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Downsizing Sao Paulo

On January 27th the Executive Multistakeholder Committee (EMC) held its first meeting to plan the “Global Multistakeholder Meeting on the Future of the Internet Governance” scheduled to be held in Sao Paulo on April 23rd-24th. A review of that planning session’s results indicates a Sao Paulo meeting with downsized attendance and, most likely, accompanying expectations.

According to the Brazilian Internet Steering Committee (CGI.BR), the EMC “will be responsible for the meeting agenda, the design of the meeting format and invitation of attendees, all equally balanced across the global multistakeholder community. It will be composed of… eight Brazilian members through CGI… Eight additional members from the global multistakeholder community will be proposed through /1net… The United Nations was invited to appoint one member from an International organization.” According to the organization chart released by CGI.BR, the EMC reports directly to the Chair and the four Co-Chairs of the Meeting.

A memorandum detailing the results of that first meeting has been released through ICANN. The biggest surprise is that the estimated attendance at the meeting has been substantially downsized:

Estimation of attendance by group:

  • Government: 200
  • Civil society: 150
  • Private sector: 150
  • Academy/Technical community: 150
  • International organization: 50
  • Total: 700

That total of 700—with no provision at all for journalists, which seems perplexing—is at least one-third smaller than a projected attendance of 1100–1150 that was provided in an e-mail posted at 1Net.org on December 21, 2013 by Carlos Alonso when he reported on the first meeting of the local organizing group (LOG). That e-mail stated:

The meeting is to be held at Hotel Transamérica, in São Paulo, fairly close to NIC.br headquarters (see attached map). The basic distribution of participants is envisioned approximately as:

  • 450 from govs
  • 500-550 from non-gov, non-UN stakeholders
  • 100 journalists
  • 50 IGOs/UN reps

The meeting has now been relocated to the Hyatt hotel. According to a Brazilian panelist speaking on January 28th at a session titled “Will the Brazilian Reboot Turn the Internet into a BRIC?” held at the State of the Net conference in Washington, DC, the major reason for the reduction in projected attendance is the limited capacity of the Hyatt’s conference facility. One wonders why the original hotel was dropped, and whether no other facility was available in Sao Paulo to accommodate the originally envisioned attendance total? The EMC memo does consider robust remote participation, stating, “Make sure to have a good remote participation plan, considering two way interaction with hubs and individual participants”.

As expected in the light or prior announcements, the main topics for the meeting will be:

  • Internet governance principles
  • Roadmap for the further evolution of the Internet governance ecosystem

However, they won’t be the only topics. The memo adds these:

Further recommendations:

  • Develop a set of principles to be promoted universally;
  • Consider human rights principles;
  • Be broad about the definitions and at same time be specific about the purpose of the meeting. Do not give the impression of targeting one particular issue (e.g. IANA functions), but allowing identification of topics for further improvements in general terms, for instance, internationalization of every aspect of internet governance.
  • Expected outcome for Brazilian government, measure of success: need of universal acceptance of rules and principles to guide internet issues. Consensus in MS level. As host country, Brazil is not seeking for a final solution but is looking forward for a positive contribution toward consensus based agreements.

That list raises some interesting issues:

1. While proponents of the meeting have repeatedly stated that it will not get into a discussion of surveillance activities conducted on the Internet by the NSA or other national intelligence services, does the introduction of “human rights principles” make such discussion inevitable? After all, in her September 2013 UN address Brazilian President and meeting host Dilma Rousseff tied them together, stating, “Recent revelations concerning the activities of a global network of electronic espionage have caused indignation and repudiation in public opinion around the world…Tampering in such a manner in the affairs of other countries is a breach of International Law and is an affront to the principles that must guide the relations among them, especially among friendly nations. A sovereign nation can never establish itself to the detriment of another sovereign nation. The right to safety of citizens of one country can never be guaranteed by violating fundamental human rights of citizens of another country.” (Emphasis added) There are of course other human rights issues, such as the practices of some governments to censor political and other content they find objectionable.

2. “Internationalization of every aspect of internet governance” is a broad term, but is likely to translate into a focused discussion of removing the US as the sole counterparty to the IANA contract and replacing it with some yet to be defined substitute, notwithstanding the EMC’s desire to avoid the appearance of targeting that subject. That in turn raises the question of whether the US government will even have official representation at the meeting. In a recent statement, Ambassador Daniel Sepulveda said the US was considering its “best potential role” and that “the meeting holds promise in advancing the global community’s understanding of Internet governance if: (1) the agenda is developed in a truly multistakeholder fashion; (2) participation at the meeting is broad and inclusive; and (3) any follow on activity is guided by, and ultimately supportive of, the multistakeholder system rather than an intergovernmental mechanism of centrally imposed regulation or mandates.” Whether the US will view the ongoing development of the Sao Paulo meeting as adequately satisfying those criteria remains an unanswered question. In particular, while non-governmental sectors certainly have a significant role in the event’s planning, the High Level Multistakeholder Committee (HLMC) is chaired by the Brazilian Minister of Communications Mr. Paulo Bernardo Silva and its majority is composed of governments plus two representatives from International Organizations to be appointed by the Secretary General of the United Nations, with a minority composed of members of the multistakeholder community proposed through 1Net. The HLMC also has a designated path for receiving input from the Council of Government Advisors, but not from non-governmental groups (see organizational chart here). According the CGI.BR, the HLMC is “responsible for conducting the political articulation and fostering the involvement of the international community”.

