A global Internet governance conference in Brazil concluded Thursday with a strong focus on countering surveillance, including asking for a review of the implications on privacy of existing practices and legislation.
The meeting also spoke of the need for consensus among global stakeholders in the development of international Internet-related public polices and Internet governance arrangements.
A large issue before Internet users, organizations and governments is planning the transition after the U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration ends its oversight of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which expires in September next year.
The non-binding outcome of the meeting at San Paulo also stressed on the protection of intermediaries, and called for cooperation "among all stakeholders" to address and deter illegal activity, consistent with fair process. The meeting did not take a stand on net neutrality that many activists were demanding and listed it among the issues that need to be better understood and further discussed in appropriate forums.
The two-day Global Multistakeholder Meeting on the Future of Internet Governance, also called NETmundial, was largely influenced by disclosures by former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden since June last year of large-scale surveillance of the Internet by the agency and spying on foreign leaders, including Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff.
Nnenna Nwakanma, Africa Regional Coordinator of the World Wide Web Foundation, thanked Snowden in her speech during the opening ceremony Wednesday. She reminded the audience that Rousseff had said at the U.N. General Assembly in September last year that "in the absence of the right to privacy, there can be no true freedom of expression and opinion and there is no effective democracy."
In the event, a new paragraph was added in the final statement that asked that the "procedures, practices and legislation regarding the surveillance of communications, their interception and collection of personal data, including mass surveillance, interception and collection, should be reviewed, with a view to upholding the right to privacy by ensuring the full and effective implementation of all obligations under international human rights law."
The statement, however, fell short of the demand of some activists that the text should address the surveillance by the U.S. including the participation by Internet companies. Documents released by Snowden had alleged that Internet companies like Facebook and Google had given the NSA real-time access to content on their servers. The companies denied their participation in the project called Prism.
Some civil society groups have criticized the final document for, among other things, not acknowledging net neutrality and for not sufficiently denouncing mass surveillance as being inconsistent with human rights. "We feel that this document has not sufficiently moved us beyond the status quo in terms of the protection of fundamental rights, and the balancing of power and influence of different stakeholder groups," the groups said in a statement.
The meeting also demanded a role for all stakeholders in deciding the transition of ICANN to a new governance model. The discussion about mechanisms for guaranteeing the transparency and accountability of the IANA (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority) functions after the U.S. government role ends must be through "an open process with the participation of all stakeholders extending beyond the ICANN community," according to the final statement.
"Now, let's all focus on implementation of #netmundial Roadmap based on #netmundial2014 Principles driven by our newly born NETMundial spirit," ICANN president Fadi Chehadé wrote in a twitter message after the conference. Rousseff decided on the NETmundial conference after a meeting with Chehadé.
The statement also recommended that Internet governance should promote open standards by consensus and the standards should be consistent with human rights.