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Stop the Presses! No Consensus at NetMundial!

We could see it as a victory for those advocating changes and adjustments in the system of internet governance. Au contraire… we could consider it as the debacle of the good intentions… all ending up in not knowing if it was worth it.

I say and maintain, that the effort and the earned contributions were worth it. The final result is that ICANN should be strengthened to recognize its merits and achievements, not underestimate what this organization has accomplished in fifteen years of hard and continuous work. Looking what can be improved in ICANN and, at the same time, wanting to tear down all the scaffolding is, using the familiar aphorism, throwing the baby with the bathwater. NetMundial has shown, apart from the valuable participation of governments, private sector and civil society, that is very difficult to mix the political issues between countries with the issues that we could call part of the inner core of the Internet .

The result speaks for itself: the discrepancies presented by Russia, Cuba, and a very moderate and reasonable India—in case someone could think that the first two are very discrepant on issues related to the United States and its leading role—have shown that even at the government level, at the political level between the governments of the world, it is not easy to reach a common document that expresses a homogeneous will and a same north that can be accepted by all governments. What hope for an agreement not only between governments but including companies and the civil society from around the whole world? We have very low hope on such miracle. Unless we speak about generalities… when we go for the fine details… we will find that we come from different cultures, different realities, and what is accepted as good, healthy and holy in the West… it is not seen as that, to say it politely, across the world.

Let’s recall that the problem began with espionage revelations which struck a chord in the temperance of the President of Brazil and caused she publicly denounced the case in a large international forum and to the press. This espionage between countries is a political issue. It has caused we all come together: around 800 delegates present in Sao Paulo’s NetMundial, along with some 2,000 remote participants, and a similar number gathered around the public hubs located throughout the world.

How is that a case of political differences between governments becomes a case where we met, all together, in a single forum, governments, private companies and individuals? Worse case is that we, the individuals… we are not the government and we have been also spied (and we continue to be spied by our very own governments, right? ... And some companies continue to do geo-location ... with our consent and without it!). Therefore, are we, the individuals and the civil society as a whole, the only chaste and pure stakeholder that has the right to claim nobody must spy us? We can disagree on that chaste and pure issue… but in fact we are best placed to say, to claim, to demand, to create the circumstances where we cannot be spied. Governments? I do not know why such huge fuss from the part of the governments. The Brazilian government, or German government, or any country government… do they have no intelligence service and a large, powerful and gifted espionage team? So there. Point. Why deny what is a reality? We could ask to all governments of the word less tearing its hair. In any case: any government present, please raise your hand if you’ve never spied and you promise not to do it again… (double pun intended).

So ... if some governments know that they also spy ... let’s say “just a little bit and all under double checking” ... Why do they want, using this argument, taking greater control of the Internet? Could it be that they want to prevent that an agency of the United States could have some advantage because it has, supposedly, better and greater access to infrastructure of the Internet core services? I think so. “Do not peek, give up all control, so make me not so “spy-able” and, at the same time, I can have a better position to spy on my very own citizens… and I will be in a perfect position to check everything that happens on the Internet within the territories that I control”. That could be, as far as I can vision it, the explanation of the huge interest of the governments to replace the so call “American control” of the Internet. Neither the problem is so bad as it looks, nor the solution as easy as it was presented. The proof is the final result of NetMundial: no consensus even at the level of governments. The government of Cuba, with all transparency and honesty that honor it, wants more government control over what happens on the Internet (at least in “their” internet). Hence the discrepancy. And the guys from Russian government, with its right to be upset, reported at the last meeting that they do not support the document because it does not reflect the many contributions made by the Russian government before and during the conference. Clear and strong.

Best of NetMundial was, without doubt, the hundreds—or should I say thousands?—of stakeholders and their expression of interest… from all around the world… about the issue of Internet governance. It is, as the website of the “Peruvian Committee on Internet Governance” says: “We all are Internet”. Seeing people and institutions to queue and wait their turn to make their voices be heard is very common in all the processes at ICANN. Today it was also part of NetMundial. Thanks to everyone who contributed. If the point was important and was not reflected in the final document… we must insist! Each from their own position and ideas—seeking consensus through disclosure and dissemination of ideas—we must combat against darkness and lack of transparency. There is huge work to be done to gain the due civil rights for all Internet users.

Special mention must have Nnenna Nwakanma’s speech at the initial event on NetMundial. Her words, her ideas, so perfectly toned and embroidered for the solemn occasion, will stand the test of time and be remembered beyond this century. The NetMundial final document will be gathered and consolidated with similar ones. That is good and necessary. But the reality of our Nnenna’s call to arms,—and I call her “our” because today she belongs to all—has been so balanced, so measured, and therefore not losing a single gram of force, that it shall serve as a reminder of what we want for the Internet. Her fair and flamboyant words are at the same level of Lincoln’s (”...government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the face of the earth…”) , King’s (“I have a dream… that my children ... will walk next to yours… free…”) or Kennedy’s (“do not ask what your country has done for you… ask yourself what have you done for your country…”). Nnenna’s words can guide us a lifetime. Hopefully.

What we got after NetMundial? Interestingly, and for the good and improvement of the Internet, we still have to push ICANN’s truck and join forces to improve processes. It is within ICANN that lies the solution, not outside. Not changing ICANN organization for some shackled new body ruled by some governments. Obviously, this is my personal opinion. ICANN must be empowered and improved in what the institution is improvable. So I think of it, I desire it, I live it. I want to leave my nephews, children, grandchildren and all young people around… a better Internet, a greater Internet, and I do not see that this will be achieved without ICANN’s leadership. I thought it so in 1998, and I have lived it this last fifteen years. What was good for me, I believe, firmly, will be good for my future generations. Unless proven otherwise: let’s work with ICANN. The rest is government policy between countries. And they have its own agenda according to their position as governments. As it should be. This position not always coincides with the interests of civil society or private sector. Nothing new. For now, we can only say, emulating the speaker of the last century… Well done NetMundial! Goodnight NetMundial! Good luck internet!

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