Every time Apple releases a new iPhone, the Internet has a collective orgasm. But when about 90 countries meet to discuss the future of Internet governance, well it hardly gets the same kind of attention. In the wake of privacy concerns from the likes of US surveillance programs such as NSA and Prism, the global multi-stakeholder meeting on the future of internet governance, also known as NETmundial, was held in Sao Paulo, Brazil last month.
What Is NETMundial
The meeting, which involved the participation of 97 nations – including India, included talks about internet governance principles, and the roadmap for the future evolution of the Internet Governance Ecosystem. Or in a nutshell, who should or should not get to control the Internet.
The meeting was spearheaded by Brazilian President, Dilma Rousseff who, if you remember was the victim of phone spying, reports of which were produced by Edward Snowden in his legendary leaked documents. Addressing the US, she opened the meeting by this strong message, “Internet governance should be multipartite, transparent and open to all. The participation of governments should occur with equality so that no country has more weight than others. These events are not acceptable, were not acceptable in the past, and remain unacceptable today in that they are an affront to the free nature of the internet as an open, democratic platform.”
New Principles Internet Regulation
The meeting outlined several new principles that should be kept in mind while regulating the Internet. Here’s a brief look at the important points.
Improvement in multi-stakeholder decision-making and policy formulation: On numerous occasions, the Internet governance decisions have been taken without any meaningful participation of all the stakeholders. This ought to be changed.
Governance and Cooperation: While addressing international internet-related public policy issues, enhanced cooperation of stakeholders – full and balanced must be implemented on a priority and consensual basis.
Transparency in selection of stakeholders: The stakeholder representatives should be selected in an open, democratic and transparent process.
Furthermore, these internet governance institutions and all its processes should be open and inclusive of all interested stakeholders. It needs to be carried out through a distributed and multi-stakeholder ecosystem.
You can read all the agreements and proposed ideas here (pdf).
Why India Didn’t Sign the Agreement
Why doesn’t a country as large as India comply with the “open and free internet” approach, especially when the Internet is expected to play a vital role in the nation’s policy goals.
“We recognize the important role that various stakeholders play in the cyber domain, and welcome involvement of all legitimate stakeholders in the deliberative and decision making process. Internet is used for transactions of core economic, civil and defence assets at national level and in the process, countries are placing their core national security interests in this medium. Now with such expansive coverage of States’ activities through the internet, the role of the governments in the Internet governance, of course in close collaboration and consultation with other stakeholders is an imperative.” said Vinay Kwatra, Indian representative at the Global Multistakeholder Meeting.
While Kwatra appreciated the initiation and most of the points, he and representatives of many other countries weren’t satisfied with the final outcome. “We would have liked to some of important principles and ideas, highlighted by us and many other countries reflected in the draft outcome document,” he added
It is funny how India backed the International Telecommunications Regulations (ITRs) of 2012 and didn’t back this one. The ITR demanded the control of internet’s technical specifications to be taken away from group of non-profits in the US and handed over to United Nation’s International Telecommunications Union (ITU). It also wanted to bring Internet companies into the ambit of regulations. United States, Britain and many other countries disagreed to accept the terms, and told “we will not support any effort to broaden the scope of the ITRs to facilitate any censorship of content or blocking the free flow of information and ideas.”
While the NetMundial conference addressed the need of having multi-stakeholders at the center, it failed to look into the ongoing net neutrality issue, which also is a very critical aspect. For a refresher, in the United States, FCC is about to change some rules that will allow internet service providers such as Verizon to control the speed of data flow through their pipes. So for example, if it wants to slow down your access speed while surfing a website, it will be able to do so.