Governments Support NETmundial Final Document; Civil Society, Private Sector Cautious

Reaction to NETmundial’s final outcome document (http://bit.ly/1nLhMBC) on the multistakeholder model got broad support from governments and skepticism from civil society and the business community, said participants and observers in last week’s conference (WID April 23 p 1, WID April 24 p3) on Internet governance in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Some governments, including the U.S. delegation, ap- plauded the language of the nonbinding multistakeholder document, which approved of NTIA’s transition of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) functions, among other objectives. Civil society stakeholders were especially critical of the document’s perceived influence on copyright and surveillance concerns from corporations and governments.

The document “endorsed the transition of the U.S. government’s stewardship role of the IANA functions to the global multistakeholder community, consistent with the U.S. government’s stated principles,” said NTIA Administrator Larry Strickling by email. The conference provided “ICANN and the Internet technical community the opportunity to explain the transition to the stakeholders present in Sao Paulo and for those stakeholders to contribute their input to the transition process,” he said. The conference was a “strong demonstration that Internet governance involves everyone and hence the multistakeholder approach is necessary,” said ICANN Board Chairman Steve Crocker. There’s a “two track process under way to address” the IANA transition, he said. “One track is on the details of phasing out the NTIA contract,” and “the other is on ICANN Accountability,” he said by email.

The conference was a “huge success” and provided “an important reaffirmation” of the multistake-holder model for Internet governance, said White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Michael Daniel, who led the U.S. delegation, in a conference call with reporters Friday. The final document was a “rough consensus” reached by stakeholders, and the delegation was “very pleased” with the outcome, he said. Daniel said some governments and civil society stakeholders “spoke out with concern” about the document.

“One thing about the multistakeholder model is that not everyone gets everything they want,” said State Department Coordinator for Cyber Issues Christopher Painter. The document shouldn’t be seen “as anything but a commentary” on the fact that “we have a lot of work to do,” said Strickling.

NETmundial’s multistakeholder document “also addressed difficult issues such as surveillance and acknowledged, just as President Obama has, that intelligence gathering activities must be conducted according to law and with appropriate oversight,” said the U.S. delegation in a statement (http://1.usa.gov/1ilxRJ1). “While consensus about the best way to govern the Internet — a global commons and public good — was not reached at this meeting,” it clarified “pervasive concern” about the dangers of surveillance, said Roy Singham, chairman of ThoughtWorks, a software development company, in a statement. NETmundial “ignited the conversation about protecting the transformative gifts of the global Internet, which is still under very real existential threat,” he said.

NETmundial’s multistakeholder document “put us on the right track,” said European Commission Vice President Neelie Kroes in a statement (http://bit.ly/1jMTGCR). The document “sets out a clear set of principles to be worked on and refined as the basis for Internet Governance,” which “must underpin human rights and ensure transparent and accountable structures that are globalised to ensure all communities are included,” she said.

‘Harmless’ Outcome Seen

“The outcome seems harmless at this point, but it’s like a snowball starting downhill, expanding as it rolls through” the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) and ITU meetings later this year, said Steve DelBianco, NetChoice executive director. The IGF will convene in Istanbul, Turkey, Sept. 2 (http:// bit.ly/1jE0iJq) and the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference begins Oct. 20 in Busan, South Korea (http:// bit.ly/1rrMHmS).

“Although the output of NETmundial is significant because it furthers global understanding of these issues, it is non-binding and it contains certain statements for which there is no consensus,” said the Internet Governance Coalition (IGC), representing Amazon, Google, Facebook and others, in a statement. The IGC supports the conference’s roadmap document (http://bit.ly/1rrIyPV), which proposes to strengthen the UN’s Internet Governance Forum, among other goals, it said.

“Under the influence by governments and corporations,” NETmundial’s outcome document “became a weak, toothless and disappointing text,” said La Quadrature du Net, a nonprofit advocating for privacy rights, in a news release Friday (http://bit.ly/1rt8zQE). The Internet “should be ‘governed’ by citizens directly, independently of these circles and without waiting for the ‘global consensus,’” it said.

NETmundial was an “encouraging and an excellent start to what will inevitably be a very long process of debate before reaching any kind of global consensus on Internet governance,” said CEO Nao Matsukata of FairWinds Partners, a domain consultancy firm, by email. “The real work of developing a meaningful framework for discussion must start with an agreement over definition of terms,” he said. “What I did not hear or read is a consensus definition for [a] multi-stakeholder system.” Matsukata cited an apparent conflation between “’democratic’ process” and the multistakeholder model. “There are still significant issues around enforcement of accountability and adjudication of differences,” he said. NET- mundial was the start of a “journey” that has only begun to “engage the multitudes of stakeholders that will be directly impacted by some formulation of governing the Internet,” he said.

The outcome document makes “clear that it will not be possible to confine the discussion” of the IANA transition to ICANN and the other Internet technical organizations involved in the transition, said Phil Corwin, founding principal of e-commerce and intellectual property law consultancy Virtualaw, by email. The document said NTIA and ICANN should strive “towards a completed transition by September 2015,” which demonstrates “there will likely be some outcry if a transition plan is not completed by then, notwithstanding NTIA and ICANN statements before Congress that September 2015 is just a goal and not a deadline,” said Corwin. That the document calls for “ICANN’s globalization to result in ‘clearly implementable and verifiable accountability and transparency mechanisms’ is welcome,” he said.

“Compromises quickly pockmarked the NETmundial outcome document,” said Danny O’Brien, Electronic Frontier Foundation international director, in a blog post (http://bit.ly/1nuhD8w). “Perhaps the most troubled areas were those on intellectual property,” which were the subject of “intense lobbying by rights holders like MPAA, generally supported by Western governments,” he said. The final text showed that “strong statements of unqualified human rights and shared values have been fenced in by rights holder terminology,” he said. O’Brien cited the document’s statement: “Everyone should have the right to access, share, create and distribute information on the Internet, consistent with the rights of authors and creators as established in law.” — Joe McKnight (jmcknight@warren-news.com)