On the eve of an international forum on internet governance, efforts by the United States to strip protections for web freedom were exposed on Tuesday as activists blasted the global meet as a "farce," saying the internet is all of our "common good."
As representatives from 80 countries headed to Sao Paulo, Brazil on Tuesday for the two-day Global Multistakeholder Meeting on the Future of Internet Governance, or NETmundial, WikiLeaks revealed a draft (pdf) of edits proposed by the U.S. to a set of international guidelines, entitled the "Internet Governance Principles."
The principles are meant to guide discussions during the meeting as they purport to set international standards to protect web users worldwide.
Among the changes revealed in the leaked State.gov draft, the U.S. delegation recommends stripping the word "equal" from the section on the Open and Distributed Architecture of the web.
Jumping on the change, WikiLeaks tweeted, "US silently strips #NetNeutrality from global internet governance negotiations." WikiLeaks also points out that the U.S. draft deletes binding language requiring that internet standards "must be consistent with human rights," changing "must" to "should."
Ahead of the global meeting, activists slammed the document for "lack[ing] strength" and are decrying the absence of important safeguards against privacy violations and to protect net neutrality, a principle which guarantees equal access to all web content.
"Edward Snowden exposed the collaboration between the governments of this world and the most powerful companies of Silicon Valley, that turned everyday technology into a tool for global surveillance and social, political as well as economic control," said activists, under the banner #OurNETmundial. "These unjustifiable mass violations of our trust and privacy are affecting the democratic potential of the Internet and its future."
Calling for concrete action rather than yet another statement of principles, the group adds that the "Internet Governance Principles" document "lacks any strength," as references from previous versions relating to net neutrality or to the cyber-weapon arms race have all been deleted.
Calling the "multistakeholder Internet Governance" structure a "farce," Jérémie Zimmermann, co-founder of the Paris-based net freedom group La Quadrature du Net, wrote in an op-ed Tuesday that there is an already existing structure for collective management of the Internet: "We, citizens, are all co-owners of the Internet, if we consider it as the sum of its infrastructure, its technologies, and much more importantly the sum of activities, data and content that we, all, contribute to make it exist."
"Governments must consider the Internet as our common good, and protect it as such, with no compromise," Zimmermann writes. "Like the most precious natural reserve, or patch of clean drinking water."
Citing those entities who have taken measures to stymie the open internet, Zimmermann continues:
This is precisely what we must demand from governments now, from the warm ashes of the dead "multi-stakeholder" model, crushed under the boots of unilateral decisions of NSA, Google, Facebook, China, Apple, Russia, and all the others actors who didn't wait for a consensus to take radical steps to alter the shape of technology to turn it against citizens.