The turmoil in Brazil’s politics has now touched on the Internet governance situation. For many years, Brazil’s Comitê Gestor da Internet no Brasil (CGI.BR), known in English as the Brazilian Internet Steering Committee, has been touted globally as the model of enlightened multi-stakeholder governance at the national level. Members of CGI.BR have been prominent and valued contributors in the global Internet governance environment, playing critical roles in ICANN, management of the .BR top level domain, the IANA transition, the NetMundial meeting, and the Internet address registry for Brazil. While Brazil’s government has often taken a multilateralist, government-centric approach to Internet, the CGI.BR has always been more aligned with the transnational Internet technical community and civil society in its approach. Domestically, the CGI aided the passage of the famous Marco Civil law by developing and promoting some enlightened “Principles for the Governance and Use of the Internet.”
But there were always flaws in the design of CGI. Those latent flaws are now coming back to haunt it. Whenever CGI.Br was routinely thrust forward as the inspiring model, we were always harboring doubts. Successful Internet governance is not just about representation of different groups, or so-called “multistakeholderism” – it is also about situating governance powers in independent, non-state actors in order to redistribute power to users and suppliers and to support the transnational nature of the net. Although CGI’s most prominent members were globally aware and globally engaged, CGI was always fundamentally a national initiative created by national law. The legislation that created it gave nearly half of its seats to governmental agencies and made the Minister of Science and Technology the coordinator of the unit. As such, CGI was always subject to the risk of political interference. During the Workers Party control, that risk never materialized (as far as we know). Now, it has.
The precipitant of the current crisis is a call for a public consultation on the role, composition and accountability of CGI.BR. While a review of these matters is appropriate and expected, Brazil’s Internet governance community expected the review process, the scope of the review, and the questions asked of the public to emerge from the Steering Committee as a whole. That is not what happened. Last week the Secretary of the Ministry of Science, Technology, Innovation and Communication, who is also deemed the coordinator of CGI, made some abrupt decisions without obtaining the consent of the CGI as a whole. He unilaterally opened up the consultation and established all the terms of the process on his own, and posted them online.
These actions make the CGI seem not like an autonomous body that represents multiple stakeholder groups, but more like a branch of the state. Brazilian Internet community members are right to be worried about this.
Furthermore, there is no clarity about what the government will do with the public comments it receives, and who will participate in the decision making if it is decided that changes are required. The seemingly innocent call for a public consultation on the role, composition and accountability of CGI.br may not be so innocent.
This article (in Portugese) from July 7 shows how the tensions between CGI and the government, the telecom regulator and the telecom industry have been building under the Temer government. The new call for a consultation is being interpreted as an effort to curb the powers of CGI.br. As a result CGI, particularly its civil society and technical representatives, feel their whole governance model is under assault.
However, this crisis could also bring an opportunity. It might be possible for respondents to the consultation to propose reforms in the structure of CGI that would make this kind of unilateral action by the government impossible in the future. Indeed, it might be advisable for Brazil to create more distance between CGI.BR and the government, for example by incorporating it as a nongovernmental organization. It is common for the country code top level domain to be based in private sector non-profits in the technical or academic sector. (It is also common – unfortunately – for governments to attempt to take over well-run and independent ccTLD registries because they see them as a potential source of power.) It would be advisable to clarify – and limit – the role of the government in the Committee’s decision making process.
It is not clear how input from non-citizens will be received in this process, but it cannot hurt for the entire world to make their views known. The Internet is global and the fate of CGI.BR will have transnational effects. We hope the rest of the Internet nation can weigh in on the consultation, stressing the positive record of CGI.Br and its attempt to create a more diverse, decentralized, globally integrated and representative form of governance.
-  CGI.BR was created by governmental legislation (Interministerial Ordinance 147 of May 31st, 1995). It consists of a committee of 9 government representatives, 4 business sector representatives, 4 civil society or “third sector” representatives, 3 representatives from the science and technology community, and one “Internet expert.”