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Why Does NetMundial Matter?

The future of the Internet will be discussed at the NetMundial conference in São Paulo, Brazil 23-24 April 2014, which will bring together 800 participants, including representatives of 70 governments. 

The purpose of NetMundial is to craft a set of high-level global principles (a ‘Bill of Rights’ for the Internet) and a roadmap that will determine the future of global Internet governance systems.

Edward Snowden’s revelations catalyzed this meeting; they have shown that the transformative gifts of the global Internet are in fact incredibly fragile and now under very real existential threat.

Outraged by the surveillance of her own phone, and those of Brazilian companies and citizens, President Dilma Rousseff identified the need for a new global compact to govern the Internet, to prevent human rights violations but also to democratize how the Internet is administered.

She suggested that frameworks be established for 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.

Trust in American stewardship of the Internet has collapsed. The American government has been able to exert undue control over existing Internet governance systems given the Internet was created in and by the US. A California-based organization, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) controls the global domain name system and operates under a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the US Department of Commerce, which can veto ICANN decisions. 

After Edward Snowden’s revelations, ICANN itself has called for redressing this imbalance through ‘accelerating the globalisation’ of ICANN functions, and the US Department of Commerce has since made small steps towards beginning this process, which will be further discussed at NetMundial.

NetMundial 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.

Learn how you can participate in NetMundial 2014

Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.

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