3. While billed as a Global Multistakeholder Meeting, the Brazilian government, which constitutes half the EMC, has its own “expected output” and “measure of success”. While one can hardly criticize the goal of “a positive contribution toward consensus based agreements”, another unstated goal may be to achieve a result that can be widely publicized within Brazil so as to enhance President Rousseff’s reelection odds in her upcoming fall election. Brazil will also likely have an outsized presence at the meeting—under the heading “Participation criteria” it is noted that “At least 1 representative of each country guaranteed” and “Government participation criteria: 2+1 in case of minister level or 1+1 for lower levels”—but that is followed by “Consider larger attendance of Brazilians, possibly 50”. If that consideration is implemented Brazilians will constitute seven percent of all meeting attendees.

One major surprise is that attendance will not be based on “invitation of attendees” as originally stated by CGI.BR, but on a first come, first served basis as described in this manner:

Registration based rather than invitation based. Launch pre-registration in website to get an idea of intentions. Name as “Expression of interest”

  • “Expression of interest” format in the website to be proposed by secretariat for further approval from the committee. To be posted in the list by January 28th.
  • In case the number of interested participants exceeds the limit of available seats, a criteria will be applied to assure balance among stakeholder groups.

So anyone interested in being present in Sao Paulo should get their registration bid in quickly because no official invitation will be forthcoming. However, there will be “no support for attendance”, so prospective participants will need to rely on their own financial resources to cover travel costs—a factor that may prove particularly limiting for civil society and academics. It remains to be seen whether various stakeholder groups will be able to agree on which individuals from their ranks should submit an “expression of interest” or whether there will be more of a registration free-for-all (which in turn could reduce the odds of coherent representation and discussion at the meeting). Using a registration rather than invitation-based approach also opens the possibility of controversy regarding the criteria used to reject registrants in the event that applications exceed venue capacity (although deciding who to invite might have been equally problematic).

Finally, turning to the envisaged format of the two-day event, all discussion will take place in the main room with no parallel sessions. A total of eight and one-half hours will be devoted to Principles and Roadmap sessions, to be followed by a 90 minute focused session on Internet Governance opportunities and challenges, with a final two hour session dubbed “Closing/Adoption/Conclusions”. Not counting that wrap-up session, total meeting time will be ten hours—that adds up to 600 minutes, which translates into insufficient time for each of 700 participants to make even a one minute statement (and remote participants will likely wish to have their say as well).

A public contributions function is slated to be launched at the meeting website on February 3rd, with a hard deadline of March 1 for receipt of all outside input. It’s not at all clear how much meaningful input can be provided within that short timeframe. For example, the Cross Constituency Working Group (CCWG) established by ICANN to help the community prepare for Sao Paulo is still developing its Charter, and is nowhere close to establishing consensus positions on the meeting’s format and agenda. In any event, to the extent that pre-meeting activities that attempt to build toward a consensus take place they will need to occur in the seven-and-one-half-weeks between the March 1st input deadline and the April 23rd meeting start.

The Singapore ICANN meeting occurs midway in that period, and is likely to devote a considerable amount of time and attention to discussing Sao Paulo, just as occurred in the final 2013 ICANN meeting in Buenos Aires—although unresolved technical and policy issues related to the new gTLD program, as well as forthcoming output from the five Presidential Strategy Panels will also share the spotlight. The first of those Panel reports “The Quest for a 21st Century ICANN: A Blueprint”, has just emerged from the ICANN Strategy Panel on Multistakeholder Innovation and it proposes what may prove to be rather controversial changes in the operation of ICANN’s own multistakeholder process—including the establishment of an Internet Governance Laboratory that “would function as a Governance Experimentation Collaborative aka a Skunk Works among all the Internet governance organizations”, crowdsourcing each stage of ICANN decision-making, and a recommendation that:

ICANN should therefore experiment with running parallel processes for one year side by side with existing stakeholder groups to prepare for their possible phase-out in some cases. For instance, ICANN could pilot organizing participants topically rather than by currently existing constituency groups (defined by interest). Within such an experiment, the crowdsourcing practices described above can be used as alternatives and complements to existing stakeholder group practices.

Many ICANN constituencies were already concerned that the GNSO was being made less relevant by top-down management decision-making (as evidenced by the announcement of the Strategy Panels absent any prior discussion with the community) and that GNSO review had been delayed, and may well take strong exception to their replacement of their function, and their value as recognized long-term interest groups, by temporary ad hoc issue entities.

Turning back to Sao Paulo, which is supposed to build up, and on, support for the existing multistakeholder model of Internet governance, it is difficult to envision what especially useful or unique output can emerge from a two day meeting constituted by participants who have in many instances never interacted before, and with little in the way of formal organizational structure or preparatory time to frame potential outcomes. Attendees of ICANN and IGF meetings know that even their considerably lengthier and highly organized sessions have difficulty reaching consensus on far narrower issues that have been the subject of extensive pre-meeting vetting. So not much in the way of specificity should be expected for whatever consensus principles and roadmap emerge from Sao Paulo.

But perhaps that is for the best. If one believes that the guiding principle for such one-off improvisational events should be “First do no harm”, then the best potential outcome for Sao Paulo may be general consensus on a broad statement of principles and a sketchy roadmap that can be considered, or not, by more formal and established Internet governance entities. Whether such a result is worth all the time and energy that have been expended by so many stakeholders since this meeting’s announcement is a separate question.

By Philip S. Corwin, Senior Director and Policy Counsel at Verisign

He also serves as Of Counsel to the IP-centric law firm of Greenberg & Lieberman. Views expressed in this article are solely his own.

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