India fails to throw weight behind NETmundial


India was among the few governments that did not sign the NETmundial outcome statement. But why does it seem that the world’s largest democracy is not putting its weight behind a “bottom-up, open, and participatory” multistakeholder process?

In his address to the NETmundial gathering, Vinay Kwatra, the official Indian representative said, “We recognize the important role that various stakeholders play in the cyber domain, and welcome involvement of all legitimate stakeholders in the deliberative and decision making process. Internet is used for transactions of core economic, civil and defence assets at national level and in the process, countries are placing their core national security interests in this medium. Now with such expansive coverage of States’ activities through the internet, the role of the governments in the Internet governance, of course in close collaboration and consultation with other stakeholders is an imperative.”

The message was clear. The internet has a large role to play in India’s national policy goals, and to that end, a global internet governance ecosystem has to be managed, at the international level, by multilateral mechanisms.

India has over 200 million Internet users — with about 52 million subscriptions — over 900 million mobile telephone subscribers. These numbers are only going to grow. Kwatra, continuing his address, added that, “On our part, however, we would have liked to some of important principles and ideas, highlighted by us and many other countries reflected in the draft outcome document… (we) look forward to constructively engaging with other delegations in collectively contribute to making the Internet open, dynamic and secure, and its governance balanced between rights and responsibilities of all its stakeholders.” (sic)

Kwatra was speaking, of course, at NETmundial, dubbed the “world cup of internet governance.” Held in Sao Paolo, Brazil, on April 23-24, 2014, the conference was announced by Brazil President Dilma Rousseff. The entire chain of events can be traced back to the revelations by Edward Snowden that the US’s National Security Agency had been spying on its own citizens and other countries alike, including the personal communication of President Rousseff. In a heated statement at the UN General Assembly in September 2013, she called for the UN to oversee a new global legal system to govern the internet. She said such multilateral mechanisms should guarantee the “freedom of expression, privacy of the individual and respect for human rights” and the “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.

Soon, after a brief consultation with Fadi Chehade in October 2013, the head of ICANN — Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers an organization thatcoordinates the Internet’s global domain name system, the dates of NETmundial was announced. And to add expectation to the event, in March 2014, the the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced its intent to transition key internet domain name functions to the global multistakeholder community. It clarified that it would not hand over ICANN to any government-led body. Suddenly, NETmundial gained weight as it was to be the next international forum where the future of internet governance was to be debated – and now one of the organizations government a part of the internet was in play. A far cry from what President Rousseff had suggested in the UN General Assembly, instead of talking about an international legal regime to govern cyberspace, the focus of the meeting turned to multistakeholderism as the way forward in the sphere of internet governance.

The draft outcome statement and the subsequent final outcome state released after the two-day conference is a result of 180 input documents and 1300 comments from over 47 countries, and the work of the 1229 delegates from 97 countries who attended NETmundial. India had an official delegation as well as civil society participants who attended the meeting. In fact, an Indian academic was chosen to co-chair the organizing committee for civil society for the event. Remote participations hubs were set up in cities around the country, including Gurgaon, Chennai and Bangalore. Within the Indian contingent too, as with any large country, there are divergent views on the governance framework to be taken for the internet, with those who support the governments view for multilateralism at the international level and multistakeholderism at home, and those who oppose the official view and encourage an international multistakeholder regime.

The final statement – though non-binding – has squarely put its weight behind multistakeholderism. It talks about protecting the ‘rights that people have offline, must be protected online… in accordance with international human rights legal obligations.’ It also champions cultural and linguist diversity, which was part of India’s official submission to NETmundial. However, when the document starts to tilt towards governance structure is where it diverges from the official Indian position, with language such as – “internet governance institutions and processes should be inclusive and open to all interested stakeholders. Processes, including decision making, should be bottom-up, enabling the full involvement of all stakeholders, in a way that does not disadvantage any category of stakeholder.”

In the crucial area of cyber jurisdiction, it says, ‘It is necessary to strengthen international cooperation on topics such as jurisdiction and law enforcement assistance to promote cybersecurity and prevent cybercrime. Discussions about those frameworks should be held in a multistakeholder manner.’ On surveillance, the most controversial topic from 2013 which prompted the Netmundial meeting in the first place, the document says, ‘Mass and arbitrary surveillance undermines trust in the Internet and trust in the Internet governance ecosystem. Collection and processing of personal data by state and non-state actors should be conducted in accordance with international human rights law. More dialogue is needed on this topic at the international level using forums like the Human Rights Council and IGF aiming to develop a common understanding on all the related aspects.’

