Netmundial Initiative – some thoughts on the first full Council meeting

This is an update and some personal reflections on the NetMundial Initiative, which held its first full Coordination Council meeting on June 30 in Sao Paulo. I was one of the 5 civil society representatives on the 23 member council.

The communique document for the meeting can be found at https://www.netmundial.org/blog/secretariat/s%C3%A3o-paulo-communiqu%C3%A9-inaugural-council-meeting and summarises most of the discussions. So below are some more personal comments.

The meeting was held in the same room as the original NetMundial conference which many of us attended (but partitioned to create a smaller room). In addition to the Council members, seats were available for observers as well as remote participation. The meeting was hosted and very well organised by CGI.br

One feature of the meeting was the speeches by 2 high profile Chinese delegates attending for the first time (Lu Wei, Chinese Minister for Cyberspace, and Jack Ma, head of Alibaba). I would imagine transcripts as well as other documents will be available soon at http://www.netmundial .org, but some memories are

Lu Wei definitely mentioned support for multistakeholderism, but China watchers might also want to check the transcript or recording for nuances of meaning here – he also mentioned sovereignty of course. This seems to a change of some sort for China to mention support for multistakeholderism, but I would imagine their interpretation of what this means might be somewhere within the wide range of interpretations already existing. But what I do read into this is an acknowledgement by China that it will work with the rest of the world in addressing internet issues. As always, the devil will be in the detail.

Lu Wei ( and Jack Ma if my memory serves me correctly) used the phrase of the internet being “for the development of humankind” This particular phrase had a history dating back to the early 1980s and the Macbride Report of UNESCO (Many Voices One World) referring to pre-Internet new media – out of which the NWICO debates emerged. I was personally pleased to hear the phrase used in this context.

There was an interesting discussion on human rights and internet governance between Lu Wei and Eileen Donahoe (Human Rights Watch) and Anriette Esterhuysen (Association for Progressive Communications)

Jack Ma gave a very interesting speech as well, referring to development and engagement of youth in particular.

It appears that both China and Jack Ma on behalf of Alibaba have indicated strong support at this stage for the initiative.

Fadi Chehade in his opening remarks produced some interesting diagrammatic interpretations of the state of internet governance – these are also available from http://www.netmundial.org. He also mentioned the role of Edward Snowden as a catalyst for the original NMI conference in Sao Paulo – remarks which I later took on board a little more extensively to thank Edward Snowden for his contribution and to note that, although there have since been a few small measures here and there to improve the pervasive nature of mass surveillance, there was still a lot of improvement needed in this area.

The meeting adopted a few procedural documents – including strong support for consensus decision making. It also, through a fairly messy process hastily arranged, put in place 5 co-chairs – Jack Ma, Fadi Chehade, Virgilio Almeida, Eileen Donahoe, and Marilia Maciel.

Much of the meeting was devoted to internal process.

There were also some pretty interesting side discussions – I (and others as well) deliberately raised the internet.org issue, particularly to feel out policy makers from industry and governments. While there were divided opinions, there were certainly a lot of people who hadn’t thought about it yet who need to, and some surprisingly strong opposition to the initiative from some industry players. I think the discussions were valuable, with some people having very scant knowledge of the issues which are being raised and likely to look into them further.

Otherwise – my general impression is that NMI is getting some structure, and maybe some extra avenues of financial support as well . The terms of the inaugural council will run out in June 2016, and it is hard to know what will happen after that, if anything. The loss of product champion Fadi Chehade is likely to be a factor as well.

That’s my initial reactions. I realise that many within civil society have strong (and in many cases appropriate) reservations about this initiative. But at the same time, I am glad that as these discussions continue civil society does have some presence in the discussions and the capacity to influence events via those who are participating.

Ian Peter

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