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Principles for Internet Governance: NETmundial 2014 — What do the Contributions Reveal?

Posted by Geetha Hariharan at Apr 21, 2014 09:00 PM |
The Global Multi-stakeholder Meeting on the Future of Internet Governance (NETmundial) is scheduled for April 23-24, 2014. Towards its stated end of establishing "strategic guidelines related to the use and development of the Internet in the world", NETmundial sought contributions from stakeholders around the world on two topics: (1) Set of Internet governance principles; (2) Roadmaps for the further evolution of the Internet governance system.

This post analyses the contributions of the academic community to draw out broad agreements and divergences concerning Internet governance principles.

I. Introduction

In two days, a large measure of the global Internet community – governments, the private sector, civil society, technical community and academia – gather in São Paulo, Brazil, for the Global Multi-stakeholder Meeting on the Future of Internet Governance. The NETmundial (April 23-24, 2014), touted as the World Cup of Internet governance, is a global conference convened and supported by the Brazilian president, Dilma Rousseff, and organized by the Brazilian Internet Steering Committee ( and /1Net, a forum comprising various stakeholders involved and interested in Internet governance. It hopes, importantly, “to establish strategic guidelines related to the use and development of the Internet in the world”. To this end, it sought open-ended Contributions from interested stakeholders on the topics, “Set of Internet governance principles” and “Roadmaps for the further evolution of the Internet governance system”. The agenda for NETmundial may be found here.

To fully utilize the 2 short days available, knowledge of the stakeholder positions, especially their broad agreements and divergences on the two topics, is of immense help. Through a series of posts, I analyse the contributions to NETmundial on the question of Internet governance principles, seeking to dig deep into definitions and interpretations of suggested principles, such as management of Critical Internet Resources (such as the Domain Name System), human rights including freedom of expression and privacy, cyber-security, inclusiveness and participation in Internet governance, etc. In separate posts, I shall analyse contributions of each sector (governments, the private sector, civil society, technical community, academia and ‘Other’) and finally, present an overall analysis of the contributions pitted against the Draft Outcome Document, which is presently under discussion.

II. The Contributions

The NETmundial has received 187 contributions from 46 countries. Sector break-ups are given below:

SectorNumber of Contributions (187)
Academia 20
Governments 28
Private Sector 43
Civil Society 61
Technical Community 16
‘Other’ (such as UNESCO, the European Commission, etc.) 19

A quick look at the contributors indicates that contributions are primarily from North America, Europe, South and East Asia, and South America. No or very few contributions were made from large parts of Africa and South East Asia, Central and West Asia, Eastern Europe and Western South America. We present a graphical representation of contributing countries here.

Of the contributions, stakeholders from various sectors contributed to the two topics listed above in the following manner:

SectorSet of Internet Governance PrinciplesRoadmaps for Further Evolution of the Internet Governance SystemCombined: Internet Governance Principles & Roadmaps
Academia 7 7 6
Government 7 4 17
Private Sector 11 3 29
Civil Society 25 21 15
Technical Community 8 5 3
‘Other’ 7 4 8

Despite the above classification, I focus on all 187 contributions for analysis. This is as some contributions expressly set out principles while others do not. Therefore, eliciting and analyzing principles from stakeholder contributions has involved a certain amount of subjective maneuvering. However, such elicitation has been restricted on the following bases:

  1. The contribution is externally categorized as falling under either “Set of Internet governance principles” or “Combined – Internet governance principles & Roadmaps”.
  2. Internally, the document places principles under rubrics of ‘Internet governance principles’.
  3. Internally, the document makes references to Internet governance principles before setting out (without rubrics) principles.

With this caveat, I go on to discuss the NETmundial contributions from the academic community to Internet governance principles.

Part I: Academia

Of the academic contributions, the main contributors are Africa (Kenya – 1, Sudan – 3), Europe (Germany – 1, Poland – 1, Portugal – 1, Russia – 2, Ukraine – 1), South America (Argentina – 1, Brazil – 3) and the United States (8). No Asian country has made an academic contribution, and as evident from above, academia is geographically severely under-represented. Furthermore, only 4 out of 20 contributions expressly set out Internet governance principles. These four are:

  1. Report of the Experts Meeting on Cyberspace Law
  2. Proposed Internet Governance Principles
  3. Taking Consent Seriously
  4. Internet Governance Principles: Securing the Future of the Internet

Semantics aside, certain broad, high-level consensus emerges within the academic community. On substantive principles of governance on the Internet, the greatest support is found for freedom of express and access to information, with 6 contributions emphasizing this. Equally important is Internet universality and non-discriminatory (3 contributions), universal access to the Internet (6). Protection of privacy and permissible levels of surveillance come a close second, with 5 contributions referring to these. Cyber-security (5), respect for human rights (4) and support for net neutrality (3) and cultural and linguistic diversity on the Internet (3) also emerge as issues of concern for the academic community. The UNESCO and academics from Sudan emphasize training and education to use the Internet. Inter-operability (2) and a single, unfragmented Internet (2) also find a place in the academic community’s contributions.

With regard to processual principles for Internet governance, inclusiveness and participation are the most important concerns (5). The academic community asks for an open, transparent and multi-stakeholder Internet governance system (4), calling for international cooperation (2) among governments and other stakeholders. Interestingly, one contribution requires that the role of governments in the multi-stakeholder model be limited to “the facilitation of the participation of their domestic stakeholder communities in Internet governance processes”, while a Brazilian contribution advocates a multilateral model.

While no contribution expressly calls for these principles to underscore global Internet governance, the author believes that a high-level consensus may be gleaned in favour of respect for and protection of human rights, especially freedom of expression, access to information, privacy and protection from unwarranted domestic or extraterritorial surveillance. This is further supported by cyber-security concerns. The call for universal access to the Internet, alongside mention of net neutrality, emphasizes inclusiveness and non-discrimination. Processually as well, inclusiveness and participation (including equal participation) of all stakeholders finds the largest support, reflected in the calls for multi-stakeholder models of Internet governance.

No glaring divergences exist with regard to human rights or principles of governance on the Internet. The only major divergence amongst academia is the call for multilateral or multi-stakeholder models of Internet governance. While a majority of the contributions call for multi-stakeholder models, the Brazilian contribution (linked above) calls for “Open, multilateral and democratic governance, carried out with transparency by stimulating collective creativity and the participation of society, Governments and the private sector”, while at the same time supporting a “real multi-stakeholder governance model for the Internet based on the full involvement of all relevant actors and organizations”. Indeed, even this divergence is marked by a common emphasis on open, transparent and inclusive participation in Internet governance.