In December, representatives from more than 190 countries will come together for a high level meeting at the United Nations to determine the future of the internet. But first, a select few are meeting behind closed doors this week to set the agenda.
The December meeting is a planned ten year review of policies for global internet deployment laid out at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in 2005. Delegates will discuss issues such as the digital divide and internet governance, taking into account input from a variety of non-governmental stakeholders.
One of those non-government entities is the Internet Society, a nonprofit that promotes internet freedom and accessibility. CEO Kathryn Brown said a lot of issues are on the table this year, and some internet freedom advocates are concerned governments will use the review to push control of the internet into their hands.
"We have been working very hard to ensure the governance of the internet remains as it is, which is in the hands of the private sector; with roles and responsibilities of governments when it is called for, but not a centrally-controlled, top-down control," she said.
It's not clear which countries will be present at the closed doors meetings.
There are four main areas to be discussed at the high-level WSIS meeting in December: internet accessibility, human rights and free speech, internet governance, and internet security. Around 60 percent of the world's population is still not online, most of which is in extremely inaccessible areas. The UN will discuss how to make the internet available to the most difficult-to-reach users and how those services will be administered and governed.
Many countries have already made their views public ahead of the WSIS, with countries such as Russia advocating for more extreme government controls over the internet. The country has also said it advocates transferring power over internet domains and IP addresses from US control to an international organization overseen by the UN.
The US has already announced it intends to hand control over the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to a "global multi-stakeholder body."
Other countries have called for more transparency and multi stakeholder conversations surrounding internet governance, including the renewal of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), an annual multi-stakeholder forum established by the UN in 2006 to set internet standards and policies. The IFG's mandate expires this year.
The informal meeting this week has a huge bearing on December's main event, and will set the tone for how much oversight and control governments have over the internet, especially in the developing world. Brown said she is concerned the recent terror attacks in Paris may be used to push censorship and anti-privacy measures at the forum.
"After Paris, there are governments who have always thought they should be in charge and now have a way to argue this that is persuasive to other governments, at least with respect to the security issues," she said. "Our work is to try to create understanding around cyber security issues, and it is going to take a concerted, collaborative effort around security."
Sally Wentworth, the vice president of global policy development at the Internet Society, said internet security will be a major issue at this meeting, not necessarily because concrete policies will be formed there but because it will shape the global conversation.
"They will discuss what is the role of the UN to some degree, but really these are more declaratory statements of how the international community can address cyber security and who should be involved, who is at the table, and how we should deal with issues like mass surveillance," she said.
Declarations made by the UN following meeting like these are often used as framework, especially in developing countries, for internet policy. Brown said that is why the meeting is "hugely important." The negotiations are set to end this week, but Wentworth said she anticipates they could continue all the way up to the December meetings.