The reaction to Netmundial has been varied, depending on whom you ask. There are those who have hailed it as a first positive step towards a multistakeholder process, and are encouraged to find that participants found more things to agree on than disagree. The US called it a “huge success”. The European Commission felt Netmundial put it on the “right track.” Many big businesses released statements indicating they were pleased at the outcome. The civil society group at Netmundial expressed ‘deep disappointment’ that the outcome statement did not address key concerns like surveillance and net neutrality. Others commentators hailed it a big success for big business as it was able to ‘grab the ball on three important points: intellectual property; net neutrality; and intermediary liability’.

In a sense, India’s refusal to sign the outcome statement, and instead take back to its stakeholders seems to be completely aligned with its stated view of the internet. If, as documentation suggests, the internet is being viewed by India as not merely an open, free, global commons that should remain untouched by any major governmental control, but instead a resource that needs to reflect the values of an ‘equinet’ – a platform for commerce, e-governance, national security mechanism to be achieved through fair playing rules established by a ‘globally acceptable legal regime’ and a ‘new cyber jurisprudence’, then there is a long battle ahead. The official Indian argument does not need to be viewed through the lens that presupposes it wishes to inflict censorship in the manner that an authoritarian government might. The argument must be weighed on the merits of this line of thought – that for Indian netizens, business, and even state surveillance to survive, it must be the government who reflects the national interest in international platforms, after having consulted stakeholders back home.

It certainly seems that the weight and development of a billion people sits heavy on the shoulders of the Indian government. The question is: does it need to lead them to the world wide web, or can they find it themselves?

This article was posted on May 1, 2014 at

Liberalising internet governance: ICANN and the role of governments


 “ICANN’s mission is stewardship and operational stability, not the defence of its existence or the preservation of the status quo.”

Stuart Lynn, ICANN President, Feb 2002

There has been much debate this month among internet circles about the future of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).  Much of this was discussed at the NETmundial meeting in Sao Paolo, a suitable venue given Brazil’s desire to throw its weight behind reforming such bodies as ICANN.  Reforms are on the cards, but no one seems to be clear what exactly these will do to the way the internet is used. Sentiments of doom and gloom mix with utopian forecasts of freedom.

The NETmundial Multistakeolder Statement doesn’t reveal much, other than paying lip service to various principles (freedom of expression and association, privacy) and charting the roughest of roadmaps for future directions on Internet governance. Aspiration, be it in terms of transparency, accountability and collaboration, is key.

ICANN was incorporated in California on September 18, 1998.  Its creation was heralded as a loosening of the grip by US authorities on the operational side of the Internet, tasking a company to take over administrative duties.  ICANN plays a leading role in dealing with the distribution of IP addresses and the management of the Domain Name System (DNS).

As far back as February 2002, the organisation’s president, Stuart Lynn, saw the need for reforms of the body.  Reforms had to “replace ICANN’s unstable institutional foundations with an effective public-private ownership, rooted in the private sector but with the active backing and participation of national governments.”  Tensions of management are fundamental – keeping an eye on “high-level elements of the Internet’s naming and address allocation systems” while avoiding intrusions that would stifle “creativity and innovation”.  That tension has never been resolved.

On Mar 14, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), based in the US Department of Commerce, announced that its grip on ICANN would be loosened.  “The timing is right to start the transition process,” claimed Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information, Lawrence E. Strickling.  “We look forward to ICANN convening stakeholders across the global Internet community to craft an appropriate transition plan.”

John M. Eger, Director of the Creative Economy Initiative at San Diego State University, was enthusiastic.  “The US Government’s decision to end oversight of [ICANN] represents an opportunity for US leadership creating global ‘e-government’ systems to solve international law enforcement and terrorism problems, develop global education and environmental initiatives, and in turn, start using the Internet as a platform for advancing a new foreign-policy agenda.”

Eger’s overview is counter-intuitive – to shape internet governance, to seize the day, as it were, in such areas, one has to liberalise such bodies as ICANN and lessen the grip.  Technology can be better managed and directed if the big holders release the creation.  The Internet can become both a tool of open governance if the Obama administration embraces a “multistakeholder model”. “Letting go of ICANN gives the US momentum to more aggressively breathe life into the thousand[sic] of applications, which more truly internationalise its usefulness to nations, and to the world community.”

