The following letter was sent to the organisers of the NETmundial Initiative today by the Internet Governance Civil Society Coordination Group (CSCG), an umbrella organisation of which I'm a member on behalf of the Best Bits network.
Responding to concerns raised by the CSCG's constituents, the letter makes some very pointed criticisms of the Initiative, but in distinction from the stance taken by ISOC and the Just Net Coalition (JNC), does not boycott the Initiative altogether, instead placing a series of conditions on the CSCG's participation.
(To complicate things, JNC is itself a CSCG member, but has always had a combative relationship with other civil society groups and networks. Splitting off from Best Bits and the Civil Society Internet Governance Caucus following a closed meeting in New Delhi in February 2014, but often continuing to mount attacks on these groups on public lists, JNC favours UN-based multilateralism in Internet governance, and is critical of multi-stakeholderism which it sees as a mask for neo-liberal hegemony.)
The letter follows:
Dear Virgilio, Richard and Fadi,
As members of the Internet Governance Civil Society Coordination Group (CSCG), we write to express our appreciation for your openness in working with us to negotiate the terms of civil society’s participation in the NETmundial Initiative; in particular, by accommodating our expectation, drawn from the NETmundial Principles, that if we are to participate on the Coordination Council, we should nominate our own representatives.
Since our initial agreement on this principle, we have been consulting with our constituents about whether civil society ought to avail itself of this opportunity at all. We must say that this has been a difficult question, at the end of which there remain some very significant misgivings across a broad segment of civil society about the merits of our prospective involvement.
Among the underlying concerns of many are that the involvement of the World Economic Forum in the initiative signals an attempt by economic and political elites to secure a central role in Internet governance; that the Initiative has been organised in a top-down manner that privileges its three promoters above other stakeholders; and that devoting time and resources to the Initiative may detract from other processes such as the Internet Governance Forum.
On the other hand, others recognise the opportunity that exists for civil society to help shape the NETmundial Initiative into a mechanism (but not the only mechanism) that can advance the NETmundial roadmap. Despite significant shortcomings in the NETmundial Multistakeholder Statement stemming from influence exerted by powerful actors towards the end of the process, much of the document, including the roadmap, does enjoy broad civil society support.
Our involvement and process
In the end we have decided to facilitate the involvement of those from civil society who do wish to apply for membership of the Coordination Council, while acknowledging others have decided as a matter of principle that they do not wish to be involved—and indeed would rather that civil society did not participate at all. We acknowledge and respect that our colleagues from Just Net Coalition have taken that position and will not be participating with us in this exercise.
The process we have agreed to work with is
- At the close of nominations (December 6), CSCG Nomcom will review all nominations for civil society participation and evaluate each candidate’s suitability.
- CSCG Nomcom will recommend one candidate per geographic region, and submits names to Transitional Council with reasons.
- If necessary, NMI Transitional Council will convene a (virtual) meeting with CSCG Nomcom to discuss any issues arising, with a view to reaching a rough consensus agreement if there are any issues with our nominations. If there is a strong dissenting voice from another area of civil society they may also be invited to participate after discussion.
Conditions and considerations
Although we will work with the NETmundial Initiative’s organising partners to select willing civil society representatives from amongst those who self-nominate through the Initiative’s nomination process, we also outline five simple conditions that we believe representatives are likely to affirm following their appointment to the Coordination Council:
- We would like the Co-ordination Council to discuss whether CGI.br, WEF and ICANN should have permanent membership of the Coordination Council and what that implies. Whilst it is acknowledged that the above organisations are jointly funding the operational expenses of the Initiative for its first year, this might not remain so. We are not convinced that funding support is sufficient justification for such a role, and we believe that the full Coordination Council itself should approve any permanent seats and what that implies.
- To the extent that a stated objective of the Coordination Council is "promoting the distributed Internet governance model,” we want to point out that the status quo in Internet governance does not represent the fulfilment of this model. The NETmundial Initiative should not be used to legitimise existing inequalities and deficiencies of the present system and should not hold civil society back from advocating necessary reforms.
- While we acknowledge the progressive elements of the NETmundial Multistakeholder Statement, it is not the final and definitive statement of Internet governance principles; indeed the Statement itself acknowledges that it is only a work in progress. So we do not see the NETmundial roadmap as an immutable document. We look forward to its refinement and/or augmentation and hope that NMI ensures a bottom up collaborative process to undertake this work.
- A key performance indicator for the NETmundial Initiative must be the extent to which its activities strengthen and support the Internet Governance Forum, which remains the most significant global hub for general multi-stakeholder Internet governance policy discussions. If the IGF develops the capacity to assume further activities that currently might not fall within their capabilities, this should be facilitated, not opposed.
- We will wish to evaluate from time to time whether this engagement is providing effective and worthwhile results for our constituencies.
We trust that our participation in this Initiative can be accepted with these conditions, and we look forward to working with you to select a balanced, inclusive and capable slate of civil society nominees to join the Coordination Council.
CSCG Nomcom for NMI Co ordination Council
Participating member coalitions
Association for Progressive Communications, represented by Chat Garcia Ramilo, Deputy Executive Director
Best Bits, represented by Jeremy Malcolm, Steering Committee member
Diplo Foundation, represented by Ginger (Virginia) Paque, Internet Governance Programmes
Internet Governance Caucus, represented by Dr Mawaki Chango, Co-Coordinator
The Non-Commercial Stakeholders Group, (NCSG) represented by Robin Gross, NCSG Executive Committee
Ian Peter, Independent Chair