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Americas

Internet should stay free of government intervention, conference says

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-04-25

NETmundial, a global conference on the future management of the Internet, on Thursday concluded with most participants agreeing that the Internet should remain a self-regulated space free of government intervention.

The two-day meeting in Sao Paolo had been convened by President Dilma following the furore sparked by allegations of US spying revealed in documents leaked by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.

Rousseff's own communications were targeted by the National Security Agency, prompting the Brazilian leader to call on the United Nations last year to oversee a new global legal system to govern the Internet.

In its final statement, the conference said that “mass and arbitrary surveillance undermines trust in the Internet”, but added that “more dialogue is needed on this topic” and that governments, companies, academics, technicians and users should all have a say in where to go next.

That is exactly what companies such as Google or Facebook say is essential to spur innovation, expand the boundaries of the Internet and keep their businesses growing.

“Our focus is on making sure the Net stays free and open,” said Ross LaJeunesse, Google’s head of international relations.

“The meeting was generally very good because it recognized the power of the multistakeholder approach and talked about human rights and the importance of innovation,” he said in an interview on the sidelines of the event.

Companies had voiced concern about governments using the NETmundial meeting to push for regulation and interference that could inhibit investment and ultimately harm Internet users.

Russia, China push for more control

NETmundial called for a less US-centric Internet, but it steered clear of granting governments greater control over the net, as Russia and China were pushing for.

“There was a lot of anxiety going into this meeting by all of the groups,” said David Gross, a lawyer representing a coalition of companies including Amazon.com Inc, Microsoft Corp and Telefónica SA.

Internet companies fear government intervention could harm their business in fast-growing markets such as Brazil. After Snowden’s revelations that the United States had spied on her personal communications, Rousseff tried to force Internet companies to store data on Brazilian users in the country. The measure, which was eventually dropped, would have cost the companies hundreds of millions of dollars.

“The industry is satisfied,” said Virgilio Almeida, Brazil’s secretary for IT policy who chaired the meeting. “Google and Facebook see this as a very positive debate because it not only involves governments. It’s a debate that includes everyone.”

The participants of NETmundial will meet again later this year at conferences organized by the Internet Governance Forum and the UN’s International Telecommunications Union.

Part of that momentum was facilitated by the US government’s decision to relax control of ICANN, a California-based non-profit that assigns Internet domains. While mostly symbolic, the move is widely seen as an overdue step towards a globalized administration of the Web.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP, REUTERS)

Date created : 2014-04-25

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