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In Search of an Agenda for a New Netmundial

With the strong possibility of a new Netmundial-style event being organized under the stewardship of CGI.br in 2024, the Internet governance community ought to reflect upon the benefits that this could bring to all stakeholders. In a scenario of uncertainty over the several processes affecting the future of the global network, there is value in taking another look at the original event’s collaborative outcomes document, which summarized much of what was then understood to be core principles of Internet governance.

While of great importance to Global South actors, this development should be understood by the community as an opportunity to discuss IG in a more wholistic manner, something that has been ambiguous in most other deliberation processes and venues. By default, Netmundial was established with the intention of discussing the state of the art of the field and finding pathways to facilitate future cooperation and development, balancing a multistakeholder approach with a multilateral one.

An agenda for a new Netmundial could start from the examination of what went favorably and what did not go as envisioned in the past ten years. This will require that interested actors take a step back from the specific battles being fought in their fora at the moment and instead try to evaluate the bigger picture. This is not an easy exercise, particularly in the face of current levels of political polarization in general, but it must nevertheless be attempted.

Looking into the positives, one of the most significant concerns of the 2014 roadmap was to achieve an increase in participation, both remote and in-person, of a greater variety of stakeholders. This has been achieved to a large degree, with a multiplication of youth and fellowship programs, more local capacity building efforts, and greater linguistic diversity in fora. The author of this article himself is a byproduct of this effort, getting a formal start in the community via ICANN’s NextGen program shortly after the original Netmundial.

Meanwhile, increased cooperation and integration between communities and organizations is something that has seen little progress. If anything, interaction between stakeholders has become more bellicose in several instances, which can only have the effect of decreasing the effectiveness of the multistakeholder model. Leaderships need to rethink the manner in which the different groups interact and envisage meaningful and substantial processes aimed at increasing cooperation. The more fractured this model becomes, the greater the chances of it imploding.

Also, the main theme of the original Netmundial (as discussed in a previous CircleID article), which were the implications of the Snowden revelations of global digital espionage, has evolved, adapted, and coalesced into what we now call “digital sovereignty”. The need for digital sovereignty has become self-evident during the past decade, but the ways in which this can be achieved while offering both greater national autonomy and at the same time preserving the open and interconnected nature of the Internet has yet to be established. The rallying call for this edition could exactly be that of the rapid evolution of digital sovereignty.

In a recent panel, CGI.br’s coordinator Renata Mielli emphasized the need for Brazil and other Portuguese-speaking countries to increase the production and development of digital technology with a decreased reliance on external sources, while also valuing their local language and increasing the exchange of expertise between Global South actors. This falls in line with the broader debate of the role of Global South actors and Small and Medium Enterprises in the future of Internet governance, and will likely figure as an important point in the agenda of an upcoming Netmundial.

While more precise details are still up in the air and are likely to be worked out over the course of the next few months, the broader community should look into the possibility of both making a showing of support for this initiative and also starting to evaluate what priorities from the original roadmap they would like to discuss and see advanced further, as has been seen in the recent auDA’s Internet Governance Roadmap 2023-2025. As mentioned previously, wholistic discussions of this sort are somewhat of a treat in today’s landscape, and we not only can, but we should make the best of it.

By Mark Datysgeld, GNSO Councilor at ICANN

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Comments

Whose "Digital Sovereignity"? Klaus Stoll  –  Oct 23, 2023 5:24 AM

Dear Mark
I am worried that a new Netmundial around the topic of “digital sovereignty” will be used to falsely define and reinterpret “digital sovereignty” as a right and duty of the digital realm to declare independence from its union with the physical world and from its ethics, policies, rules, and regulations. Our fundamental human rights need to be fully extended into the digital domain and the term “digital sovereignty” needs to be defined in such a way that it can’t be used to achieve the opposite. Somehow the term “digital sovereignty” sounds like a luxury problem of the first world and is very strange in the context of the developing economies that still struggle with access.

Mark Datysgeld  –  Oct 24, 2023 5:26 AM

Thank you for the always relevant comments, Klaus. My personal view is that we are inevitably heading towards a world where digital sovereignty is a major subject for all nations, but the meaning of the term is exactly what we have the opportunity to help shape at the moment. Many decisions that the developing world are starting to take in their legislations and positioning, good and bad, are forms of digital sovereignty that seek to increase their ability to have greater control over the pattern of development that has persisted over the past two century, in which telecommunication standards and regulations come bundled with standards and political decisions from the Global North without significant input from the South. In this sense, even when we achieve access in the uncovered areas, we are still subject to this phenomenon. This is why I believe it is such a strong topic.

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