Sao Paulo - A summit on Internet governance kicks off in Brazil on Wednesday, aiming for a new global partnership in the wake of revelations on US online surveillance.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff called the gathering last years amid ire worldwide stemming from the disclosures about US spying in documents leaked by Edward Snowden.
The two-day NETmundial gathering in Sao Paulo includes representatives from countries around the world and comes in the wake of word from US officials that they plan to loosen their grip on the Internet.
The recently revealed plan by Washington would set into motion a process for a “multistakeholder” model of Internet governance.
“This meeting will focus on crafting Internet governance principles and proposing a roadmap for the further evolution of the Internet governance ecosystem,” organisers said at a website devoted to the summit.
While Washington said it would no longer keep its supervisory role of Internet website address overlords at the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the next steps are unclear.
Some countries like China and Russia want oversight of the Internet's technical functions to come under a group of governments or an intergovernmental organisation.
Kuek Yu-Chuang, ICANN vice president and managing director for the Asia Pacific, said at a meeting last month that “there is widespread agreement” on the multistakeholder model.
But NETMundial chair Virgilio Almeida, a Brazilian government official, said he sees “some points of contention” at the gathering.
US online spy tactics exposes by former intelligence contractor Snowden are not on the official summit agenda but were expected to be hot topics.
Slated to join Rousseff in opening NETmundial are the head of ICANN as well as Tim Berners-Lee, the man credited with creating the World Wide Web 25 years ago and a fierce advocate for Internet freedom.
The list of those giving welcoming remarks includes Neelie Kroes, vice-president of the European Commission and EU commissioner for Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes: French secretary of state in charge of digital affairs Axelle Lemaire, and Sweden's minister of foreign affairs Carl Bildt.
Any resolutions that come out of the summit will not be binding.
But Brazilian Communications Minister Paulo Bernardo said he sees a need for measures to restore trust.
“After what happened with Snowden, there has been a change in the public perception of the Internet and there is a need for change,” he said.
It remains unclear whether a consensus can be reached at the summit amid these concerns, and with some countries seeking measures that could allow more filtering and censorship of Internet content.
NETmundial organisers maintain that Internet governance must be “open, participatory... technologically neutral, sensitive to human rights and based on principles of transparency (and) accountability.”
The US on Tuesday confirmed that a delegation led by the White House cybersecurity coordinator Michael Daniel will take part in NETmundial.
“The US government looks forward to collaborating with hundreds of other stakeholders at NETmundial to develop a shared vision for the multistakeholder model of Internet governance that seeks further evolution to an increasingly open, inclusive, and responsive system,” the Department of State said in a release.
Established in 1998, ICANN issues domain names on the Internet, like .com or .gov. Despite having its headquarters in California and being watched over by the Department of Commerce, it sees itself as an international organisation.
The goal is to transition ICANN to a new model without US oversight sometime next year.
“This transition should be conducted thoughtfully with a focus on maintaining the security and stability of the Internet, empowering the principle of equal participation among all stakeholder groups and striving towards a completed transition by September 2015,” NETmundial said at its website.
New online neighbourhoods began opening in January with the introduction of Web addresses ending in “.guru,” “.bike” - and even “.singles.”
Online neighbourhoods with addresses ending in the Chinese word for “game;” the Arabic words for “web” or “network,” or the Cyrillic word for “online” are among those cleared.
ICANN says the huge expansion of the Internet - with some two billion users around the world, half of them in Asia - means new names are essential. - Sapa-AFP