I'm in São Paulo, Brazil at the end of the last day of the NETmundial conference, the Global Multistakeholder Meeting on the Future of Internet Governance. This conference was a unique event, created by Brazilian President Dilma Roussef in the hopes it will be the start of a lasting change in the global Internet governance landscape. The declared goals of the meeting are to formulate a set of principles for Internet governance that all stakeholders (including governments, civil society (where EFA participates), technical, academic, and business communities) can agree on as a basis for doing more in the Internet governance world.
It arose in the context of mass surveillance (as revealed by Edward Snowden) causing increasing international distrust of the special role of the US government in Internet governance, and as a result increasing calls for a government led multilateral body to control the Internet (analogous to the way the ITU regulates the phone system), something that has always been the desire of the more authoritarian governments such as Russia, China and Saudi Arabia. Brazil had traditionally been one of the countries wanting a government led solution, despite its successful multi-stakeholder Internet governance at home through CGI.Br, but in a historic change, Brazil changed its position and created a forum to try to build a strong multi-stakeholder alternative that would hopefully demonstrate to many nations that there was no need for a new government led solution. As such, it is vital to keep an Internet that is run in the interests of its users.
The meeting is concentrating on trying to produce two outcome documents - a set of principles for Internet governance, and a road map for moving forward. There has been very robust debate on both. There has been disagreement around issues such as statements against mass surveillance and the IANA transition, but in general a good focus on issues where broad agreement exists. The final drafts of these documents should appear at the web site soon.
It seems to mostly be a success, though it looked very shaky at the end. There have been only a few dissenters (notably governments that wish to hold on to the 10 year old status quo of the Tunis Agenda documents), and those mostly mild. There are a few contentious issues (such as how should the meeting comment on the IANA contract? Should intellectual property rights be explicitly acknowledged?) and a lot of agreement on issues both of serious principles (it is great to see explicit acknowledgement of freedom of speech, openness and transparency, the right to privacy, etc) and how to move forward (a lot of support for strengthening the IGF, for example). Civil society groups are mostly happy with what has been achieved. There are a few disappointments (net neutrality, for example, looks likely to not achieve consensus). And hopefully it will allow us to move forward more effectively - currently the main Internet bodies are either focussed on very specific issues (ICANN, for example, deals only with domain names and numbers), or serve mostly for discussion with no power for real outcomes (the Internet Governance Forum(s)), and if we have achieved what we need to take on other Internet governance issues effectively, then that is a big step forward. But last minute editing sessions, that in some cases replaced language created from the broad range of inputs to the process with language created by members of the high level committee of the event, watered down to appease particular stakeholders (usually the US government or industry)
One very disappointing result, is that despite mass surveillance being one of the major issue that prompted the meeting, that final statement looks to be very weak on the issue, having been significantly watered down due to US (and other states) lobbying against it. Hollywood is lobbyists succeeded in watering down language on intermediate liability for ISPs, so not ensuring due process safeguards. A real commitment to network neutrality did not appear.
It was an incredibly ambitious project, thrown together in a few short months (planning began in October 2013), and with a very ambitious agenda for a two day event (some 1 day pre-meetings mostly stakeholder specific were added later). It was put together with broad multi-stakeholder involvement, with a lot of active work from the Brazilian government, CGI.br and other Brazilian civil society organisations, and global Internet organisations via the newly form /1net coalition. Mostly, it has been impressively organised considering the short time frame, though day 1 had terrible problems with timing, running (to the frustration of practically all attendees) several hours behind, largely through a long succession of overly long ministerial speeches. The main work of the meeting didn't end until 9pm on the first day, with many attendees staying to watch (or participate in) the work of drafting teams until 1.30am. A lot of hard work by a lot of people has been put in.
It has been great to see the very wide range of participation, and great to see a really diverse and strong civil society delegation, including friends of EFA such as Danny O'Brien of EFF (@mala) and Jakob Applebaum of TOR (@ioerror), colleagues from the NCUC within ICANN, and many others.
It has been particularly good to note the excellent support for remote participation. Besides Internet participation, there have been a lot of dedicated regional hubs, and with the addition of video linkups etc remote participation has seemed very valuable. While there are advantages to physically attending the event, if events like this are restricted to physical attendance they will always end up the province of a physical elite. Seeing live video comments from participation hubs in Moldova, India, south east asia, etc has made the remote participation seem far stronger than it usually does. It shows how appropriate resourcing and prioritisation of remote participation can make a real difference. I hope that the same commitment to remote participation will extend to other Internet governance events and processes, and open up real participation in Internet governance far wider than it has been. It has also been good to see some excellent online tools for dealing with the complex task of juggling hundreds of comments and contributions - far too often Internet governance organisations are still relying on older, clumsy tools like PDF documents and mailing lists.
So far, the event has been hard work and frantic, and constantly running behind time, but seems to be heading towards some significant success, both as an event (able to point to a quite serious pair of documents with significant global support, produced via a very effective multi-stakeholder process, and also able to demonstrate some real improvements in process), and for the goals of EFA and other civil society organisations (support for free expression, privacy, transparency, and openness among other principles). It won't by any means be the end of the process - the documents it has produced will be discussed again at the IGF in September, and will also serve as the basis for discussion within existing organisations (such as ICANN), and how to deal with new challenges. But it seems to have given us both some good news on support for valuable civil rights, and shown us how to move forward to make multi-stakeholder Internet governance stronger, more inclusive, and more productive.
But in the meantime, I, like most participants, am exhausted.