Eger’s observations are problematic on one direct level.  US leadership in such areas has tended towards bullying and cajoling negotiating partners in accepting a supposedly universal premise in implementing its own specific policies. Nothing demonstrates that more acutely than the current secret Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement talks.  Ostensibly geared to accelerate trade liberalisation, the leaked chapters of the document suggest that Washington is keen to impress strict, even draconian intellectual property provisions on potential signatories. What can’t be done through Congress can be smuggled in via international treaty.

The suggested relinquishing of control by the US Department of Commerce has not been deemed a wise gesture on the part of such individuals as Sweden’s minister for foreign affairs, Carl Bildt.  In relinquishing such control, internet governance would be altered, allowing other states to throw their hats in the ring.  Bildt is convinced that widening such involvement on ICANN is not “the way to go.”

Bildt’s concern is paternalistic.  Opening such doors will let in rather unsavoury characters keen on over-regulation.  “Net freedom is as fundamental as freedom of information and freedom of speech in our societies.”  Despite extolling such virtues, he has proven rather enthusiastic about dousing the flames over the NSA revelations of blanket surveillance, arguing that the Swedish FRA is, in fact, a defender of online freedoms.  Visions of governance tend to vary.

Bildt also chairs the Chatham House and Centre for International Governance and Innovation Inquiry, created to examine the Snowden legacy and state censorship of the Internet.  In a statement in January, the inquiry partners emphasised that “a number of authoritarian states are waging a campaign to exert greater state control over critical internet resources.”  They are far from the only ones.

The short of it is that governments are compulsive meddlers.  As attractive as the rhetoric of liberty and freedom might be, intrusive governance is still regarded as acceptable.  The Brazilian Minister of Communications, Paulo Bernardo, considers virtual crimes and cybersecurity as vital areas of government policy.  He did concede that “protocol standards and domain names registration can be perfectly controlled by the technical community.”

The language of Nikolai Nikiforov, Russian representative at NETmundial, proved more muscular.  “Being subject to international laws, states act as grantors of rights and freedoms for citizens, play a role in the economy, security and stability of internet infrastructure, and undertaken measures to prevent, detect and deter illegal actions in the global network.”

Governments, it seems, just can’t let go.

This article was posted on May 1, 2014 at

NETmundial: Disappointed expectations and delayed decisions

Brazilian President Dilma Rouseff spoke at the opening of NETmundial.

Brazilian President Dilma Rouseff spoke at the opening of NETmundial.

“In 2013, the revelations about the comprehensive mechanisms for spying and monitoring communications provoked outrage and disgust in broad sectors of the Brazilian and the world’s public opinion. Brazilian citizens, companies, embassies and even the President of the Republic had their communications intercepted. Such facts are unacceptable. They undermine the very nature of the Internet: open, pluralistic and free”.

With these words, President Dilma Rousseff opened the NETmundial – Global Multistakeholder Meeting on the Future of Internet Governance, held in São Paulo on April 23 and 24.

Organized by the Brazilian Internet Steering Committee ( and /1Net, the unprecedented gathering brought together 1,229 participants from 97 countries. The meeting included representatives of governments, the private sector, civil society, the technical community and academics. Among those present were the Under Secretary-General of the United Nations, Wu Hongbo; the President of ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), Fadi Chehade; the “father” of the Web, Tim Berners-Lee, and the co-author of TCP/IP and vice-president of Google, Vint Cerfol. The creator of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, attended the event via Skype.

The words of the president of Brazil seemed to indicate the tone of the meeting: “This reunion responds to a global desire for change in the current situation, with the systematic strengthening of freedom of expression on the internet and the protection of basic human rights, such as the right to privacy”.

In the audience, activists wore masks with the face of Edward Snowden, whose leaks were a catalyst for NETmundial. They protested against the Article 15 of the Marco Civil–signed into law by Rousseff at the event’s opening ceremony–which orders the retention of users’ browsing data. Some demanded that Brazil offer asylum to Snowden.

The main objective of NETmundial was to begin to formulate a system of international internet governance that will come into effect in September 2015, when the United States steps away from the coordination of ICANN, which administers and manages the names and domains used on the internet.

NetMundial was born thanks U.S. spying that targeted the Brazilian government. Rousseff personally stitched together the event after her speech at the UN General Assembly last year that strongly condemned the NSA spying.

After the meeting, a statement of principles was approved. However, the document does not clearly state any principle governing the massive data espionage or violation of privacy. The term “neutrality” appears only in the list of topics to be discussed in the future. The mass surveillance is identified only as a discrediting factor of the net: “Mass and arbitrary surveillance weakens the trust and the confidence in the internet and in the ecosystem of internet governance”, says the document. The collection and use of personal data “should be subject to international human rights law”. And nothing more. Without incrimination, without any preventive or corrective measure, the question remained open. The postponement of the discussion about net neutrality was advocated by the U.S. private sector.

