Egypt has just hosted the 33rd meeting of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which was organized by the Egyptian Ministry of Communications. The meeting lasted five days and brought together approximately 1,000 delegates from 48 countries in the five continents, including Brazil.
The ICANN is a private, non-profit organization headquartered in California. It was established in 1998 in order to coordinate the international system of Internet names and numbers, also known as domain names system.
"The purpose of the institution is to index the domain names and link them to the corresponding Internet protocol code numbers," explains Professor Hartmut Glaser, one of the directors at the NIC.br (BR Information and Coordination Hub), the organization in charge of coordinating domain distribution in Brazil, and which was part of the Brazilian delegation at the meeting.
According to him, the ICANN functions as a sort of international committee dedicated to maintaining a smooth accord among all Internet users. Glaser also stated that when the Internet became a part of the academic and commercial worlds in the United States, the United States government was initially responsible for the interface between management and users.
However, as it expanded and its rules and protocols for usage grew more complex, the creation of an organization especially turned to its management was required.
Nowadays, however, with 250 countries connected to the Internet, the issue of who governs and rules the global network imposes itself on users naturally. "The problem that we are discussing right now is the issue of who rules the Internet," says Glaser. According to him, the ICANN being an organization registered in California, should there be an international dispute, then the Californian court is in charge.
"And that obviously does not please all, because we now have 250 countries depending on a judge in California. Thus, the issue of governance, or of who manages the international network, raises a certain controversy, which we are currently trying to settle," says Glaser.
Despite being private, this framework counts on an Advisory Board comprised of government officials who prepare recommendations to the ICANN board, which makes the decisions. "Several issues are being discussed right now, because the ICANN is in a process of transition into a new model of management," explains Everton Lucero, the Brazilian representative in the ICANN Advisory Board.
According to him, the new model should be different because it should be further internationalized. "In the face of the inclusion of a growing number of Internet users, which currently total over one billion around the world and is expanding almost exponentially, the main concern that presents itself is how to internationalize the ICANN, thus allowing for a greater number of countries to participate in the organization's decision-making process," says Lucero.
He also said that the majority of those new users is from developing countries, in Africa, South America, China, Asia etc. "Therefore, we want the new framework to allow for all of those who are part of the Internet to also be able to take part in the decision-making process."
The strengthening of the role of governments in the decision-making process of the ICANN Advisory Board concerning Internet governance is a position that Brazil shared with many of the Arab representatives who attended the meeting in Cairo, such as those from Morocco, Tunisia, and Egypt.
"But our positions are not only shared with the Arabs. Many African countries, such as South Africa and Nigeria, are calling for more action by their governments. In many of those countries, the Internet is still much more dependent on governments than on the civil society, contrary to what happens in developed countries," says Lucero.
To him, this does not imply, though, that governments are wiling to take over the ICANN. "What we want is for governments to strengthen their roles within the organization, so that they may do their work," says Lucero.
"We want to prevent the Advisory Board from not having clearly defined work methods, and from ending up as a weak link in this whole panel of global interests. This would affect, most of all, the participation of developing countries, which usually face greater trouble keeping up with technical issues," he states.
The strengthening of governments' roles in Internet governance does not imply that they will control it. "Our goal is simply for governments to be more fit to deal with public interests on the Internet," says Lucero.
The ICANN meetings are held three times a year in a rotating scheme, including countries in the five continents. Their aim is to listen to opinions of users from all over the world.
"This year, the first meeting was held in India (Asia), the second one in Paris (Europe), and the third one is taking place here in Egypt. Next year, we should begin in Latin America, in Mexico," notes Lucero.
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