On April 24th the NETmundial “Global Multistakeholder Meeting on the Future of Internet Governance” concluded with the issuance of an eight-page statement. This non-binding document is hardly the “Magna Carta for the Internet” called for in an opening statement delivered by Tim Berners Lee, but it does set the stage for the other two major 2014 events that will affect the course of Internet Governance (IG) – the IGF meeting in Istanbul, Turkey and the ITU meeting in Busan, Korea.
Before turning to the final outcome document a separate and very important development took place on the meeting’s final day. That was ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade’s statement at the IANA transition session that the transition plan and the broader issue of improved ICANN accountability are “very interrelated” and that ICANN will publish a proposal for a consultation on improved accountability this week — adding that the two processes will develop “hopefully together on the same time line”.
While a welcome clarification, this statement is inevitable recognition that the need for periodic renewal of the IANA functions contract operated as a powerful tool to make ICANN adhere to the Affirmation of Commitments (AOC) signed with the US but providing global benefits in regard to ICANN accountability and transparency. Many parties both within and outside the ICANN community will never sign off on an IANA transition proposal unless it is accompanied by a robust and reliable ICANN accountability mechanism. Further, it is likely the IANA transition process proposed by ICANN earlier this month will encounter some stiff pushback from many members of its community because it proposes structural details (e.g., Steering Committee guidance and composition) that should be left to the community to determine — and its proposed definition of what is and is not within scope for the discussion is far too narrow and tries to predetermine an outcome in which ICANN receives permanent possession of those IANA functions, with no other options permitted for discussion.
Turing to the final NETmundial document:
In regard to the more important Roadmap for Future Evolution for IG, which will have bearing on the IGF and ITU events as well as other developments down the road:
How do we ensure that resources are mobilized and maintained for a viable Internet Governance mechanism? The question is not just at the global level, but also at regional and national levels. Whose resources are we going to commit? My leaning is that the Internet should be able to provide resources for its own governance. Maybe, part of the domain name fees could be reinvested here. (Emphasis added)
While ICANN may have to expend some resources to participate in relevant meetings and thereby contribute to the Internet governance ecosystem, the fees it collects from domain registrants via registrar and registry Internet intermediaries should be used solely to fund its own role as technical manager of the DNS and for related policy matters. Having ICANN go beyond that narrow remit and redistribute registrant fees to global, regional, or national IG activities would convert it into a multinational tax-and-spend organization. That is not only inappropriate but would be accompanied by a large potential for corrupting digital cronyism. This is a dangerous idea that bears continued close scrutiny.
The official U.S. statement issued upon NETmundial’s conclusion declared that “hundreds of stakeholders from around the world convened to discuss and agree upon a shared vision for the multistakeholder model of Internet governance that seeks to further develop an increasingly open, transparent, inclusive, and responsive system” and that its Multistakeholder Statement “endorsed the transition of the U.S. Government’s stewardship role of IANA functions to the global multistakeholder community, consistent with our stated principles”. The U.S. surely breathed a sigh of relief that the meeting did not blow up in acrimony — and that the final document makes no direct reference to the NSA data collection program, stating more generally that, “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.”
The U.S. statement also recognizes that NETmundial was just the opening event in this year’s IG passion play, stating, “NETmundial marks one of many critical global discussions planned for the multistakeholder community this year. The U.S. Government supports these discussions and looks forward to working collaboratively with the global community to strengthen the Internet governance structure, enabling broad participation from governments, businesses, civil society, technology experts and academia.” The fact that the U.S. delegation was led by White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Michael Daniel just underlines that IG is now seen as a top tier, high-stakes issue by the Obama Administration.
While NETmundial made incremental progress, it failed in one central aim. ICANN claimed that Brazil President Dilma Rousseff had been converted to a multistakeholder model advocate, and that holding this meeting in Brazil could bring the other BRIC nations along. But President Rousseff adopted a half-pregnant position in Sao Paulo, making the politically expedient declaration that there is “no opposition” between the multilateral and the multistakeholder approaches. And Russia, India, and China, along with other developing world nations, all strongly reiterated their support for a UN-led, government centric approach to Internet governance. Those nations collectively comprise about half the planet’s population and the great majority of the next billion Internet users. And a more decisional IGF, along with the UN-affiliated ITU, may provide far more compatible venues for their goals than a one-off NETmundial meeting.
So, while a bullet has been dodged, the real drama lies ahead.
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