Brazil's President Rousseff smiles during NETmundial.

© 2014 Reuters

What’s the future of the Internet and how should it be governed? 850 government officials, academics, and, crucially, members of civil society gathered in Sao Paolo, Brazil, to debate this question at NETmundial.

NETmundial closed tonight and congratulations must go to President Dilma Rousseff and the Government of Brazil for organizing the event.  NETmundial marked a successful and important step in the global “experiment” of multistakeholder Internet governance, where voices outside of governments are heard in setting basic protocols and the parties strive for a process that is open, transparent, and inclusive.

Civil society played a central role in Sao Paulo in ensuring that, as we consider how the Internet should be governed going forward, human rights principles should serve as the central guide in all Internet governance processes.  In fact, human rights were presented by many participants at NETmundial as the first and primary lens through which Internet governance matters must be viewed.

A prevailing consensus within civil society:  Without the right to privacy there can be no true freedom of expression and opinion. Access to information and to an affordable Internet is a top global priority. And mass surveillance undermines trust in the Internet as well as in the Internet governance ecosystem.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, asserted, “Mass surveillance is the most immediate threat to the open Internet and the most insidious because we can't see it.”

The Brazilian government did a remarkable job pulling together cross regional, cross sector representative from civil society, government, business, academia and technologists in a relatively inclusive and transparent set of discussions at NETmundial.  

That said, some governments were not happy with the process or the outcome:  In an intervention from the floor, a Russian delegate commented that: “this is the most un-transparent document and process I have ever seen in my life!  My government’s comments were not taken into account.”

Further, while most interventions in Sao Paulo strongly endorsed the view that future Internet governance must protect the Internet as an open, interoperable, global platform for human rights, a Chinese government delegate asserted instead that “national sovereignty should rule Internet policy and governance.  Each government should build their own infrastructure, undertake its own governance, and enforce its own laws to ensure their own freedom.” 

Still, such voices were a distinct minority and did not play a significant role in the discussions.  While the final outcome document is not perfect, it does establish both human rights and multistakeholder inclusion as central organizing principles for the future of Internet governance.

Although Vinay Kwatra, Deputy Secretary, Minister of Foreign Affairs, India,suggested that Internet governance should be handled in multilateral processes, the civil society group Chenai Hub weighed in remotely from Chenai, India:  “We express this view with ample respect for our government, but as stakeholders with our own point of view. We would like to emphasize that the future of Internet Governance should be determined by multistakeholder deliberations and not by multilateral approach. We believe that this idea of multilateral governance for the Internet should be dropped by government.”

What was evident throughout the two days of discussions in Sao Paulo is that a “multistakeholder” approach to Internet governance—however vague a term, or however difficult a concept to implement—is a far more inclusive and transparent approach than any process where only governments have a seat at the table.