Stakes are High: Essays on Brazil and the Future of the Global Internet

Stakes are High: Essays on Brazil and the Future of the Global Internet is a workbook that seeks to provide some background to the Global Meeting on the Future of Internet Governance (NETmundial) scheduled for April 23rd and 24th 2014 in São Paulo, Brazil. The following is the workbook’s introduction by CGCS Director Monroe Price. Click here to download the full workbook.

Introduction by Monroe Price

This workbook is designed to help the gathering multitude, as they converge on São Paulo, further understand the stakes involved in NETmundial.  For many, these stakes include the future of the internet—a  relatively recent phenomenon that has fundamentally changed the structure of speech, altered the power of states, disrupted long-standing institutions, and provided new opportunities for creativity, commerce, education, and innovation.

The internet is young, ubiquitous, full of further promise, and a proven agent of social change.  It is a miracle of both of governance and non-governance.  The challenge is to determine, against all odds, whether this apparent miracle can be sustained—whether the miracle, if it exists, can be more broadly extended and the internet’s benefits more widely distributed.  But the internet is not only a miracle; it is a riddle, a riddle of contested jurisdiction, both universal and sovereign. As far as governance issues are considered, the principles that could be said to be “universal” in terms of guiding the internet’s growth, and how these principles should be determined, are among the difficult issues facing participants at the NETmundial conference.

One of the goals of NETmundial is to demonstrate that multistakeholder discussions can end in concrete achievable goals or steps— showing that summits do not just lead to fora and fora to regional conclaves. In part, NETmundial is the product of impatience, impatience with digital division, impatience with the continuation of what were once thought to be provisional arrangements, and impatience and anger at existing practices of surveillance and vast compromises of privacy. But there will also be those who consider the virtues of inertia where it is not clear what the consequences of particular changes might be.

The way in which NETmundial works to help establish universal principles and a roadmap for governance is ambitious both in substance and in process.  It occurs at a historical junction—one where the very geopolitics of internet governance are at issue; and the geopolitics of the internet overlap with major changes, if it can quaintly be put this way, outside the Internet.  Questions of hegemony and control mix with philosophies of participation.  NETmundial is, therefore, a complex effort to redefine and redesign what constitutes legitimacy, favoring one set of efforts or recommendations as “law” or “universal.”

What provides legitimacy to one group of universal principles rather than another? On the one hand, it is the intrinsic merit of the principles. Do they capture and refine an otherwise tangled set of conflicting interests?  Has the final document produced a serviceable consensus while recognizing that not every issue can suitably be addressed?  And while there may be a rough consensus of those around the table, what of those who do not agree? Consensus is made easier when dissonant and dissident voices are at bay. This is always a danger, but its magnitude will be seen through a rear view mirror.

In this sense, part of the challenge is negotiating between concrete clarity and the comforting envelope of vagueness and generality. Broad cushions can smother difference.  Here too finding the right balance is tricky. For example, how should the commitment to human rights be articulated? Of course, considerations of privacy should prevail, but naming the circumstances that define privacy and when it can be waived will be sometimes required.

Legitimacy arises from the substance of what is presented, but it also arises from process. Legitimacy within a state can be achieved through parliamentary action or the ukase of a leader. But legitimacy in an international domain is far more difficult to define.  Legitimacy often comes from treaty  or decisions between leaders.  Here is where NETmundial becomes so interesting and important. Because NETmundial is part of a long and painful effort to rethink models of involvement and because the value of that effort is being challenged, how process emerges from São Paulo is of great significance.

So many deliberate and careful efforts have been undertaken in the run-up to this meeting: the struggle to pass and make into law the Marco Civil—a   turning point for lawmaking in Brazil and a robust potential model for other countries to follow; innovative steps at ICANN; the establishment of a calculated organizing committee with the desire to represent multistakeholderism in a new way. All of this and more constitutes steps to bolster the event’s legitimacy.

In this workbook, we have tried to provide some background to NETmundial, including the history of the meeting and the Marco Civil process in Brazil; some background on the environment in Germany—with particular attention to the link between the meeting and the Snowden case; questions of legitimacy surrounding open processes for lawmaking; and comments on the material presented to the organizing committee by official and unofficial commenters.

This workbook is a project of the Internet Policy Observatory at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. A steering committee included Ellery Roberts Biddle of Global Voices, Ronaldo Lemos of the Center for Technology and Society at Fundacao Getulio Vargas and Monroe Price of Annenberg. They were assisted by Laura Schwartz Henderson, Briar Smith, and Alexandra Esenler.  Funding for the Observatory and this project comes from the Annenberg School and a grant from the United States Department of State.

Essays Include:

Enter Brazil: NETmundial and the Effort to Rethink Internet Governance by Ronaldo Lemos

The Ever Evolving Landscape of Internet Governance by Markus Kummer

Collaborative Lawmaking as a Knowledge Problem by Wolfgang Schulz

YES, WE SCAN! Salvaging Public Trust in a Post-Snowden Germany by Markus Beckdahl

Building the Marco Civil: A Brief Review of Brazil’s Internet Regulation History by Juliana Nolasco Ferreira

An Analysis of the NETmundial Inputs and Draft Output by Richard Hill

Now Let’s Hear From the Users: Human Rights and the Global Internet Public by Ellery Biddle

Click here for full workbook.


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