Dilma Rousseff gave the opening address to the 68th General Assembly of the United Nations today (since Brazil traditionally is the first to speak by virtue of it being the first to ratify the UN charter). As expected, and as widely reported, she denounced the recently revealed NSA surveillance of her country as illegal and unjustified. However, she also spoke on a variety of other subjects of topical concern, including Syria, a Palestinian state, etc. But what is most interesting to me is what she said about the future of the internet.
The following is a corrected Google translation of the relevant portion. (O Globo gives the full Portuguese text, preceded by a summary.) After criticizing the spying on her own country:
Mr. President, Brazil will redouble efforts to equip itself with legislation, technologies and mechanisms in order to protect ourselves from unlawful interception of communications and data. My government will do everything that lies in its power to defend the human rights of all Brazilians and all citizens of the world and to protect the fruits of the ingenuity of our workers and our businesses.
However, the problem transcends the bilateral relations of two countries. It affects the very international community and requires a response from it. Information and telecommunication technologies cannot be the new battleground between states. This is the time to create the conditions to prevent cyberspace being implemented as a weapon of war by means of espionage, of sabotage, of attacks against systems and infrastructures of other countries.
The United Nations should play a leading role in the effort to regulate the behavior of states with respect to these technologies and the importance of the internet, this social network, in order to build democracy in the world .
For this reason Brazil will present proposals for the establishment of a multilateral civil landmark for the governance and use of the internet and of measures to ensure effective protection of the data that travels through it .
For a global network we need to establish multilateral mechanisms:
1 – For freedom of expression, individual privacy and human rights .
2 – For Democratic governance, multilateral and open, exercised with transparency, stimulating collective creation and participation of society, of governments and of the private sector .
3 – For the universality that ensures social and human development and the building of inclusive and non-discriminatory societies.
4 – For cultural diversity without imposing beliefs, customs and values .
5 – For net neutrality to cover only technical and ethical criteria, making restrictions on motives of a political, commercial, religious or any other nature impermissible.
Thus, by a responsible regulation exploiting the full potential of the internet passes to guaranteeing simultaneously freedom of expression, security and respect for human rights.
This part of the speech will come as a surprise to many (although it should not; planning for it had been previously announced, in English). There has been a certain amount of concern expressed that Brazil is fomenting “Balkanization” of the internet by virtue of such proposals as requiring companies who use Brazilians’ communications to store their dat in the country. But this new initiative sounds like the very antithesis of dividing the internet into mutually exclusive zones.
Now let’s see how receptive is the UN itself.