The final document raised much criticism from civil society, which had their expectations disappointed. With a weak text, the Charter of Principles was more like a set of corporate standards, with little affirmative language, full of marketing buzzwords. Its statements are soft. The governments’ voices, especially the U.S.’s, sounded much stronger. Civil society condemned the lack of explicit rules for the “net neutrality” – the term, by the way, was not even mentioned. Another criticized point was the inclusion of protection and copyright of intellectual property, which meets to the interests of lobbyists from business environment and is contrary to the recommendations of collaborative and free creation.

“The document ended up not reflecting the greatness of the debate that happened here. We missed the chance to produce a substantial document to the discussion of the internet governance”, said Laura Tresca, from the NGO Article 19. “The positive balance is in the process, which was interesting: we experienced the idea of the multistakeholder model in practice; but the final document was too weak.”

EFF published a text that defined the outcome of the meeting as “disappointing”.

The multistakeholder model was criticized by activists as “oppressive, determined by political and market interests”. People like Jérémie Zimmermann (La Quadrature Du Net, which defends the rights and freedom of citizens on the web) and Jacob Appelbaum (developer and security researcher) said that the principles of NetMundial were “empty of content and devoid of real power”. These activists argue that governments have an obligation to ensure the rights of users and that the internet is a common, free and geared to citizens’ good.

It would be very difficult to have unanimity with so many sectors present. Russia, Cuba and India disagreed with the Charter of Principles. Brazil’s minister of communications, Paulo Bernardo, missed a more forceful condemnation of espionage. “For obvious reasons, the United States was uncomfortable with it”, said Bernardo. He recognized that the document is not perfect, but evaluates that it means a victory for the future of governance. The idea now is to enhance the text in other debates, such as the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), that will be held next September in Turkey and in Brazil in 2015.

NETmundial was a historic step putting Brazil in the frontline for internet use in the world, even with the disagreements and a questionable model. Nevertheless, it lacked the courage to allow the voice of the people to sound louder than economic interests. To push the most important issues into the future for further discussions was a mistake – both strategic and purposeful. In this sense, they have bitten more than they could chew.

A previous version of this article referred to Wu Hungbo as the Secretary-General of the United Nations. His correct title is Under Secretary-General of the United Nations. This has now been corrected. 

This article was published on April 30, 2014 at

Brazil moves toward an internet bill of rights

(Photo illustration: Shutterstock)

(Photo illustration: Shutterstock)

After two years of wrangling, the Brazilian chamber of deputies finally approved the General Internet Framework last week. 

The movement that resulted in bill 2126/11 – referred to as Marco Civil da Internet or simply Marco Civil – began in 2007. The Marco Civil was drafted in 2009 by the ministry of justice in partnership with the Center for Technology and Society of the Getulio Vargas Foundation, and with the direct participation of civil society.  After extensive public consultation, with over 2,300 contributions, the bill was sent to congress in 2011 and recommended to the president.  It outlines the duties and prohibitions on the use of the web, as well as structures the ways in which the courts can request records for user communications and network access.

While the bill has passed the bicameral congress’ lower house, it now needs to be approved by the senate, which will vote this month. If passed, the bill will need presidential approval to become law. It is widely expected that the bill will clear both these hurdles. The process is made all the more urgent as Brazil is set to host Net Mundial – a global forum exploring the future of internet governance — at the end of the month.

Marco Civil was drafted with three key issues in mind: Net neutrality, user privacy and freedom of expression. Under the bill, internet service providers are barred from interfering with connection speeds or content. Civil society strongly backed the framework around net neutrality.

Altogether, five amendments were made to the final text. The main change was the removal of a section of Article 12 whereby the presidency could require, by decree, connection providers to “install or use structures for storage, management and dissemination of data (data centers) in national dominion”, taking its billing into account.

This point was included last year at the request of the government after president Dilma Rousseff voiced complaints about spying by the National Security Agency (NSA). The revised Article 12 provides that Brazilian law will take effect on all companies providing services in the country, including foreign ones.

Another important change was made in the first subparagraph of Article 9, which deals with exceptions to net neutrality, such as discrimination or degradation of services or performance. Such cases were to be resolved by presidential decree. The revised amendment states that cases of exception will follow determinations from the constitution and guidelines of the Agência Nacional de Telecomunicações (telecommunications national agency – Anatel) and the Comitê Gestor da Internet (internet managing committee – CGI).

