Post Global

World Economic Forum’s NETMundial Initiative

September 2, 2014

On August 28, I was in Geneva for an effort called Net Mundial Initiative. This initiative was started by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) in partnership with the World Economic Forum (WEF), and so far it has attracted a lot of skepticism and critics from civil society, business and governments.

As other public interest organizations have also pointed out (for example, WebFoundation, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Access, Association for Progressive Communications, and Internet Governance Project), the process leading up to this meeting was not aligned with the principles stated as qualifications to the initiative goals. The process was also far from similar to the NETmunidal meeting in Brazil, a process said to be the inspiration behind this ICANN’s and WEF’s effort. 

The intended purpose for the initiative, as stated by WEF briefing and FAQ, is as follows:

“Based on input and guidance from the global community, the NETmundial Initiative will sponsor and promote activities to:

• Facilitate a distributed environment of effective global cooperation among stakeholders

through innovative and legitimate mechanisms to tackle current and future Internet issues;

• Inform and equip capacity development initiatives to ensure global participation in Internet

cooperation, especially from under-represented regions; and

• Work to build trust in the Internet and its governance ecosystem.”

I believe there was a clear commitment at the end of the meeting that multistakeholder processes should be secured if the goal is to foster the spirit and agenda set by the NETMundial meeting in Brazil. But now we stand back and try to understand if it will be the type of multistakeholderism the WEF was developed upon or a multistakeholderism that is transparent, inclusive, accountable, and tractable, leading to consensus decision-making.

Below, I transcribe my opening remarks at the Initiative at Public Knowledge’s representative but also as a public interest voice. The meeting was webcasted and heavily tweeted via #NETmundial.

Address By Carolina Rossini on the Opening Remarks at NMI on August 28th

Good morning. My name is Carolina Rossini, and I am a Brazilian national, though I live in the U.S. I am the Vice President for International Policy and Strategy at Public Knowledge, a civil society organization working in the U.S. and beyond on communications and digital rights. I am also a founder of a number of open educational projects in Brazil and advisor to a series of Global South organizations and projects, all related to how technology impacts our lives.

I do not represent civil society as a whole – no one can – but I am part of a series of civil society coalitions with similar concerns regarding internet and knowledge governance decision making. So, while I speak in my name, I can affirm some of my concerns are shared by many following along here and remotely, including my colleagues Brett from Access, Jeremy from EFF, Anne from Web Foundation, and Eileen from Human Rights Watch, among others.   

The NetMundial Multistakeholder Statement makes clear as its first process principle that “internet governance should be built on democratic, multistakeholder processes, ensuring the meaningful and accountable participation of all stakeholders.”

I have a couple of elements I want to touch upon: some regarding process and some regarding substance and our focus today. 

Much of the process that has brought us together today caught civil society by surprise. But we hope that what we are doing here today is an honest attempt to further the outcomes of NetMundial, in terms of process as well as reaffirming our multistakeholder commitment to public interest and human rights based internet governance decision making, at the local, regional and international levels.

As Nnenna Nwakanma said at NetMundial opening ceremony “We need to engage all stakeholders at the global, regional and national levels. We need to establish respect and value for stakeholder contributions. We need to enable meaningful participation from developing countries and under-represented groups.” Her points are still valid and can serve as a basis for our engagement today.

For these points to stand true however, we still need:

– an open and inclusive process, where no single stakeholder can hijack the process; 

– cooperation and structured knowledge governance;

– transparency and accountability that includes dialogues and debates;

– and meaningfully participation from developing countries. 

Each of these takes not just time but also a willingness to learn from and respect the diversity of each stakeholder – their norms, their concerns, and their ways of working together. 

We also need to ensure that resources are mobilized and maintained for a viable Internet Governance mechanism. The internet should be able to provide resources for its own governance. One good model is CGI.Br – in addition to being a model for multistakeholder engagement, it could also provide a model for redistribution of funds. CGI.Br invests a significant percentage of the domain name registry revenues in Brazil to support its bodies internally, and CGI.Br also provides external support, by (a) promoting a multistakeholder conference that is hosted in different parts of Brazil every year; (b) funding external research based on public call for proposals; and (c) training stakeholders through a series of training programs, with a Masters in the making.

On the substance side, I want to point to two core issues:

(1)  Support. The NMI should not subsume or supplant the mandates or efforts of the IGF and other existing internet governance processes and coalitions. Support for these processes was confirmed in both the NETMundial outcome document and the Ilves Report;

(2) Human Rights. Defending and extending human rights online should be the focus of the NMI and at the core of its mission. Any configuration, structure or platform coming out of this initiative should serve as a megaphone for efforts already in place, such as the necessary and proportionate principles and the ICT Guide on Implementing HR principles on Business. These are examples that already have a convergence of multistakeholder interest. 

Yet human rights are only mentioned once in the briefing document, in passing in the FAQ, and not at all in the day’s agenda. NMI should work within the framework set out by the UN Human Rights Council and reasserted in the NetMundial outcomes documents, which makes clear that human rights are universal and that the rights that people have offline must also be protected online;

To close, and as my third issue, we must identify the medium to long-term goals of the NMI. Specifically, we need to clarify the NMI's added value, specific purpose(s), and the clearly identifiable and achievable goals that it is going to set for itself. But for that to be successful we need to ensure a participatory, transparent, open, and accountable process, supported by open and accountable processes and platforms (including those used by the open data and open government community), where voices from both the north and the south can provide input. And I hope this will not be defective by design.