that are required to be connected of the Net. Every single device or person connected to the Internet must have a unique IP address to be able to talk to any other device and/or user. Domain names in turn are just the names (www.myname.com) that are given to  web sites that also have unique IP addresses so that end users do not need to memorize them. For example, it is much easier to remember google.com than 74.125.226.224 (which is one the several IP addresses Google uses for its domain name).

In the early 1990s, when the Internet was just emerging, the assignment of IP address and domain names was done by one individual based in California who allocated them on a first come, first serve basis. As the Net grew quite rapidly in the next few years, the US decided to create, in 1998, the Internet Corporation for the Assigned of Names and Numbers, ICANN, a non-for profit corporation tied to the US Department of Commerce and subject only to US legislation. This in itself created some controversy from the very beginning, controversy that has lingered for the last 15 years.

ICANN also introduced a series of governance innovations as follows: a) its board members were a combination of private sector and civil society, including international representatives, with no government representation whatsoever; and b) 5 of the 15 initial board members were elected via Internet voting -at a time when most developing countries were not connected to the Internet! This model of governance, which still operates today, is now known as the multi-stakeholder model (MSM). ICANN also created a government advisory committee (GAC) where governments can sit together and discuss related policy issues. But GAC has little to no influence on ICANN’s policy decisions and management.

By the time the first round of the World  Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) took place in 2003, there was plenty of discussions on how to enhance MSM.  In addition, as more developing countries joined the Internet, interest on the subject increased accordingly, particularly from civil society representatives around the globe. The 2nd and final WSIS round held in Tunis in 2005 agreed to create the Internet Governance Forum, (IGF), which was officially launched the following year under the auspices of UNDESA. The IFG has been holding annual MSM meetings since 2006. It has a lot of voice but no saying in the overall management of ICANN – or overall Internet Governance for that matter. The UN also created the Multi-stakeholder Advisory Group, MAG, which is supposed to advise the UN Secretary General on all issues related to IGF. MAG does include governments as one of the many stakeholders but does not give them more weight than any of the other non-state representatives in the group. It is a levelled playing field!

While many issues on Internet governance have been debated over the years, it is possible to highlight to recurrent ones. First, the role of  the US government on ICANN and the repeated calls for the “internationalization” of ICANN by other countries and stakeholders. And second, the alleged attempt by the UN, in the shape of the ITU, to “take over” the Internet and make it fall under the now traditional multilateral model where only governments will have a saying.

Recent Developments

The Snowden revelations on  the scale and extend of NSA operations and surveillance on a global scale also shook the Internet Governance space.

Since 2010, the US and its Western allies have been pushing the so-called Internet Freedom agenda which essentially claimed that the global network is a pillar for the promotion of Civil and Political Rights, especially Article 19.  The US and other Western countries provided funding for this initiative, especially in so-called authoritarian regimes, and organized a series of high-level global meetings on the subject. At the same time, this same group of countries were pointing fingers to China, Russia, Iran, etc. as the world champions of cybercrime, cyberattacks, etc.

After the Snowden revelations, the US lost most of its credibility on the Internet Freedom agenda while also showed its capacity to monitor almost all messages on the Internet and mobile networks, as well as its capacity to hack foreign servers and launch strategic cyberattacks on selected targets.  US support for MSM and ICANN also suffered a set back.

Building on this, the Brazilian President used her speech at the UN General Assembly meeting last September to demand the US to stop spying on “friends” and requested that the UN GA passed a resolution in this regard. The resolution passed a few months later. Brazil also announced NetMundial, a multi-stakeholder global fora to discuss the future of Internet Governance after the NSA scandal. Soon thereafter,  ICANN’s CEO took a trip to Brazil and offer to help organize the meeting jointly with the Government of Brazil -perhaps ensuring that ICANN remains a relevant player in the process.

In mid-March, 5 weeks before NetMundial, the US announced that is was planning to cede its oversight of ICANN and proceed with the “internationalization” of Internet Governance. However, the announcement did not provide any details so most stakeholders are still unsure on how this will work in practice.

In any event, the NetMundial event took place last week in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The outcome of the meeting was not that different from other meetings on Internet Governance.  A wide variety of perspectives still remains and while surveillance is mentioned in the outcome document (http://document.netmundial.br), no action is required by any one to comply with any of the principles depicted in the document.

Possible Talking Points

From a developing country perspective, the issue of more meaningful representation at key Internet Governance meetings  by governments and civil society remains unresolved. While ICANN has launched some regional initiatives, participation of developing countries in the various fora is still weak.  Additional efforts to foster such participation must be undertaken to ensure a level playing field in this area  -and as the Internet grows in developing countries.

For poorer countries such as LDCs and LICs for example, it is perhaps essential to link Internet Governance to development priorities at both the policy and programme levels. Policy makers in these countries need to connect the dots and understand that the Internet could be a platform to deliver not only information but also basic public services to people and this will require an adequate Internet Governance space that ensures this is feasible while preserving the rights of all stakeholders.

While the outcome of NetMundial is the one expected, it is now clear that emerging developing countries such as Brazil, India, China, Russia, South Africa, etc. will start to become more active Internet Governance players, demanding more relevant roles. The UN should also consider ways for supporting MSM while continue to support the multi-lateral model. A combination of the two is indeed possible.

Cheers, Raúl

 

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