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NETmundial: Issues facing the future of Internet governance

A major worldwide Internet conference is set to begin in the coming months, as the state of Internet governance continues to come under greater scrutiny.

One of the most impossible things to ignore about the Internet is its global reach. While countries may speak different languages and have different forms of government, the system through which websites are hosted is among one of the only universals on the world stage today. The connective powers of the Internet are quite strong. It can reduce the distance between two people from other countries to the click of the button, while allowing for greater collaboration on a bevy of projects across national boundaries.

However, this global reach also means that there are a number of groups that have a stake in the future of the Internet, which will certainly be the topic of discussion at the coming NETmundial conference in Brazil, which is set to take place between April 23-24. The meeting will be a gathering of numerous parties from around the world including government representatives along with private companies. The last year has been quite eventful when it comes to Internet governance and regulation, which means that there will be certainly a number of topics up for discussion at the event, however, there are some doubters as to how much progress will actually be made.

NSA Spying
One of the most controversial topics that continues to proliferate throughout the online community is the extensive surveillance policies from the U.S. National Security Administration. When information about these programs came out, their reach was not entirely understood, but citizens were able to gather that the government had the ability to collect deeply personal information them.

However, as more information came out about the surveillance programs, it was revealed that their scope extended far beyond that of just ordinary citizens. Specific foreign leaders like German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff were also subject to surveillance.

While not referenced outright, the topics of Internet privacy and freedom of expression are expected to be a major topic of discussion at the conference.

Control over Internet governance
Another topic that is expected to be particularly pressing at the conference is the control over ICANN and IANA. These bodies are responsible for much of the Internet addressing and naming policies throughout the entire world, and for a long time, have been under contract with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Recently, due in part to international criticism, the U.S. government said it would cede control over the contract, in name of promoting a more international form of control. Brazil and Germany, who's leaders were both spied upon, are looking to internationalize ICANN and IANA.

However, the problem here is that many countries around the world have Internet policies in place that could severely limit Internet freedom. Wired reported that one of the concerns of an international approach is that it could lead to a "balkanization" of Internet as countries like China and Iran that are more controlling over the cyberactivity would hold greater influence. However, on the other side of the coin, companies like Google, Facebook and Apple hold so much influence over this personal data that many fear their control could have an equally negative effect.

Making changes
These are certainly issues that need addressing, but many feel that simply discussing them at the conference is not enough. There are numerous international Internet conferences each year, but they do not always lead to significant changes. 

PC World noted that the vice president of the European Commission wrote a letter to NETmundial stating that, she felt the outcomes of the conference need to be both "concrete and actionable." While a lot will certainly be discussed, it is important that these outcomes of these meetings are beneficial to online freedom.

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