The “Internet Governance” Farce and its “Multi-stakeholder” Illusion
by Jérémie Zimmermann
For almost 15 years, "Internet Governance" meetings1 have been drawing attention and driving our imaginaries towards believing that consensual rules for the Internet could emerge from global "multi-stakeholder" discussions. A few days ahead of the "NETmundial" Forum in Sao Paulo it has become obvious that "Internet Governance" is a farcical way of keeping us busy and hiding a sad reality: Nothing concrete in these 15 years, not a single action, ever emerged from "multi-stakeholder" meetings, while at the same time, technology as a whole has been turned against its users, as a tool for surveillance, control and oppression.
Citizens of the world must think of the critical challenges ahead: End mass surveillance, protect freedoms online without compromise, guarantee Net neutrality, enable universal access to the Free Internet… None of which can be adressed in these sterile "multistakeholder" discussions, with rigged lists of participants2, but only with proper political contexts set by decentralized networks of citizens, organized through a Free Internet.
Through the alternative site http://netmundial.net and many other decentralized modes of organisations, citizens of the world are asking their government for something else than the "Internet Governance" farce.
Why would we need to wait for these "multi-stakeholder" hyper-structures to properly function, if ever, before anything could be done3? There is actually an already existing structure for collective management of the Internet: We, citizens, are all co-owners of the Internet, if we consider it as the sum of its infrastructure, its technologies, and much more importantly the sum of activities, data and content that we, all, contribute to make it exist.
In this sense, Internet can and must be considered as a common good.
This is precisely what we must demand from governments now, from the warm ashes of the dead "multi-stakeholder" model, crushed under the boots of unilateral decisions of NSA, Google, Facebook, China, Apple, Russia, and all the others actors who didn't wait for a consensus to take radical steps to alter the shape of technology to turn it against citizens.
Governments must consider the Internet as our common good, and protect it as such, with no compromise. Like the most precious natural reserve, or patch of clean drinking water. From then we must engage into a profound debate on the nature of the trust we place into private or public actors ("trustees") who will manage this resource. What conditions of transparency and accountability (such as the use of Free/Libre software and the ability for the public to verify it) shall we demand, in a democratic society, to those who are responsible for protecting our fundamental freedoms, by their control over part of our common infrastructure?
This is the nature of the debate we wish had emerged from NETmundial, under the courageous impulsion of president Dilma Roussef. Alas, it looks like she would rather bend under the pressure of the US4, the EU5, and industrial interests. Will a message from citizens all around the world ever be able to alter this bland status quo? It must be attempted anyway!
Please join us by signing the message at http://netmundial.net, spreading it around, and engaging actively into dismantling the illusion of "multistakeholder Internet Governance".
- 1. From the 2001 World Summit for Information Society to the most recent Internet Governance Forums
- 2. More than 90% of the members of the "technical community" in NETmundial, like in the Internet Governance Forum, are either part of governments or corporations http://netmundial.br/blog/2014/04/20/netmundial-announces-list-of-registered-participants/
- 3. As these academics note in the conclusion of their study on "multistakeholderism" http://ssrn.com/abstract=2354377 : "Further, the fact that major actors in Internet governance endorse diverse views of procedural legitimacy helps explain the rising tension in this issue-area and also suggests that actors ***should attempt to forge a procedural modus vivendi prior to attempting to resolve substantive issues***."
- 4. No mention to NSA, mass surveillance, and active participation of Silicon Valley company in latest version of "internet governance principles"
- 5. Mention to "net neutrality" removed from the "principles" under influence of EU Commissioner Neelie Kroes: http://ec.europa.eu/commission_2010-2014/kroes/en/content/my-thoughts-netmundial-and-future-internet-governance