Over the last year, we have been seen almost daily accounts of how the United States of America and the United Kingdom, acting through their spy agencies the NSA and the GCHQ, (and together with their allies – Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Israel) have been carrying out mass and indiscriminate surveillance of citizens and corporations from around the world.
The files leaked by Edward Snowden demonstrated the overwhelming and illegal nature of the programs used to capture, store and analyze virtually all telecommunication flows across the globe – in various instances by coopting American MNCs who have established monopolies in the online space. In addition, Snowden revealed the startling cyber attack capabilities these agencies have already put in place.
The initial response from the American government to these revelations was that surveillance was carried out only against terrorists and for national security purposes. However, the duplicity in these statements was soon revealed as one expose after another showed how the US and its allies were systematically spying on political figures (such as the President of Brasil, Dilma Rousseff, and the Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel) as well as important political negotiations such as climate change negotiations in Bali in 2007 and Copenhagen in 2009. This was on top of spying on various economic targets such as Brasil’s state oil company Petrobras.
These revelations, and in particular the fact that the US was spying on vital economic institutions and personal communications of political leaders, has naturally caused a great deal of anger around the world. As a result, trust in the American stewardship of the Internet has been completely eroded. The Internet, instead of being a tool for emancipation of the human race, has been shown to be nothing more than an instrument of political and economic control.
What quickly became apparent was also the lack of international institutions and mechanisms that could adequately deal with these and other equally pressing issues in the context of the Internet ecosystem (such as demilitarization of the Internet, unilateral control of the Internet’s addressing system and so on). Given that the Internet was created in and by the US, this historical accident has enabled the American government to, generally speaking, control and suborn all existing governance systems.
In September 2013, at the 68th Session of the UN General Assembly, President Rousseff took on the issue of mass surveillance head on. Lambasting the US for their multiple breaches of International Law, President Rousseff correctly recognized that the issue was not limited to the bilateral relationship between the US and Brasil, but one that affected the entire international community.
She therefore suggested the establishment of a multilateral framework for the governance and use of the Internet based on 5 principles:
(1) Freedom of expression, privacy of the individual and respect for human rights.
(2) Open, multilateral and democratic governance, carried out with transparency by stimulating collective creativity and the participation of society, Governments and the private sector.
(3) Universality that ensures the social and human development and the construction of inclusive and non-discriminatory societies.
(4) Cultural diversity, without the imposition of beliefs, customs and values.
(5) Neutrality of the network, guided only by technical and ethical criteria, rendering it inadmissible to restrict it for political, commercial, religious or any other purposes.
President Rousseff’s speech at the UN laid out a clear line in the sand – the governance systems of the Internet would have to be renegotiated in order to make them function in consonance with recognized principles of International law and crucially to make them more democratic, transparent and representative.
In October 2013, Fadi Chehadé, current President and CEO of ICANN, met with Brazilian President in Brasilia. Upon Chehadé’s invitation, the two announced that Brazil would host an international summit on Internet governance in April 2014 to be known as the “Global Multistakeholder Meeting on the Future of Internet Governance (NET Mundial).”
This ‘high level meeting’, which is to include representatives of governments, the technical community, academia and civil society, will focus on crafting globally recognized Internet governance principles (a ‘Bill of Rights’ for the Internet) and proposing a roadmap for the further evolution of the Internet governance ecosystem.
Given the massive explosion of the Internet ecosystem and the social and economic importance of this tool, it is essential to rebuild people’s trust in the governance systems that control the Internet and ensure the creation of a level playing field both from an economic and cultural perspective.
NetMundial therefore assumes critical importance in that it is the first step towards recalibrating the relationships in cyberspace – both between states and citizens as well as between states themselves – by protecting fundamental human rights, ensuring a greater internationalization of decision-making processes and establishing a more balanced and democratic model for how the benefits of the internet are shared and governed.