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 whether the fragmentation or “balkanization” of the internet is likely and how to reinforce international cooperation.

OG: You are currently based in Brazil. I do not know if that is ever going to change?

CAS: [Laughs]. Hopefully not.

OG: From your prospective, do you believe it is likely that the internet as one global network will soon be a phenomenon of the past? Is there one global internet at the moment or do we have several networks? Do you fear the internet will be a breaking up?

CAS: I do not see that happening. Of course, you always have some narratives being created here and there. But the whole internet governance ecosystem is evolving and you see cooperation among countries. Since you mentioned Brazil, this country is always proud to affirm that for more than twenty years there exists an internet steering committee. In terms of internet regulation, we have a Brazilian “Internet bill of rights” that was created through a public consultation using the multi stakeholder approach and public online consultation. This is just to say that I increasingly see this commitment to the multi stakeholder governance of the internet, involving not only states but also corporations, civil society and experts from academia and technological bodies. So far, even though you may have one or two descending voices here and there, this is the solution that we are sticking with. I think this is not only likely to continue, but the continuation of this approach is also what I would like to happen.

Nevertheless, the multi stakeholder model needs improvements of course, but I don't see the fragmentation of the internet in the next decade. What we might see is the increase of data localization laws in different countries. There might be countries that will oblige foreign companies to store data in one specific country in order to make access for the judiciary easier, for instance. Even though I think this is a bad idea, because it goes against global nature of the internet, this might lead to some fragmentation, but it is not going to affect the roots. It is not a fragmentation of the internet as such. It is a fragmentation that is created by law, but it is not a technical fragmentation.

OG: What should states do to reinforce international cooperation?

CAS: In order to avoid this artificial fragmentation done by the law, states needs to come up with a concept that is pretty much connected to the development of software, which is interoperability. Laws

need to be interoperable among themselves. State law, national law and international law need to follow the same principles. Of course, you have cooperation agreements between countries and you have Mutual Legal Assistance Treaties (MLAT) here and there. But it is clear that the MLAT system that currently is being used by law enforcement and security and information services needs to be revised. For the next decade, if we don't come up with a good revision of the MLAT system of the multilateral agreements, we might give out wrong incentives for countries to adopt data localization rules.

To make a long story short, we might not see the fragmentation of the internet on the technical level, but we might see a fragmentation because countries will oblige companies to store data in one specific country. However, I am confident that this could be overcome if we got the discussion on MLATs right.


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).