BRICS Countries Call for ‘Evolution’, Greater Int'l. Governance of Internet

Rudy Takala | July 27, 2015 | 4:22pm EDT
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Google data center in Hamina, Finland. (Google/AP photo)

( – Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa are calling for the “evolution” of international “Internet governance” based on the principles of “multilateralism” and “democracy.”

The countries, collectively referred to as BRICS, issued a statement at their annual summit held in Ufa, Russia earlier this month, in a document eponymously called the 2015 Ufa Declaration.

“We consider that the Internet is a global resource and that states should participate on an equal footing in its evolution and functioning, taking into account the need to involve relevant stakeholders in their respective roles and responsibilities,” the declaration states.

The declaration comes prior to the United States’ planned handover of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) to a multi-stakeholder body on September 30.

The members of that coalition will ultimately be determined by the IANA Stewardship Transition Coordination Group, which is comprised of public and private members from Egypt, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Nigeria, Sudan, Switzerland, and the United States, as well as BRICS members Brazil, China, and South Africa.

The IANA, which is presently operated under contract by the U.S. Department of Commerce, manages domain names and numbers such as Internet Protocol (IP) assignments worldwide.

Vladimir Putin previously sparked alarm among advocates of a free Internet in 2011 when he suggested that the U.N. should begin “establishing international control over the internet using the monitoring and supervisory capabilities of the International Telecommunication Union.” That would have included obtaining at least some of the functions of the IANA.

At the time, China and India backed Putin’s proposal. Those countries have consistently supported a multilateral governance approach -- comprised of just a few countries -- rather than the multi-stakeholder approach favored by the U.S.

“We are in favour of an open, non-fragmented and secure Internet. We uphold the roles and responsibilities of national governments in regard to regulation and security of the network.

“We support the evolution of the Internet governance ecosystem, which should be based on an open and democratic process, free from the influence of any unilateral considerations,”  the Ufa Declaration continues.

Ironically, China – the largest BRICS member by population – has come under fire from organizations such as Human Rights Watch (HRW) for its imposition of online controls.

“Internet censors shape online debate and maintain the ‘Great Firewall,’ which blocks outside content from reaching Internet users in China,” HRW notes.

Those who violate online speech restrictions often face harsh penalties in the real world, HRW added. “Those who breach sensitive taboos are often swiftly identified and their speech deleted or disallowed; some are detained or jailed.”

Additionally, the Ufa Declaration expressed concerns over the use of information and communications technology (ICT) “for purposes of transnational organized crime, of developing offensive tools, and conducting acts of terrorism,” calling for “a universal regulatory binding instrument on combating the criminal use of ICTs under the UN auspices.”

China, coincidentally, is also “the leading suspect” in the June hacking of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM), according to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. The hack resulted in the theft of more than 21 million personnel files containing sensitive information on past and present employees of the federal government.

The Ufa Declaration also condemned the sort of online surveillance that has been conducted by the United States’ National Security Agency (NSA), calling it a violation of national sovereignty and individual rights.

“We reiterate our condemnation of mass electronic surveillance and data collection of individuals all over the world,” the declaration states, “as well as violation of the sovereignty of States and of human rights, in particular, the right to privacy.”

Among the revelations reported by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden was the allegation that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court had authorized the NSA to spy on 193 foreign governments -- including all BRICS members.

The documents released by Snowden allegedly revealed that the NSA used that authority, in part, to monitor phone calls made by at least 35 leaders worldwide, though those leaders were not named.

Going forward, the declaration states that placing the Internet under United Nations control would lead to greater “transparency” and “trust.”

“We acknowledge the need to promote, among others, the principles of multilateralism, democracy, transparency and mutual trust, and stand for the development of universally agreed rules of conduct with regard to the network.

“It is necessary to ensure that UN plays a facilitating role in setting up international public policies pertaining to the Internet,” the declaration stated.

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