After two days of intensive negotiations with more than 1300 comments and proposals, the NETmundial summit in São Paulo concluded Thursday evening with the expected Multistakeholder Statement. But the document involves numerous compromises and tradeoffs, feeding frustrations and sparking questions about the future.
The lively debate about mass surveillance over the Internet during the NETmundial summit did not materialise in the final multistakeholder declaration. Proof of the diverging views and the difficulties in reconciling them in São Paulo, on many aspects the document follows the compromise language of the United National General Assembly resolution of online privacy. The request that surveillance should be proportional was removed from the final version of the text. This is considered a success for the United States delegation.
Yes to intermediaries protection; no to immunity
Protection of intermediaries – for example, protection of Internet service providers (ISPs) from liability for acts by Internet users – was another topic that involved last-minute negotiations. Are ISPs responsible for how their customers use the Internet? The initial draft, which gave broad protection to intermediaries, was replaced with much more balanced text which indicates some responsibility for the intermediaries. The European Union was particularly keen on not giving ‘immunity’ to intermediaries since it would breach EU law.
Civil society representatives succeeded nevertheless in achieving a heavy focus on human rights in the final document.
WSIS comeback as a reference point
The main success for developing countries was stronger referencing to the WSIS (World Summit on the Information Society) process despite initial drafts suggesting a departure from WSIS language and use of NETmundial as the start of the post-WSIS process.
The main battle was about the role of the various stakeholders. WSIS stipulates that stakeholders should act in their respective roles. In this division, governments should deal with public policy. The USA, civil society, and business have tried to change this formulation and ensure participation of all actors ‘on an equal footing’.
Net neutrality shall be addressed later
Business sector representatives achieved victory with the removal of net neutrality from the document. It was one of the big surprises of NETmundial, since only a few days ago Brazil adopted an ‘Internet constitution’ based on the principle of net neutrality. A few weeks ago, the European Parliament voted for net neutrality as well. Net neutrality was placed in the basket of the issues to be addressed in the future.
Not surprisingly, Russia and Cuba refused to join the document, while India requested time to consult with national stakeholders.
As all strikers and players left the pitch of this long-expected Brazilian-hosted summit, often compared by media to the upcoming FIFA World Cup, it remains to be seen if NETmundial was the beginning of a new journey or just another phase in the ongoing, but often frustrating, WSIS process.