During the Internet Governance Forum 2017 in Geneva, MAPPING researcher Oskar Gstrein (OG) carried out an interview with Carlos Affonso Souza (CAS), co-founder and director of the Institute for Technology & Society of Rio de Janeiro (ITS Rio).
They discussed how Internet Governance has changed in the last ten years, if the Internet develops in the “right direction” and what needs to happen to make the next ten years a success.
OG: We are here at the Internet Governance Forum in Geneva. When you think back 10 years, did the Internet move in the right direction?
CAS: This is a very interesting edition of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), because on international level it is clear that there is more awareness of issues of Internet Governance. If you think back a decade ago, issues regarding jurisdiction, privacy, net neutrality, intermediary liability and others were not as visible. Today, they are simply out there in the news. Traditional media outlets are constantly reporting about it. I think we had one key moment in this whole discussion which was in 2013; the “Snowden revelations”, because that was the moment in which issues concerning privacy, data protection and the question “who controls or should control the Internet” were there.
One thing that is always on my mind is that some traditional newspapers used to have a dedicated section to technology or the internet. At the moment, that is not so much the case of the big newspapers, because Internet is in politics, economy, etc. It comes with how daily issues are addressed in newspapers. Maybe a technology supplement or technology parts of a newspaper has become artificial, because the internet has become something that affects our daily lives in all different aspects. This is a major change that one could see over the last decade.
OG: So, did the Internet move in the “right” direction?
CAS: Even though there is this idea that the Internet topics are more spread out to the general public, to think about the right direction means that you have to take a decision what that means. My perspective would be:
The internet is a network, it enables liberties, enables freedom. But at the same time, it is a network that facilitates control. This ambiguity is right there – in the way that the internet works from the very beginning. In order to think that the internet is getting it right or that it is heading towards the right direction, would be to focus on “path A”. Hence, we need to increase liberties and freedom and not at the same time facilitate the control on individuals. But we see some changes - mostly on the governmental level, but also in the private sector – that suggest we go more towards the control path.
This means, there are situations that will hinder free speech, that will violate or reduce the protection for privacy and data protection.
Of course, that all comes with a cost and the question is: Are people knowing that they are paying a price for that; for the reduction of speech, the reduction of privacy? Because most of the time, people are simply giving away those rights for some comfortable solution or some new application or something that is convenient to them. Take face recognition technology, as an example: It is something that will grant you easy access to one application. But at the same time, who is in control of this very sensitive data, who will be able to access the very same data, where is this data stored and to whom can this data be shared?
OG: What are the biggest challenges for Internet Governance in the next 10 years?
CAS: For the next decade, one of the key challenges will be that the multi-stakeholder model will remain relevant and dominant. It is this mantra, that all kinds of stakeholders including governments, corporations, experts and civil society, are in all the relevant forums. I know this response seems almost trivial. However, the reason I mention this is that you see some fatigue in the discussion around it, because the term has been used so much.
I think the next decade will be interesting, because two scenarios might happen: One is that people feel the fatigue of this repeating multi stakeholder approach. Some might propose to have less multi stakeholder meetings, it might even be a better solution. We might turn to one specific stakeholder to take prominence in the Internet Governance landscape; of course, governments are the natural candidate for that. Hence, the role of governments in a true multi-stakeholder environment is something that we still need to understand, and I think the next decade will challenge the concept.
The other scenario is to improve the language and the multi stakeholder model. This has to be achieved by studying and analysing examples of good practice. We are addressing issues concerning the government, the private sector, the civil society and the technical community as well as academia. I think, particularly academia needs to work on this issue. What are the successes, what are the pitfalls and how can those pitfalls be overcome? And I would like to see that improved in the next decade.
Carlos Affonso Souza has a PhD and a Master’s Degree in Civil Law from Rio de Janeiro State University (UERJ). He is a Law professor at UERJ and at Pontifical Catholic University (PUC-Rio), where he teaches Law & Technology, Contract Law, and History of Law. Carlos Affonso is a visiting researcher at the Information Society Project from Yale Law School. He is a member of the Copyright Commission at Rio de Janeiro Bar Exam Institute (OAB/RJ) since 2007 and a Policy Fellow at the nonprofit organization Access. He is a Consultant at the Brazilian Internet Observatory, an initiative that stemmed from the
Brazilian Internet Steering Committee (CGI.br). He is one of the Co-founders and a Director of the Institute for Technology & Society of Rio de Janeiro (ITS Rio).