I'm in Brazil for the NETmundial meeting, also knows as the Global Multistakeholder Meeting on the Future of Internet Governance. The NETmundial conference was thrown together very quickly after being announced by president Dilma Rousseff late in 2013.
NETmundial is an attempt to kickstart a consensus set of principles for governing the Internet based on the multi-stakeholder principles that have run the Internet so far. Underlying the meeting is a desire to show that multi-stakeholder governance presents a real alternative, with significant government support, to government based, top-down, muleit-lateral governance structures favoured by more authoritarian governments such as Russi or Saudi Arabia. NETmundial could prove to be a crucial step in ensuring the Internet remains free of government control, and continues to be a powerful force for dmmocratisation and free expression in the 21st century, not just a platform for commerce and government approved communications. NETmundial has just started, and I'll blog about it in more detail soon.
But the start of the NETmundial conference isn't the only bit of news in Brazil, and the other deserves some discussion on its own. Yesterday, the Brazilian senate passed a law known as the Marco Civil that forms a 'bill of rights' for the Internet. Just the drafting and creation of this law was a major achievement. Brazil already has a multi-stakeholder governance organisation that coordinates the Brazilian Internet, with roles including running the .br domain name, security response (CERT.br), and research, and makes its decisions with the input of civil society organisations and technical experts, so Brazil was already familiar with negotiating Internet policy with a range of stakeholders, and the bill was negotiated by both the Ministry of Justice and the Center for Technology and Society of the Law School at the Fundação Getulio Vargas, reaching out beyond normal government policy processes to directly involve many with an interest in the Internet.
It is an impressive process (such a contrast to typical Australian political processes governing Internet policy that are typically developed largely within ministerial officers). And with that open process they've managed something very impressive, something that we can only hope will follow in other jurisdictions - one day, maybe even Australia.
The Marco Civil puts into legal force many of the principles that progressive web activists have been pushing for all over the world. There are network neutrality provisions, privacy provisions, and intermediate liability protections for ISPs - all areas that are often either mired in piecemeal policy and legal confusion, or outward resisted, in many other jurisdictions. It regulates that disclosure of private information, and removal of content (censorship) require court orders, and can not be done with proper legal process. And it acknowledges that access to the Internet is necessary for the full exercise of ciil rights. It isn't perfect - it allows for data retention, and data protection provisions were not included in the hurry to get is passed - but on balance, it is a great step forward. In one bill, it dramatically strengthens the right of Brazilians to use the Internet with freedom, privacy, and other human rights fully intact, and ensures the development of the Brazilian internet will continue to support these principles. It has been referred to as an "Internet Constitution", or "Internet Bill of Rights".
Of course, its passing the Senate yesterday is not a coincidence, Rousseff wanted to be able to demonstrate her commitment to Internet rights and multi-stakeholder processes to her global conference on the same subjects - and in a dramatic flourish, began her conference opening speech by literally signing the bill into law. But there was substance behind the theatre, Rousseff, and Brazil, genuinely have something be proud of here.
And there are other bills like the Marco Civil in the works, notably the Internet Rights and Freedoms bill in New Zealand.
Is it too much to hope that one day, Australi also might also considering a bill to ensure rights and access to the Internet for people? Let us hope.