FRANKFURT Responding to a dizzying array of issues that threaten to break the Internet, from privacy to tax dodging to cybercrime, a group of the world's leading governance organisations say greater user involvement, not top-down control, is needed.
Three organisations -- Brazil's Internet Steering Committee (CGI.br), Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and the World Economic Forum (WEF) -- said on Thursday they were setting up a new group to find solutions to Internet governance issues, instead of waiting for governments to agree.
NETmundial, as the group will be known, will map out best practices for resolving complex problems, ranging from online privacy to Internet taxation, security and child protection.
The group plans to turn to the Internet's own models of crowd-sourcing and crowd-funding that power web institutions such as Wikipedia to turn decade-old debates among top international technical organisations into action plans.
"Current governance processes are deeply challenged by the transnational nature of the Internet and the speed at which it moves," ICAAN Chief Executive Fadi Chehadé said in an interview. ICANN is a global body that manages the Internet address system.
The border-hopping nature of the Internet can be summed up by the example of a U.S. consumer who buys a phone in Baltimore from a German headquartered company and uses it to pay for goods from an ecommerce site in Hong Kong. Myriad issues from privacy to security to taxes can arise even in such simple scenarios.
Even as the Internet becomes deeply woven into the fabric of many people's daily lives, its interconnected nature has come under attack from interests which feel threatened by its openness, or who look to exploit its technical weaknesses.
Seeking to fill these breaches, government officials, courts and regulators are pressing for all manner of local, national and regional controls that increasingly slice up and balkanise the network of networks that is the global Internet.
NETmundial aims to promote solutions developed by existing technical bodies, international, government-led groups and national regulators, while seeking to include these bodies in their own broad-tent approach to Internet governance.
It aims to share ideas with organisations around the world, especially in developing nations, where Internet expertise remains scarce.
"The issue list is long: Many solutions exist and sometimes, where there are no solutions, NETmundial will coalesce to help create solutions from the bottom up," said Chehade of plans to encourage greater public and private involvement in the issues.
SNOWDEN'S LASTING LEGACY
NETmundial grew out of a conference of the same name held in Brazil six months ago organised by 12 host nations. That event sought to find a more open approach to running the Internet after revelations by former NSA contractor Ed Snowden of U.S. spying on citizens, businesses and world leaders.
Going forward, organisers say NETmundial will be a platform for participation, rather than a formal organisation as such. It aims to give individuals, organisations and governments tools for addressing the many non-technical issues that bedevil the Internet's functioning and which increasingly fragment it.
"There is a need to discuss these non-technical issues not only by governments but also by involving different stakeholders," Virgílio A.F. Almeida, Brazil's secretary for information technology policies, said in a phone interview. By stakeholders, he was referring to other groups ranging from civil society to business and academic and technical experts.
The World Economic Forum's involvement in NETmundial is designed to complement the global leadership organisation's own efforts to push Internet issues up the agendas of government and corporate leaders, said WEF Managing Director Richard Samans.
The Internet's impact on economics, politics and security issues is a top theme at the forum's annual meeting of world leaders in Davos next January. Participating in NETmundial complements WEF's own "leader-level" activties, Samans said.
NETmundial organisers say their initiative is designed to include any individuals and organisations who wish to participate through its web site at www.netmundial.org/.
This bottom-up approach is one of many projects underway to develop more effective forms of Internet governance. It coincides with a separate but related effort to internationalise control of Internet naming functions, which ICANN has run since 1998 under a contract with the U.S. Commerce Department.
NETmundial will be run by a 25-member coordination council with decisions made by rough consensus rather than voting. Twenty members will be drawn from five separate regions. In each region, representatives from government, business, the civil sector and the academic technical community will be chosen.
As NETmundial's conveners, CGI.br, Brazil's Internet governing body, ICANN and WEF will each hold a board seat. The global Internet Governance Forum (IGF) will have a seat, as will a representative drawn from Internet technical bodies.
(Editing by David Clarke)