This year was quite important for the field of Internet Governance. Next to the establieshed Internet Governance Forum (IGF) by the UN and the European Dialog on Internet Governance (EuroDIG) there was another place called NETmundial in Brazil.
The NETmundial was initatied by Dilma Rousseff, the brazilian president, after the reveilling by Edwards Snowden of her surveillance by the NSA. Being outraged at the beginning the hopes were high to have finally a forum to discuss THE topic: global surveillance by secret services. After half a year on the NSA leaks, it was time to adress it. The past month also showed that this is only possible in an surounding not dominated by the US. They seem to have severe problems in learning from it. Having this in mind, it was surprising, or perhaps not, that the focus shifted during the development of the event and surounding policy process. Additional topics were set, as the future development of ICANN and others. Sadly not even Civil Society was united on this issue. And again, the original topic of surveillance was diluted by a too strong focus on processes. The question is: how much worth are talking about processes when there is not a glance of proceeding on a topic. Especially in an approach which is independ from the UN. So, the topic which started NETmundial occured at the end as an subchapter in the final document. And this being not enough, the pararaphes on surveillance were even weaker than in existing UN resolutions.
Unfortunatly the same happend to EuroDIG in Berlin. In the preparation meetings before the topic shifted again more to Internet Governance as a process with too much focus on itself then the original talking points. Again there was a strong push from several actors to have surveillance as a main topic. At this point the leaks from Edward Snowden had almost their first anniversary. Addional, there is a visible decrease in participation. Not surprising, when there is not really progress and everlasting discussions with the same people on the panels.
To conclude, the approach of Internet Governance as something which tries to be as inclusive as possible and as open as possible, is obviously stuck. The involvement of other stakeholders made some shifts, but the established actors still leading and setting the agenda.
This is quite sad, since there are many issues which would need attension. Filtering, censoring and hard interventions in the core technologies are currently done. Not just by known countries as Iran or China, but also by coutries which call themselves democratic honoring civil and human rights. There is data retention in many countries like Germany. There is deep packet inspections done by private companies. There are severe attacks on privacy supporting technologies like Tor. If there ever was a “freedom of the Internet” it’s gone or in the most optimistic case, almost gone. The stituation is clear. So where to start now?
A look in other policy fields can give new ideas and best practices for new approaches. There are other global issues where the traditional policy processes are stuck due to a small group of countries dominating it. The best example is the topic of Nuclear disammament. Due to the NPT only five countries are allowed to have them and so they are only talking with themselves about it. Even so the use or even an excident would affect many others. But there are already positive examples in the field of disammament of weapons of massdistruction. The most recent one is the ban treaty on cluster ammunition. Another very successful is the one on landmines. What have they in common? First of all they focused not on a technical or even security level. They looked at the humanitarian level, meaning which impact has it on humans itselve. After concluding that the danger for the human race alone justifies a global ban on it. Leaving out any other disucusion on security, military or politcal benefits of such weapons. The second important step was to establish a small “core group” of countries who have a similar progressive position towards this topic. They can push it, hosting state conference on the topic itself and after some time start negotions for an international treaty. Even if such a treaty is done by a small group of five to six countries, it can have a large impact since other countries can – one by one – join this treaty.
So, why is there no core group of countries which set an example with an international treaty others can join. Where are Switzerland, Iceland or Brazil to start negations for such a “freedom of the Internet treaty”? Brazil already adopted the Marco Civil, a Fundamental Rights Charter for the Internet. It it time to bring this into an international treaty, having a group of countries negotiating and signing it as initiators. Then they can collect others co-signing it. Naming, shaming and putting pressure on others who don’t do it. It is time now to start such a process and not running after the fairy tale of Internet Governance as the universal remedy.