Last week witnessed a number of interesting and encouraging developments concerning the articulation of principles to guide decision-making in connection with Internet governance. For far too long, discussions of have been marked by extreme partisanship and hyperbole, but last week’s events in Brazil suggest that a more reasonable consensus may finally be emerging. First, after many years of deliberation, Brazil adopted legislation on net neutrality and privacy designed to enhance security, privacy, and competition (known as Marco Civil) while simultaneously rejecting proposals that would have hindered the application of the rule of law—particularly with regard to the protection of intellectual property. Even within a highly charged political environment, the Brazilian government rejected the notion that freedom of expression and network neutrality somehow demanded that internet service providers remain blind to infringements on their networks, and ensured that ISPs retained the capacity to respond quickly when they became aware of such infringements. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff signed the bill at the opening of the NetMundial conference, a “global multistakeholder Meeting on the Future of Internet Governance.” The NETmundial conference was the first of its kind, and we are hopeful that it contributes to the evolution of the Internet governance ecosystem that encourages freedom, responsibility, accountability and transparency.
President Rousseff’s endorsement of the bill set the stage for two days of deliberations by the meeting participants, who produced a Statement that was described as a “non-binding outcome of a bottom-up, open, and participatory process involving thousands of people from governments, private sector, civil society, technical community, and academia from around the world.”
Some participants in NetMundial, and early drafts of the Multistakeholder Statement, had suggested a vision of Internet Governance that failed to promote accountability, rooted in the poorly-considered notion that any restrictions on the flow of information are a form of censorship or repression. This reflected a sterile dialogue that has been taking place on these issues for the past few years. Fortunately, in an evolution that augurs well for more mature thinking, the final version of the Multistakeholder Statement rejected earlier, facile analyses and presented a more nuanced set of proposals. The Statement reflects an understanding that freedom ultimately depends on accountability, and that societal interests are poorly served when we define freedom as the ability to engage in unconstrained conduct that fails to respect the interests of other parties. The document unfortunately includes a reference to the term “permissionless innovation” which is frequently employed or understood to mean that any conduct is acceptable, and as an invitation for one actor to ignore the implications of his or her actions on the rights of third parties. While we hope that any future work will reject the use of this overemployed and misunderstood phrase, we at least take note that it is used here not to overrule the need for permission when permission is required under copyright or other laws, but rather to refer to the importance of ensuring a regulatory environment that fosters innovation and competition.
If we are to develop rules for Internet governance that: expand access; facilitate communications; give voice to the weak; promote fundamental human rights, including the freedom of expression; expand cultural diversity and drive economic development, it is essential that we develop principles that are based on respect for the rule of law and the protection of the individual. While I don't endorse the NetMundial Statement, primarily given its failure to adequately reflect the importance of fundamental human rights in connection with the creation of original works, it is nonetheless encouraging to witness the maturation of debates in which answers will be found in nuance and not absolutes.
Developments in technology have created the potential for a global Renaissance in cultural production and an explosion in the practical ability to engage in fundamental freedoms. But to realize this potential, we need equal parts passion and reason, and must recognize that human dignity and the advancement of societies require forbearance and fairness, and not merely a simplistic implementation of a free-for-all. Good governance is predicated on respecting the freedoms of all parties to participate in and benefit from new opportunities created by technology.
The events of last week give me reason to believe that there is an increasing awareness of the kind of balance that needs to be achieved if societies are going to simultaneously share in the opportunities and manage the risks to foster a healthy, digital future, and that is certainly something to celebrate.
Neil Turkewitz, Executive Vice President, International, RIAA