Raúl Echeberría: Okay I do many things on the Internet. I’m the CEO of LACNIC is the regional registry for Internet addresses for Latin America and part of the Caribbean. This is an important role because we have a bureaucratic function managing IP addresses in the region, but at the same time the organization is a key player in the development of free Internet and information society in the region.
But besides that I have at least two other roles. One is I’m a member of the Multistakeholder Advisory Group of IGF. I have been in that group since its creation in 2006. The group has the responsibility of setting the agenda of every IGF meeting every year and also to discuss the formats and priorities for the meetings conducted, the open consultations, and deal with the participation of the public—it’s a very important function, too.
And my—probably my third role is that I’m a member of the board of trustees of the Internet Society. I have been on the board since 2008. I served as chair of the board of trustees for three years between 2009 and 2012.
Intertitle: Describe one of the breakthrough moments or movements of the Internet in which you have been a key participant.
Echeberría: Okay, this is difficult to identify; just a few points. Probably responding quickly, I think that one of the moments that I enjoyed participating in was the development of the Internet in Uruguay, my country. I used to work at that time for a research institute on agricultural issues. So we were one of the first organizations connecting ourselves to the Internet. So I like to believe that I played an interesting role in developing Internet in Uruguay. I was one of the main speakers, promoters, of Internet at that time, more than twenty years ago. And this is probably one of my perfect moments.
The creation of LACNIC was also an important moment, especially for Latin America and the Caribbean. It was very nice experience because it was a group of people that just believed that we could have an organization in the region for managing IP addresses but also for playing a role as catalyzer of Internet development in the region. But we didn’t have anything, so we started from zero and so all the process for creating LACNIC was very good, a very interesting experience and now we have evolved that organization to an organization that is well-recognized in the region as one of the most important actors in Internet and public policy issues. It an organization of $6 million of budget. So I think that all those activities [indistinct] with the creation of LACNIC constituted also a very interesting moment in my life…in the part of my life that is related with Internet things.
The third thing probably is my participation in the Working Group on Internet Governance and all the process of WSIS [pronounced eg. “whizis”], the summit on information society. In 2004, the UN Secretary General formed a workgroup that was known as WGIG [pronounced eg. “whigig”], the Working Group on Internet Governance. And it was the first multistakeholder experience in Internet governance. The responsibility of that group was to provide some information on and recommendations to the second part of the summit that was held in 2005 in Tunis.
All the work in the WGIG was very innovative, and all the participants in the group learned very much about multistakeholderism and how to interact with other players. We had very little experience in that sense before that. Now it seems that it’s very normally to work in a multistakeholder environment, but it was a very keen experience, the creation of that group and all the— And I think that it was an inflection point in the sense that we could not— After the work it was impossible to go back in the evolution of the Internet governance model. My participation in that group let also to my participation in the summit, representing my country as part of the official delegation. So I participated directly in the negotiations that were crucial for getting an agreement in the summit that included among other things the creation of the Internet Governance Forum and other things. So all my participation since the Working Group on Internet Governance, the negotiations in the summit was an intense experience and a really impressive thing.
Intertitle: Describe the state of the Internet today with a weather analogy and explain why.
Echeberría: It depends on what part of the Internet we see. If we see the impact of the Internet in the life of the people, so it’s right. Because really the Internet is changing everything in the world. Every human activity is being impacted by development of the Internet. But if we look at the Internet governance issues, I could say that it’s partly cloudy. And so I would choose this. If I have to choose only one, I think that it is partly cloudy. Because it’s natural that since Internet has become really extremely important in the life of everybody in the world, even important for the people that don’t have access to the Internet because they are being impacted anyway. So the governments are more active in the discussions. That’s natural. Some governments have expressed some concerns about things. Many topics that are well-known, like cybercrime, security. So I think that we have a big challenge in front of us that is to fit the expectations of those governments and other actors within the current model of openness of the Internet. Because if we don’t demonstrate that it is possible to address those concerns in a framework of an open and free Internet that is also a catalyzer for the exercise of human rights— So if we cannot demonstrate that, the governments will look for other ways to satisfy their expectations. So it’s partly cloudy not because something bad is really happening but because we have big challenges in front of us.
Intertitle: What are your greatest hopes and fears for the future of the Internet?
Echeberría: It’s related with what I said right now. Some governments can think that the way to satisfy their expectations and address their concerns is through a wrong direction. They could think that the right direction for them to solve some issues could be probably not direct action for most of the people. And so sometimes we see for example that in order to improve the security of their networks or to reduce the impact of cybercrime, some governments are taking measures that are reducing the ability of the people to exercise their rights. And sometimes freedom of expression and right to privacy and other rights are being impacted by governmental measures. Then in some cases those measures are based in good faith. The governments really are not trying, in some cases, to limit the rights but they think that this is the right path for solving some problems.
In other cases, we see that some governments take measures that affect the human rights of their citizens. But it’s not surprising because sometimes they are the same countries that are taking the same kind of measures in real life. So it is normal to think that they would try to replicate on the Internet the view that they have about the society in general.
I think that if we keep the Internet in the way that we think is good for the people, we will be impacting positively in the capacity of the people to exercise their rights. We can continue creating an Internet that is more open for some people than the life that they have today. We can help people to express themselves, to access knowledge, to interact with more people around the world. So I think this Internet, if well-used, could bring humankind to a more open society and a more free society. Not free in the sense of not respecting rules. Free in the sense of free access to knowledge, freedom to express themselves, freedom to communicate with any other person in the world. I see Internet as a platform for promoting the development of the society—human, economic, and social development, and also as a catalyzer for the exercise of human rights.
And this is the bright part. When I see the children in the countryside riding horses with their small computers in with them, going to school, I think that this is a wonderful thing. This is how technologies is being used for bringing knowledge to people that before the Internet had more obstacles for competing with the rest of the of the society. Competing in the sense of having the same rights or having access to the same content, the same information, knowledge, education tools. And also for people living in— It’s an opportunity for many people for doing a new kind of business and selling…experiences like people in a small village probably promoting tourism in the area or selling handicrafts or promoting their local products in the world. Also permitting relationship of students or researchers in developing countries to be in touch with colleague in universities in the developed countries, prestigious universities, and participate in activities together and being engaged in research that are conducted in other parts of the world.
So the possibilities of the Internet are infinite. It depends on us, how we can transform the Internet in what we think that it is possible to be.
Intertitle: Is there action that should be taken to ensure the best possible future?
Echeberría: I think that it is important to continue working on increasing access. I think that when we used to speak about the digital divide a few years ago, we spoke about the differences between developing and developed countries. But the digital divide has other forms, too. Within the developing regions, there are also different situations. And there are countries that have indicators that are almost competing with the indicators of developed countries. And there are others that have very low access. And so I think that we have to work not only in reducing the digital divide between regions but also trying to have a more homogeneous development in developing regions and also within the countries, because it’s not the same situation for somebody that lives in a big metropolis even in a developing country, the situation of somebody who lives in the countryside, or in the forest, or mountains, or in some regions where the access is more complicated. I think that it’s very important to work in education and bring the technologies to all the children in the world. This is something that we have to work on every day. Bringing the technology to the classroom, but at the same time trying to promote a different view about education processes in order to take advantage of the new tools that the children have access to.
And I think the other thing that we have to do is to work with governments, all actors around the world, trying to help them to develop policies that are good for achieving the goals that we are proposing. The Internet by itself is not valuable for anybody. The Internet is valuable if it impacts in the life of the people. So this is what we have to work on every day.