On Tuesday 8th April, Wikileaks published the NETmundial Executive Stakeholder Committee Outcome Document. According to Wikileaks the document is the ‘penultimate draft agreement (“Outcome Document”) going into NETmundial 2014 – the Global Multistakeholder Meeting on the Future of Internet Governance.’ The meeting, which is due to take place on the 23rd and 24th of this month in Sao Paulo, Brazil, is to be co-hosted by governments from 12 countries (Argentina, Brazil, France, Ghana, Germany, India, Indonesia, South Africa, South Korea, Tunisia, Turkey and the United States of America.) alongside  12 members of the multi-stakeholder community. According to NETmundial the ‘meeting will focus on the elaboration of principles of Internet governance and the proposal for a roadmap for future development of this ecosystem.’

The ‘Outcome Document’ draws on the contributions of 187 ‘stakeholders around the globe’. The multistakeholder model is briefly defined in the document as ‘the full participation of governments, the private sector, civil society, the technical community, the academia and users in their respective roles and responsibilities.’ From these 187 stakeholders 7 principles of internet governance have been highlighted for discussion:

  • Access to information and the free flow of information
  • Freedom of association
  • Freedom of expression: Everyone has the right to hold and express opinions, and to seek, receive, and impart information on the Internet without arbitrary interference.
  • Privacy: People should be able to exercise their right to privacy online the same way they do offline, including avoiding arbitrary or unlawful collection of personal data and surveillance.
  • Accessibility: People with disabilities should be granted full access to online resources.
  • Culture and linguistic diversity: Cultural and linguistic diversity should be encouraged and supported in a non-discriminatory manner.
  • Development: The Internet has a vital role to play in helping to achieve the full realization of internationally agreed sustainable development goals.

The selection process, however, has come under scrutiny from Wikileaks who noted that Germany and Brazil’s ‘anti-surveillance internet governance plan [was] gutted to just one paragraph’. Obviously, given the leaks made by Edward Snowden, it would have been thought that this would have been a key topic for discussion. However, Wikileaks fears may or may not be allayed by the fact that the document also outlines measures to end ‘the US Government’s special role with regard to the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA)’, whilst declaring that the Internet Governance Forum the ‘IGF should be strengthened.’ According to IGF’s website:

‘The Internet Governance Forum is an open forum which has no members. It was established by the World Summit on the Information Society in 2006. Since then, it has become the leading global multi-stakeholder forum on public policy issues related to Internet governance.

‘Its UN mandate gives it convening power and the authority to serve as a neutral space for all actors on an equal footing. As a space for dialogue it can identify issues to be addressed by the international community and shape decisions that will be taken in other forums. The IGF can thereby be useful in shaping the international agenda and in preparing the ground for negotiations and decision-making in other institutions. The IGF has no power of redistribution, and yet it has the power of recognition – the power to identify key issues.’

Given this definition, it is unclear exactly how much influence the IGF have or indeed how much is expected to be gain through the NETmundial talks. What is interesting to note is just how difficult it is identify any of the key players in these discussions. Its own apparent openness appears to actually be making internet governance less transparent by making almost impossible to hold anyone to account. With ‘no members’, a mandate from the UN and an international conference discussing whether or not the IGF should be given more power to say how the internet is governed, we appear to be left with a few awkwardly defined decision making bodies which are so transparent that they have made themselves invisible.

So should we be worried? The simple answer is I don’t know. It seems that we, as stakeholders are to decide, however, the ‘organizers are expecting delegations of up to 5 participants from each country. These delegations would include 2 government representatives, 1 member of the private sector, 1 member of civil society and 1 person from the technical/academic community.’ Theoretically every country can be represented by at least one representative. Who these representatives are, on the other hand, is anyone’s guess. Yet for a conference with such large aims and the potential to affect all of our lives, it has had very little press coverage. As a quick example, on my last check, it had only been liked 505 times on Facebook and Tweeted 197 times. For an organisation who are going to be opening a discussion the internet’s future, they don’t appear to be using the internet to spread the word to us stakeholders very efficiently.

BY: Christian Groves