Centre for Internet & Society

Fadi Chehade, the ICANN boss, closed NETmundial 2014 with these words "In Africa we say if you want to go first, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together." He should have added: And if you want to go nowhere, go multi-stakeholder.

For all the talk of an inclusive global meeting, there was exactly one governmental submission from the African continent, and it was from Tunisia; and the overall rate of submissions from Africa and West Asia were generally very low.

The outcome document perfectly reflects the gloss that the "multi-stakeholder" model was designed to achieve: an outcome that is celebrated by businesses (and by all embedded institutions like ICANN) for being harmless, met with relief by governments for not upsetting the status quo, all of it lit up in the holy glow of "consensus" from civil society.

Of course there was no consensus. Civil society groups who organised on Day 0 put up their position: the shocking omission of a strong case for net neutrality, ambiguous language on surveillance, weak defences of free expression and privacy. All valid points. But it's striking that civil society takes such a pliant position towards authority: other than exactly two spirited protests (one against the data retention in Marco Civil, and the other against the NSA's mass surveillance program) there was no confrontation, no provocation, no passionate action that would give civil society the force it needs to win. If we were to compare this to other international struggles, the gay rights battle, or its successor, the AIDS medicines movement, for instance - what a difference there is. People fought to crush with powerful, forceful action. Only after huge victories with public and media sympathy, and only after turning themselves into equals of the corporations and governments they were fighting, did they allow themselves to sit down at the table and negotiate nicely. Internet governance fora are marked by politeness and passivity, and perhaps - however sad - it's no wonder that the least powerful groups in these fora always come away disappointed.

It's also surprising that there is no language in the outcome document that explicitly addresses the censorious threat posed by the global expansion of a sovereign application of copyright, as seen most vividly in the proposed SOPA/PIPA legislation in the United States. The outcome document has language that seems to more or less reflect the civil society proposal, and it's possible that a generous interpretation of the language could mean that it opposes the selective, restrictive and damaging application of what the intellectual property industries want to accomplish on the Internet. But it's puzzling that the language isn't stronger or more explicit, and even more puzzling that civil society doesn't seem to want to fight for such language.

This seems like an appropriate time to end the multi-stakeholder diaries. Hasn't the word been used enough? Here is one last instalment. We thank the kind folks who gave us their time.

Q: What does "multi-stakeholder" mean? What is "multi-stakeholderism"?

A large part of the discourse prior to the NETmundial conference has been centered around the issue of what is the best structural system to regulate a global network – this has commonly been portrayed as a choice between a multistakeholder system – which broadly speaking, aims to place ‘all stakeholders’ on equal footing – against multilateralism – a recognized concept in International law / the Comity of Nation States, where a nation state is recognized as the representative of its citizens, making decisions on their behalf and in their interests.

In our opinion, the issue is not about the dichotomy between multilateralism and multistakeholderism; it is about what functions or issues can legitimately be dealt with through each of the processes in terms of adequately protecting civil liberties and other public interest principles – including the appropriate enforcement of norms. For instance, how do you deal with something like cyber warfare without the consent of states? Similarly, how do we address regulatory issues such as determining (and possibly subsidizing) costs of access, or indeed to protect a right of a country against unilateral disconnection?

.....The crux of the matter rests in deciding which is the best governance ‘basket’ to include a particular issue within – taken from both a substantive and enforcement perspective. The challenge is trying to demarcate issues to ensure that each is dealt with effectively by placing it in an appropriate bucket. (The full post can be accessed here).
Rishab Bailey from the Society for Knowledge Commons (India)

If I would have signed the campaign http://wepromise.eu as a candidate to the European Parliament I would have made it an election promise to defend "the principle of multistakeholderism".

That means that I "support free, open, bottom-up, and multi-stakeholder models of coordinating the Internet resources and standards - names, numbers, addresses etc" and that I "support measures which seek to ensure the capacity of representative civil society to participate in multi-stakeholder forums." Further, I "oppose any attempts by corporate, governmental or intergovernmental agencies to take control of Internet governance."

My very rudimentary personal view is basically that it's a bad idea to institutionalise conflicting competences.
Erik Josefsson, Adviser on Internet policies for the Greens/EFA group in the European Parliament

And so it ends.

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