By Richard Waters in San Francisco
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A meeting in Brazil this week will reveal whether Washington has succeeded in preventing international anger over the Edward Snowden revelations clouding discussions about future governance of the internet.
São Paulo is to host a two-day international meeting, starting on Wednesday, called by Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff, one of the international leaders who was a target of US surveillance.
International unrest over US and British internet surveillance has weakened Washington’s ability to shape the debate about the internet’s future, according to people involved in the process.
“The US has lost the moral authority to talk about a free and open internet,” said a former senior US government official.
The São Paulo meeting had the potential to become deeply political and expose rifts between countries over future control of the internet, said Greg Shatan, a partner at law firm Reed Smith in Washington. “It was called under extraordinary circumstances, it’s a reaction to a perceived crisis,” he said.
The US made a highly symbolic gesture last month in an attempt to defuse the situation.
In a move that had long been urged by Brussels, Washington said it planned to give up its last remaining direct role in controlling the internet. This involves checking the accuracy of changes to internet addressing made by ICANN, the international body that oversees the system. Though a limited and highly technical function, this has long been a focus for international discontent at US influence over the internet.
Even with the proposal to end its direct involvement, Washington still regards itself as an important guarantor of the internet naming system, which is key to maintaining a single, unified internet.
“It’s not as though we’re closing up shop and saying we’re done here,” Lawrence Strickling, an assistant secretary at the Department of Commerce, said this month.
Yet the offer to end the formal US link has stirred up wider questions about control of the internet, as Mr Strickling himself admitted.
Fadi Chehadé, president of ICANN, said after symbolic US control had been removed, it had to “be replaced with clear strengths and clear safeguards” to ensure the continued openness of the system.
This has thrust the unusual international arrangements for governing the internet into the spotlight while they are still being debated.
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