Brazil governance event raises expectations over Internet reform

President Dilma Rousseff sent a strong message about an Internet management overhaul to the world, but concrete actions are required
Written by Angelica Mari, Contributing Writer

The opening of governance event NetMundial has cemented the Brazil's position as the world's most vocal nation on the subject of Internet reform.

President Dilma Rousseff sanctioned the Marco Civil da Internet, Brazil's first set of regulations for the Internet before starting her presentation at the event yesterday (23). In her speech, Rousseff highlighted the need for better definitions of online privacy and said she hopes that Brazil's own online bill of rights will inspire other countries to come up with their own.

Flanked by her key political allies and Internet figureheads, Rousseff reiterated that offline rights should be protected online. The president briefly touched on the main topics in discussion at the event such as net neutrality, saying that "user data should be inviolable."

In reference to government spying programs, the president made her "indignation and repulse" known once again: "These events are not acceptable, were not acceptable in the past, and remain unacceptable today in that they are an affront to the free nature of the internet as an open, democratic platform," Rousseff said.

"We all want to protect the internet as a democratic space that's a shared asset for all of humankind," the Brazilian president added. "We also want it to remain a strong economic force, providing that it continues to become more inclusive."

The president reinforced Brazil's preference for a multistakeholder model for Internet governance (including the government, private sector, civil society and related bodies) in balance with a multilateral approach in regard to the government influence in the process, "so long as a country has no greater weight than another," - here, Dilma was reffering to the United States control of ICANN, the entity responsible for the management of IP numbers and addresses.

Rousseff's speech was preceded by Internet heavyweights and supporters of Brazil's campaign to secure a more democratic and decentralized web. Google's chief evangelist Vint Cerf praised CGI.br, the Brazilian Internet steering committee and originator of suggested principles for Web use and governance and also stressed that when the US contract ends with ICANN, a multistakeholder framework must be introduced.

World Wide Web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee said he was glad that the United States had decided to relinquish control of the Internet and that the decision was "well overdue."

The influencers who made their way to Brazil to be part of the debate want concrete results. Vice President of the EU Commission leading its Digital Agenda policy Neelie Kroes said she will be "breathing down everyone's neck" until a discussion on concrete actions takes place.

"Those afraid of timelines for Internet governance reform need to remember that talking is not doing. [There is] no change without timelines," Kroes tweeted.

There has been a lot of skepticism about the ability of NetMundial to achieve anything concrete for the global community and that the agenda of the meeting is just rehashing previous similar events and a lot of time-wasting fluff.

But there is also a lot of momentum around it - the sanctioning of Brazil's own Internet Bill of Rights, Internet influencers supporting the initiative and the fact that this is all taking place as a response to the United States spying revelations…send a very strong message to the world.

With an enforceable law regulating the net, Brazil’s role as a host and promoter of NETmundial attracts more depth and interest to the discussion - as well as more authority to lead the global debate.

There are also some different circumstances and developments around this particular event: sure, it is Dilma Rousseff's government response to the NSA spying, but also, we are reaching a turning point in terms of internet governance.

The World Wide Web is now 25 years old and only now we seem to be seriously talking about governance, the actual principles, rights and guarantees of Internet users. As Berners-Lee pointed out during his speech yesterday, the technical work done on Internet was great, but it also widened the digital divide.

The internet is a global resource and so should be the way it is managed. If anything, NetMundial should be the start of conversations around the adoption of collaborative model for the management of the Internet, investment in domestic infrastructure and digital services to move away the current global power aggregation over our rights and freedoms online.

Hopefully, other countries will follow suit and start adopting their own "Internet Constitutions." Now we'll just have to see if the practice will be just as excellent and exciting as the promise.

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