As we reflect upon last week’s NETmundial multistakeholder meeting, it is clear that for all its faults, the meeting in Sao Paulo was a turning point for Internet governance and human rights in the digital environment.
For the first time in such a meeting, all the stakeholders were not only “at the table” but, to some extent, drivers of the agenda, drafting, and outcomes.The process itself was open to the Internet, whether it was for scathing criticism or simply curious engagement via video streaming.
Last week’s NETmundial global gathering on Internet governance also marked a historical moment when the host country, Brazil, clearly aligned itself not just rhetorically, but politically with those pushing for an open, neutral and free Internet. The signing of the landmark Marco Civil bill at the opening session, after years of mobilization and multistakeholder engagement, should serve as an example for civil society and inspiration for governments around the world.
We can create laws that enshrine freedom of expression, privacy, due process and net neutrality, but it takes time, patience, and willingness to engage just as long as those who oppose those rights are willing to engage.
The NETmundial outcome document makes progress in a number of areas that have not been the subject of multistakeholder consensus previously. These areas include the recognition of the Internet as a common resource that needs to be managed in the public interest, and that the development of international public policy principles for the Internet should be conducted on a democratic and multistakeholder processes. In an important step beyond the Tunis Agenda, the NETmundial text also recognises that the roles and responsibilities of stakeholders in this process should be interpreted in a flexible manner with reference to the issue under discussion.
In a welcome trend started by the the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, we consider the outcome document a clear pivot in the politics of digital networks. Privacy and mass surveillance are on the first page, and human rights ideals permeate the document. Development sits at its core, and public interest is mentioned as a core lens for the document’s readers.
The final document produced by NETmundial falls short on a number of important policy issues. For example, sections regarding protection of freedom of expression include weak language on protecting intermediaries from liability, harmful to online freedom of expression.
In addition, the passage affirming that access to information as a human right should be “consistent with the rights of authors and creators as established in law” is problematic because it suggests subordination of the public’s right to access to knowledge to domestic laws.
The construction of effective policy to react to massive and rapid technological changes will always be slower than the criticism of ineffective policy reacting to those changes. It is far more difficult to come together to create than to come together to critique.
We might not succeed in all issues nor will we win immediately. To be truly multistakeholder is to not just admit, but to welcome and integrate those whose opinions differ from your own, and to give other stakeholders time to understand and evolve their perspectives.
It is not surprising that the first outcome is incomplete and not totally satisfied. This should not be an indication that the process is broken, but instead an indication that the process has only just begun. We must and we will continue to press for more, and we do understand that our battle is one measured in decades, not weekends.
The Tallin Agenda for Freedom Online, published some days after those same governments were in Brazil, consolidates a series of principles that civil society had proposed as guides to the debates of NETmundial, specifically in the action points 5, 6, 7, 9 and 10. We hope these principles will reverberate in every international forum regarding internet governance in the future, setting a global standard to build on.
If we as members of civil society do not have a long-term commitment to the policy creation process, and to mechanisms that ensure it is open, clear, transparent and inclusive, it is clear that policies will not prioritize human rights, open societies, anonymity, and fundamental freedoms. Thus, we will prepare ourselves to continue to engage for years to come in order to create the change we wish to see in law for the public interest.
Finally, NETmundial used technology in a way that helped ensure great collaboration among all stakeholders including remote participants. We encourage other multistakeholder fora and discussions to learn from and improve on those solutions developed at NETmundial since we believe they are good start for achieving better converged multistakeholderism. Nevertheless, while the technology worked well at NETmundial, we believe that the process that produced the final document could have been more consultative. In the future, a second public comment of the outcome document should be considered so that the final outcome document reflects the consensus of the wider community as much as possible.
As frustrating as it may have been, NETmundial was what constructive progress looks like. We salute the Brazilian government for organizing it, and the hundreds of stakeholders who participated. Now let’s get back to work.
Endorsement of civil society statement: NETmundial reflectionsRead the petition
|5||Global Partners Digital||UK and Global||May 02, 2014|
|4||Karisma Foundation||Colombia||May 02, 2014|
|3||Bangladesh NGOs Network for Radio and Communication||Bangladesh||May 02, 2014|
|2||Derechos Digitales||Chile and regional||May 02, 2014|
|1||Public Knowledge||USA with international work focused on the Global South||May 02, 2014|
|1||Jeremy Malcolm||Australia||May 02, 2014|