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April 13, 2016
In the bustling city of Sao Paulo, Brazil, a major debate took place between 23rd and 24th April 2014 about how the internet should be governed. The NetMundial event came after Dilma Rousseff, Brazil’s president, had her telephone calls and emails monitored by America’s National Security Agency. Brazil certainly leads the way in overall disagreement and criticism of the US when it comes to internet oversight and there are strong feelings that developing economies need to play a larger role in internet governance. With having one of the most active online communities worldwide, the debate that took place in Sao Paulo was certainly just the beginning.
Approximately 850 government officials, academics, campaigners, and technical experts from around the world attended NetMundial, including the creator of the worldwide web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee. The event was seen as the ‘World Cup’ of internet governance conferences. The main aim of the conference was to create shared values and practices whilst highlighting specific issues which could later lead to further discussions on internet governance. A final draft outcome was drawn up before the debate, in order to focus the proceedings. However, the final text produced had no legal binding. With such strong opinions and obvious differences in opinion, the success of this conference is still yet to be seen.
The US, Australia, and several European nations arrived at the conference wanting the final document produced to steer away from government intervention in managing and holding responsibility for the internet. They noted in particular that they wanted to avoid UN involvement, due to the possible creation of controversial international agreements and treaties. Conversely, China, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan all strongly supported the involvement of governments and the following up of possible deliberations taking place within the framework of the United Nations. Completing this complicated array of government opinions; the United Kingdom was one of the many nations attending that was against the text drawn up by Brazil before the conference, stating that it was deliberately vague. Nations in line with the UK’s point of view were pushing for more concrete and actionable goals, creating a more coherent and complete model to follow.
Many human rights campaign groups also attended the conference, in the spirit of preserving and supporting Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing. Their main fear was that documents, such as those brought to the attention of the public by Snowden, would end up being sidelined. This was one of the most vital parts of the discussion regarding the preservation of human rights and ensuring no violations thereof. The text produced before the conference worried human rights groups, as it did not clearly state that mass surveillance such as that carried out by the US does not in fact cross the line of human rights violations.
An interesting aspect of the conference was how the organizers of the conference managed to hear numerous varied opinions between the 850 delegates that attended. Overall, the large internet industry companies such as Google and Facebook came out on top after it was decided that all stakeholders, whether they be governments, companies, academics, technicians, or users, should all have a say in the direction that the internet takes in future. This is very much coherent with the view that the internet should be free and open to use for all parties. There was also a general consensus that there needed to be a less US-centric internet, a view that was no doubt supported by most developing nations. This conference called by Brazil seemed to be very much a reactionary one, due to earlier spying events that were carried out on Brazil by the US. President Rousseff took the stance that they would not stand for a violation of their privacy or information. The vagueness and uncertainty of how the events and decisions taken at this conference will pan out is yet to be seen and the results whether positive, negative or simply insignificant will hopefully come to light in the not so distant future.
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