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Netmundial: 10 Years Later
Marta Moreira Dias
.PT Board of Directors
Netmundial: 10 Years Later
The Netmundial+10 took place from April 29 to 30, 2024, yet its seeds were sown a decade ago, leading notably to the creation of Brazil's Internet Bill of Rights. This pivotal legislation established principles, guarantees, rights, and responsibilities for internet use within Brazil and outlined the roles of the Union, the states, the Federal District, and the municipalities concerning this matter. From this emerged a declaration emphasizing the role of the multistakeholder model as a starting point for Internet governance, where various stakeholders such as governments, civil society, academia, the private sector, and the technical community should participate equitably, each within their competencies and specific area of activity.

Much has changed in the decade that followed, with new technologies like artificial intelligence, blockchain, cloud computing, IoT, Web3, and robotics emerging, largely driven by the innovation trigger. Cybersecurity, privacy, and data protection have become priorities for states, individuals, and organizations, especially in the digital realm. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015 and effective since 2016, set priorities for sustainable development, aiming to mobilize global efforts around 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The proposal by the UN Secretary-General for a Global Digital Compact (GDC), launched in September 2021, is about to be discussed at the UN Summit of the Future. The initial draft of the document under discussion has already been publicly released and is now under the scrutinous gaze of the involved stakeholders.

Additionally, through Resolution A/RES/70/125, the UN General Assembly was requested to hold a High-Level Meeting in 2025 to review the progress and outcomes of the 20 years of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), which will include discussion on the much-desired fourth renewal of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) mandate.

The timing of NetMundial could not be more opportune. This was the first point in its favor, but there are many more. The Brazilian Internet Steering Committee (CGI), which, among other responsibilities, manages the .br ccTLD, brought representatives from all over the world from various interested stakeholders to São Paulo, conducting the session mostly in Portuguese, the native language. At a time when the importance of multilingualism on the Internet is being discussed, primarily as a powerful tool for digital and social inclusion, such a choice is commendable. The lengthy final document presented, already known to the public, was discussed in plenary from the first to the last line, and is divided into four chapters: 1. Challenges to Internet governance and digital policy processes; 2. Principles for Internet governance and digital policy processes; 3. Adoption of the multistakeholder model and improvements to multilateral processes; 3. Contributions to ongoing processes.

From the document, some immediate conclusions stand out. Firstly, the clarification of concepts and hypothetical dichotomies often brought into discussion without a concrete understanding of their real scope. Specifically, we refer to internet governance/digital governance; multilateral approach/multistakeholder approach; the meaning of "equal footing"; and the scope and significance of consensus in the decision-making process.

In its wording, and quite pragmatically, the document combines the concepts of internet governance and digital policies, while distinguishing them. This choice, supposedly innovative, is debatable for some who highlight that the definition of Internet governance from the 2005 Tunis Agenda was broad enough to include what we now holistically qualify as digital. Added to this argument was the notion that this could inadvertently encourage the unnecessary duplication of new forums in the digital realm. This last point was met with counterarguments emphasizing that more important than not creating additional structures is to avoid duplicating efforts and responsibilities.

The growing risks associated with power imbalances, not only among different stakeholders but also within the same sector where the discussion between the global north and south (as classified by UNCTAD) was repeated, led to the identification of challenges such as digital inclusion and the much-needed "engagements" and cross-sectoral coordination, to address silos where dialogue and consensus are not possible.

The document resulting from Netmundial+10 identifies principles and maps out a potential guide for what internet and digital governance could or should be, and should be seen as a possible path to follow for the processes being conducted by the United Nations in the context of the GDC and WSIS+20. It was another example of the multistakeholder model at work. We continue to watch closely.

Please note: the articles on this blog may not convey the opinion of .PT, but of its author.
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