NETmundial Day 0

Posted by Achal Prabhala at Apr 23, 2014 10:58 AM |
Day O of NETmundial began at Arena NetMundial, an alternative-ish, Brazilian counterpart to the official "multistakeholder" meeting being organised at the very expensive Grand Hyatt. Arena NETmundial began today and will extend until the last day of NETmundial; it's being organised at the very democratic Centro Cultural São Paulo - free to all, no registration required - and offers space for a whole host of organised and spontaneous activity.

Every evening is capped by a music performance, and the opening act was a stand-out two-hour visual extravaganza by Tom Zé, Tropicalia's most avant-garde exponent. Lula (Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the previous President of Brazil) was supposed to join us at 7 p.m. today to discuss Marco Civil da Internet - the Brazilian bill for "civil rights" on the Internet - but was a no show.

No matter: Marco Civil was passed into law by the Senate at about 8 p.m. this evening, and President Dilma Rousseff (who reportedly willed this meeting into being) is expected to sign her assent to it tomorrow morning at the opening of NETmundial, which she is scheduled to attend. (While the global press around Marco Civil is unanimously positive and upbeat, it's worth noting that there is one problematic provision — the issue of data retention — that many folks from Brazilian civil society see as a huge loss).

A host of civil society groups spent the day at Arena NETmundial figuring out how to stage a coordinated, detailed and forceful response to what many saw as watered-down text from the NETmundial organisers. (Several corporate representatives and some academics also saw it as watered-down, but from another direction).

There are several puzzling aspects to the shape NETmundial has assumed. What began as a response to the Snowden leaks — the unprecedented scale of the US government sponsored, NSA-executed surveillance — has become a meeting that strangely doesn't have all that much to say about surveillance, perhaps thanks to the various partners roped in to manage the process. There is little that references the bitter SOPA/PIPA battles of two years ago, and not much in the NETmundial outcome document that addresses the manner in which a sovereign state has outrageously sought to export its national application of copyright onto the global Internet landscape. The civil society meeting produced language to address both these situations.

Perhaps the most confounding aspect of this meeting is the manner in which the word "multistakeholder" is thrown about by people of every political stripe. Seemingly, if there is one thing that most everyone, from governments to businesses to civil society activists at NETmundial agree on, it is that multistakeholderism has an essential place in the future of Internet governance.

That being as it is, I asked a bunch of people what their interpretation of the term was, and many agreed to be recorded. Their answers were surprising, to say the least.

This is what they said:

Q: What does "multi-stakeholder" mean? What is "multi-stakeholderism"?

I think multistakeholderism is a kind of democracy, which means, in the public policy area, other than the critical internet resources, usually only governments make public policy. They sometimes consult with other stakeholders, but it is not usually open or transparent and it is very selective. They only choose the experts they like. I think "multistakeholder" is useful in comparison with an inter-governmental or governmental process.

Byoungil Oh from the Korean Progressive Network Jinbonet

Multistakeholderism is a mechanism to ensure that people who are affected or have the potential to be affected by a policy or a technical decision get to have a say in the decision, in the process, or in coming to a decision, so that their rights the rights of the affected people — are assured. I think there should be some sort of equity, currently the way multistakeholderism is being carried out is that certain stakeholders carry much higher weight and I think that is something that needs to be addressed.

YoungEum Lee from Korea National Open University (Korea)

If multistakeholderism is a form of institutionalising participatory democracy, then it's good. But public policy decision making is only something that the representatives of people can do. For me, that's sacrosanct. When you're taking in views, in consultation, multistakeholderism works. But public policy decision-making, at a global level, has to be a multilateral process. However, it has to be embedded into a huge amount of public consultations, transparencies, accountabilities, etc., which could be a multistakeholder system.

Parminder Jeet Singh from IT for Change (ITFC) (India)

I hate with a passion the concept of multistakeholderism. For me, how it can make sense is by recognising there are multiple stakeholders. And they’re not fixed. But issues affect different people in different ways and these people need to be involved in decision making processes. It's an approach that can potentially democratise processes by identifying who is affected by those processes and making sure they participate in them. But turning them into an -ism which is undifferentiated, which doesn't recognise conflict, power, voice, and that there are differences, makes it meaningless and also possibly dangerous.

Anriette Esterhuysen from the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) (South Africa)

This multistakeholderism thing I think is bullshit. We now a have a clear picture of technology as a whole being turned against its users, being turned into a tool for oppression, for control. And when you look at the most important struggles of the 20th century, whether women's rights or civil rights or gay rights, it never happened with a total global consensus. This is an illusion. What we need is to affirm that we citizens have the right to decide. We are the only stakeholders here, because we are the co-owners of the Internet as a public good.

Jérémie Zimmermann, co-founder of La Quadrature du Net (France)

Everyone has to participate, and everyone has to decide what is the future of the Internet. I think that we need to improve our networks. There is no real answer here: for me it is very difficult to think of the kind of discussion we will have, but I know that my voice is probably useful for others who are in a similar situation to me.

Pilar Saenz from the Karisma Foundation (Colombia)

Multistakeholderism means that we are going to smash the patriarchy. Ask me what the colour blue means? [Ok: What does the colour blue mean?] The colour blue means we are going to smash the patriarchy.

Jacob Appelbaum, journalist, activist and core member of the TOR Project (USA/Germany)

Ultimately rights are embedded in laws. But when it comes to an international framework, in the current Internet governance model, nothing is based in law, including the domain name system. So the whole structure of international Internet governance is divorced from international law, and that's why, when you talk of a multistakeholder model, what you are really saying is that the market will finally determine what happens. No stakeholder is going to operate against its own interest whether it be governments or corporations. We need an international legal framework, from which the powers - or rights - of Internet governance emerge. Without that you're leaving it to the market. In reality, even today, what we have is a private-sector-led multistakeholder model.

Prabir Purkayastha from Knowledge Commons and the JustNet Coalition (India)

What does multistakeholderism mean? Listen, I'm a brown person from a developing country, and I'm female.