Over the past several months, Brazil:
- Objected to a new top-level domain – .AMAZON – applied for by the world’s largest online retailer Amazon.com, claiming sovereignty over the region and the river.
- Proposed that technical control of the Internet be switched from the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) – which Brazil thinks is too closely aligned with the U.S. – to the United Nations (U.N.) but subsequently withdrew the proposal.
- Pushed forward with legislation requiring Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to keep the personal information of Brazilians within the nation’s borders.
- Announced it will hold an Internet governance conference in April 2014.
What exactly is going on here?
You could argue that Brazil is simply fulfilling its role as the largest country in Latin America, the world’s fifth largest nation, or the country with the fifth largest population of Internet users.
But it’s hard not to think Brazil’s outrage over pervasive spying by the National Security Agency (NSA) hasn’t sparked what seems like a sudden desire to place its imprint on how the Internet will be governed in the future.
Remember Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s reaction to the news that her cell phone conversations had been monitored by the NSA? In a fit of pique, she became the first national leader in living memory to cancel a scheduled state visit to the U.S. and then delivered a fiery speech before the U.N., in September essentially accusing the U.S. of lawlessness. “Tampering in the affairs of other countries is a breach of international law and an affront to the principles that must guide relations among them, especially among friendly nations,” Rousseff said.
Two weeks later, Rousseff announced the Internet governance summit via Twitter.
During an ICANN48 closing press conference in Buenos Aires, ICANN chief Fade Chehadé said the NSA spying disclosures were “almost totally irrelevant” to the Spring 2014 Internet governance meeting in Brazil.
But that’s not what it sounded like right after Rousseff’s U.N. speech. “She spoke for all of us on that day,” Chehadé said. “She expressed the world’s interest to actually find out how we are going to all live together in this new digital age. The trust in the global Internet has been punctured and now it’s time to restore this trust through leadership and institutions that can make that happen.”
Whatever its motivation, Brazil is increasingly involved in Internet governance issues, which are moving to center stage for ICANN, the U.N., and many other nations in the aftermath of NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s disclosures.
Chehadé has made it clear that Brazil is not just hosting the Spring summit, but taking the lead in inviting participants to help shape the summit, and that ICANN’s own panel on Internet cooperation will help inform the Brazil summit where it can.
Bem-vindo ao debate, Brasil (welcome to the debate, Brazil).