This article was published by Saudi Gazette and then “surprisingly” deleted after the print edition went out due to “technical” issues…
“The NetMundial meeting that was created to determine how the Internet should be governed concluded last week in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The meetings goal was to agree to “shared international principles and highlight specific issues that could form the basis of later Internet governance discussions” the meetings executive committee highlighted. However, while it is unlikely that the two-day event will change the way we use the Internet, it is expected that it will influence the future of Internet governance. This said, deciding who gets to govern the Internet was why the attendance list included 80 countries, with 850 government officials, academics, civil society groups and technical experts, including World Wide Web creator Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Internet inventor Vint Cerf.
From a government perspective, the meetings opening was attended by heads of state, United Nations (UN) Under Secretary General, heads of inter-governmental originations, Ministers of Foreign Affairs, and other Ministers of state among many other government delegations, however Saudi Arabia’s delegation was less impressive as it was headed by the Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC). This arguably affects Saudi very negatively, as the ‘non-diplomatically trained’ delegation (along side with Iran, Russia and China) headed the status quo opposition at the international negotiation table (with very little, if no input from Saudi’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs).
The Internet has ran effectively for over 25 years because the United Sates (US) ensured that the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a global non-profit group, that assigns domain names that runs an essential part of the Internet infrastructure, is run with no governmental influence. However, following the US National Security Agency (NSA) allegations of monitoring phone calls and emails of many heads of states, the US has been under pressure to react. To that affect, U.S. President Barack Obama, and the US Department of Commerce announced on 15 March a crucial decision on Internet governance that by September 2015 it would give up oversight of ICANN. While mostly symbolic, the move is widely seen as an overdue step toward a globalised administration of the Internet.
Saudi, like Iran and China, wants a strong state presence in the decision-making process of Internet governance. However, Neelie Kroes Vice-President of the European Commission at the meeting said: “The Internet is now a global resource demanding global governance.” However, speaking at the summit, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff stated the need to govern a safer, less US “centered” Internet – “The Internet we want will only be possible in a scenario of respect for human rights, in particular the right to privacy and freedom of expression,” she said.
It was very evident that most countries agreed on a multi-stakeholder governing system approach that involves the technical community, academia, civil society and the cooperate sector. Large global Internet companies like Google voiced their concern about governments using the NETmundial meeting to push for regulation and interference that could inhibit investment and ultimately harm Internet users.
Talking on behalf of the Saudi government, the CITC delegate announced, “international public policy in regard to the Internet is the right of governments and that public policy should be developed by all governments on an equal footing.” Thus making Saudi Arabia one of a small minority of countries in the world that does not involve all interested stakeholders in its Internet policy-making process. It is my understanding that the Saudi position is essentially a CITC position, because there has been no announced prior inter-governmental consultation on the matter and how it impacts our domestic or foreign policy.
While no binding decisions were expected from Brazil last week, the high profile triggered a high-level debate on possible reforms. However, the meeting was concluded with the production of a “consensus” document that asserts: “The respective roles and responsibilities of stakeholders should be interpreted in a flexible manner with reference to the issue under discussion.” Furthermore, Michael Daniel, special assistant to President Obama, stated that “from the U.S. perspective, NetMundial was a huge success.” But it’s no accomplishment when countries that have long sought power over the Internet embrace the U.S. invitation for them to seize it”.”