Unruffled by surveillance language, US praises NETmundial conference

Officials say the US agrees with the global Internet meeting's views on surveillance

U.S. officials applauded the outcome of this week's NETmundial conference on Internet governance while downplaying its strong language on surveillance and disagreements on net neutrality.

The two-day meeting in Sao Paulo, which concluded Thursday with a nonbinding statement calling for broad participation in decision-making, reaffirmed the so-called multistakeholder approach to running the Internet, a U.S. official said Friday.

"From the United States perspective, NETmundial was a huge success," said Michael Daniel, special assistant to the president and White House cybersecurity coordinator. Among other things, the meeting's concluding statement endorsed the planned transition of control over Internet addressing from the U.S. to a group of players from around the world, he said.

The Internet has its roots in U.S. government projects of the 1970s, and the U.S. has played a central role in managing it until now. But that arrangement has come under fire from some international quarters. Last month, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration said it would let its contract with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers expire late next year. When it did so, the NTIA required ICANN to develop a new global governance model.

Surveillance was a major topic at the conference, with concerns raised over revelations from documents leaked by former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. But U.S. officials on a conference call Friday said the surveillance principles NETmundial laid out matched those already in international law and ones adopted by the United Nations last year. They say surveillance should not be arbitrary or unlawful, said Scott Busby, a deputy assistant secretary of state.

"There is nothing groundbreakingly new here in terms of mass surveillance or surveillance generally," Busby said. The meeting called for all governments, not just the U.S., to look at their surveillance practices in light of those standards, the officials said.

While there was rough consensus on the document that came out of the meeting, which emphasized broad, global participation in running the Internet, Russia and Cuba said they didn't agree with it and the representatives from India said they would have to ask others in India about some of the conclusions, according to Daniel Sepulveda, the State Department's coordinator for international communications and information policy.

Net neutrality was one hot-button topic that meeting participants couldn't agree on and said would have to be addressed later. For one thing, the participants had widely divergent definitions of net neutrality, Sepulveda said. The first draft of the statement called for all data packets on the Internet to be treated equally, but many people disagree with that approach or say it's not technically feasible, he said. That topic will be debated again at the Internet Governance Forum in Istanbul in September.

NETmundial brought together representatives from governments, international bodies, industries, technical groups and the public and considered contributions from 46 countries. U.S. officials said they were happy to see such broad participation in Internet governance.

"We have now a very, very strong group of countries and people from the developing world committing themselves to the multistakeholder process going forward, and that marks significant progress from where this conversation was, say, two years ago," Sepulveda said.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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