What Is The Future Of The Internet?

Brazil and NET1 organized a major conference called NETmundial on April 23-24, 2014. Representatives of the tech community, civil society and governments convened to discuss the future of the Internet. Their focus was on how the Internet should be governed.

The necessity for the event was multiple revelations, such as from Edward Snowden, about mass surveillance of digital communications by state agencies. As the President of Brazil stated at the 68th UN General Assembly, the absence of right to privacy takes away the true freedom of expression and opinion, destroying effective democracy.

That set the ball rolling for the Internet governance institutions, which include ICANN or the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, IRTF or the Internet Engineering Task Force and the W3C or the World Wide Web Consortium. Together, they released a joint statement renouncing activities of mass surveillance. They referred to the recent revelations of pervasive surveillance and monitoring, expressing strong concerns over the undermining of the confidence and trust of Internet users globally. They identified the need to keep up the efforts for addressing Internet Governance challenges, while agreeing to support community-wide efforts actively towards the development of a global multi-stakeholder Internet cooperation.

In reality, the Internet runs as an MSM or a multi-stakeholder model. Here, the tech community, civil society groups, governments and the private sector all have their say. However, it is old news that different parties want to have a greater power over the Internet. In this respect, the US, which has a historically grown role of dominance in Internet governance, is envied not only by other nations, but also by the Internet libertarians.

Every few years or so, the battle over Internet governance raises its head. The last time this happened was in the 2012 conference of the UN International Telecommunication Union. Although many non-western nations attempted to delegate more influence to governments, the US and its European allies successfully warded off the demands for Internet governance changes.

However, this time, because of the NSA scandal, the US has lost much of its legitimacy of dominance over Internet governance. Moreover, most of those who allied with the US in 2012 now have their own reasons in demanding globalization of Internet governance.

The Global Multi-stakeholder Conference or NETmundial has two goals to achieve. The first is to produce universal principals that will govern the Internet. The second is to generate a roadmap that will lead to the globalization of Internet governance institutions such as ICANN.

The conference will generate an outcome document to bring forth the conclusions and decision made on the summit. The draft outcome document disseminated prior to the start of the summit, allowed those gathered at the summit to propose changes to the document, aiming to create the final version that all have agreed on.

However, the first day of the summit saw civil society organizations issue a press release expressing their concern over the weaknesses in the draft document. Organizations such as the Free Press, World Wide Web Foundation and Article 19 are proposing a number of amendments, which include:

• Interception and surveillance must be done in accordance with international human rights law
• The right to privacy must be reinforced by stronger actions
• The globalization of ICANN should follow a clear roadmap and be completed by September 2015.