Permissionless Innovation Proclaimed

Written for Simon Says column on Computer World UK ]

Was anybody seriously expecting major changes from the São Paulo NETmundial Summit ? Not really: if multistakeholders meetings on internet governance were leading to anything concrete for civil society in terms of rights and freedoms, we would know it – as highlighted by La Quadrature du Net in a communication preceding the event.

All we could hope for was in fact that the situation does not get worse; this would have been the case if support had been shown to some of the recent wanderings around fostering Nation-based webs for example, promoted by Angela Merkel and strongly condemned by Internet pioneer Tim Berners Lee.

Organised under the impulse of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, whose speech in front of the United Nations in September 2013 did not demonstrate much tolerence regarding the United States spying system, the NETmundial Summit objectives were double: identifying a set of Internet governance principles and drawing up a roadmap on the future of Internet ecosystem.

Whereas the term “Multistakeholder Meeting” has been widely criticized, suggesting notably that aiming at reaching a compromise with a too disparate aggregation of participants was doomed to fail and litteraly speaking, some sort of parade to avoid talking about governments actually involved, the outcomes document shows sincere efforts from the organizers to set up the bases of a healthy Internet governance.

Are thus listed, first of all, “Human Rights and Shared Values”: the freedom of expression, the freedom of association, the right to privacy, accessibility for persons with disabilities, the freedom of information, access to information and finally, the right to development for people living in poor countries.

“Rights that people have offline must also be protected online”, says the document. Mainly targetted here: the repeatedly violated right to privacy, which supposes “not being subject to arbitrary or unlawful surveillance, collection, treatment and use of personal data” and “the protection of the law against such interference.”

Other principles come then. Internet should be, among other, a “unified and unfragmented space” as well as an “open and distributed architecture”; it should imply the use of open standards, “that allow for a global, interoperable, resilient, stable, decentralized, secure, and interconnected network, available to all” and “must be consistent with human rights, […] development and innovation.”

While we can regret the preference given to the non-binding expression “should” – most of the text being written in rather vague terms – one paragraph does not leave room for discussion; surprise, it basically proclaims the Freedom to Innovate (!):

“The ability to innovate and create has been at the heart of the remarkable growth of the Internet and it has brought great value to the global society. For the preservation of its dynamism, Internet governance must continue to allow permissionless innovation through an enabling Internet environment, consistent with other principles in this document”.

Sweeping away Intellectual Property restrictions, Permissionless Innovation Freedom is now written black on white. Congrats Brazil! A very smart move beyond all hopes.