While the current wording of the bill shows social and political maturity, and seeks to put Brazil on another level in terms of freedoms of expression, it has its blind spots. These includes the storage of user data by ISPs for one year for investigation purposes, which is damaging to privacy. The text can still be changed.

Historic session

The historic vote was watched by a huge television audience, as the sessions of the Chamber of Deputies featuring 400 congressional representatives argued over the bill was broadcast live. Social media lit up, with #MarcoCivil trending on Twitter.

The question is whether in addition to being a massive victory for the government the piece will not end up being used for electioneering in the 2014 elections.

On Twitter, Rousseff said that “the Civil Landmark is a tool of free expression, privacy of the individual and respect for human rights”. She also said that “the approval of the Internet Civil Landmark by the Chamber of Deputies is a victory for all of Brazilian society”. She added  that “the project shows the pioneering role of Brazil in a moment that the world debates the security, the privacy and the plurality in the network”.

Representatives said the text was a “parameter to the world”, “a reference in terms of freedom of expression” and “the most democratic process of voting on a bill in Brazil”. British physicist and creator of the web Tim Berners-Lee was quoted in plenary requesting the approval of the Marco Civil. The Brazilian press, which had criticised the original text, only reported the approval of the bill, and published some praise.

Despite the hoopla, Brazilian society remians divided over it. Most people have no idea about what the bill is intended to do. While there are some who support the regulation, others say that Marco Civil is a form of government control of the internet. Others still, just shrug.

A political drama

The approval of the Marco Civil was not an easy vote, as it may have seemed at first glance. The political will for the project to be brought up for a vote was stitched together through political and personal effort by Rousseff. Bill 2126/11, authored by the executive branch, served as political leverage for the PMDB, part of the governing coalition, and threatened to derail the project.

At the height of the crisis, PMDB came close to a break as a government ally, which would have drawn support away from the president. The so-called “block of disgruntled” was dissatisfied with Rousseff’s ministerial reshuffle in early March and required appointments in important ministries. The party also threatened to boycott Marco Civil by voting en masse against the proposal − which would mean fiasco. The tension between the PMDB and Rousseff  also came close to derailing coalition alliances ahead of this year’s elections.

Rousseff did not relent even and made a joke about the situation. In Chile, where she participated in the inauguration ceremony of president Michelle Bachelet, she said: “PMDB only gives me joy”, when asked about whether her weight loss had to do with her concern about the crisis in the governing coalition. The statement did not sit well with PMDB, but pleased the vice-president Michel Temer, a member of the party: “It really only gives joy to the government, supporting and helping the government.” The message was explicit: As a Brazilian saying goes, “one hand washes the other and both wash the face”.

After several closed-door meetings tempers were soothed paving the way for the support and the approval of the Marco Civil project. The terms negotiated between the parties are not yet known. What is certain is that the deal has the power to soften a partisan war.

Until last week, Marco Civil had frozen the Chamber of Deputies’ agenda since 2013. The text approved on the night of 25 March was substitutive, with several changes from the last version that was submitted in February. These deleted changes caused controversy, especially because they were seen to serve business interests.

The content of the final version, filled with handwritten addendums, was a draft during the vote. The deputies voted blindly, having no access to the final text and relying on word of the rapporteur, Congressman Alessandro Molon (PT, Workers Party). They voted based solely on the version being manipulated live, with last minute modifications. They voted thanks to agreements in the audience and the theatre of the plenary, and more on the political line than on the legal framework that Marco Civil represented. This is why they voted as a majority. One deputy commented: “This is not the House of knowledge, but of convincing.”


In an exclusive report broadcast by the TV show “Fantástico” on TV Globo Network, on the evening of 1 September, it was reported that the Brazilian government and Petrobras had been targeted by the NSA spying. The information was based on documents revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden to Glenn Greenwald and Globo Network’s journalist Sonia Bridi. According to the report, Rousseff, her advisors and diplomats were also being monitored. All of these revelations visibly irritated the president − who had previously sent the draft of Marco Civil to Congress – and she demanded urgency in putting the bill on the agenda.

In late September, speaking at the opening of the 68th General Assembly of the United Nations in New York, Rousseff advocated the establishment of a multilateral framework for international civil governance and of internet usage. She argued that the actions of United States’ espionage in Brazil had wounded international laws and defied the principles that govern the relationship between the countries.

This article was posted on 2 April, 2014 at