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Simon Phipps

With a focus on open source and digital rights, Simon is a director of the UK's Open Rights Group and president of the Open Source Initiative. He is also managing director of UK consulting firm Meshed Insights Ltd.

Brazil Proclaims Permissionless Innovation As Fundamental

Despite seeming a mere political gesture, a recent summit in Brazil has actually produced a valuable contribution to the discussion of Internet freedoms.

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My colleague Alexandra Combes writes:

Was anybody seriously expecting major changes from the São Paulo NETmundial Summit at the end of April?

Not really: if multi-stakeholder 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 Netin a communication preceding the event.

All we could hope was for the situation to not get worse. This Could 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 at the behest of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff -- whose speech in front of the United Nations in September 2013 did not demonstrate much tolerance regarding the United States spying system -- the NETmundial Summit had dual objectives: identifying a set of Internet governance principles and drawing up a roadmap for the future of the Internet ecosystem.

The term "multi-stakeholder meeting" has been widely criticised, with critics suggesting notably that aiming at reaching a compromise with such a disparate aggregation of participants was doomed to fail. While it indeed looked like some sort of parade to avoid talking about the actions of the governments actually involved, the outcomes document shows sincere efforts from the organisers to articulate a basis for healthy Internet governance.

Looking at the outcomes document we find 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 targeted 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 follow. The Internet shall be, among other things, a "unified and unfragmented space" as well as an "open and distributed architecture"; it shall 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 most of the text is written in rather vague terms, one paragraph does not leave room for discussion; surprisingly, it clearly 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 finally proposed in black and white. Congrats Brazil! A very smart move beyond all the hopes we might have had at the outset.


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