Q1/2020 - Executive Summary

Q1/2020 - Executive Summary

Current happenings in the Internet governance context January to March 2020:

In the first quarter 2020, the global discussion on Internet governance was strongly impacted by the coronavirus crisis, which cast a shadow over all developments and events at international level. Many conferences were cancelled, negotiations postponed, time schedules went haywire.

However, the massive restrictions in the offline world did not put the global Internet governance discussion to a total standstill. Instead, the coronavirus crisis led to an unprecedented number of traditional offline activities to be transferred to an online environment. At the end of March 2020, the first virtual G7 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting was held. The G7 Summit scheduled for June 2020 in Camp David will also be conducted via video conferencing. The heads of states and governments of the G20 countries already had a virtual summit on 26 March 2020

New Opportunities, New Risks

For the “hard core” of the Internet community – and for many non-state organisations — the switching from the offline to the online world was nothing really new because a hybrid model of offline and online communication and negotiation formats has been establishing for years. Nevertheless, converting the 67th ICAAN Meeting scheduled for March 2020 in Cancun into a virtual conference with around 1,000 participants was a challenge of a new quality, which the organisers tackled quite well. After the Zoom meeting of the ICANN Governmental Advisory Committee, the Swiss GAC member Jorge Cancio remarked that the virtual negotiation of the GAC Communiqué was an innovative example of future interaction, which could inspire other intergovernmental bodies, e.g. in the UN system.

An expanded use of online components in an Internet governance negotiation environment that is strongly characterised by offline conferences could have a range of positive side effects. Travel expenses and the impact of business trips on the environment could be reduced, more representatives from currently underrepresented nations (the southern hemisphere) would attend, provided they had local high-speed Internet access. Thus, the pressure caused by the coronavirus crisis could turn into a trigger for innovation and investment in the improvement of national infrastructures – in particular in the field of 5G – and contribute to reducing the consistent digital divide. But even though the virtual meetings went so well, the positive experience does not cover up the weaknesses inherent in this type of communication. Face-to-face meetings, especially when decisions must be made, will always be indispensable. Nevertheless, the coronavirus crisis will yield new forms of mixed online and offline communication for developing global Internet policies.

The coronavirus crisis also had direct substantial consequences for the Internet governance discussion, however. On the one hand, the digital economy experiences a push, from e-commerce to home office. The request to codify access to the Internet as an individual human right will also gain additional support. On the other hand, switching from the offline to the online world on a massive scale will bring about new risks and threats. There is fear that justified emergency measures taken by governments to monitor infected patients and restrictions to the elementary right to freedom of opinion and assembly might be lifted only reluctantly after the crisis and that the crisis will thus have lasting negative consequences for the compliance with human rights on the Internet. The exponential increase in cybercrime is another negative effect. Abuse of the Domain Name System (DNS) for phishing attacks reached a new peak. The switch of many business activities to the cyberspace, such as the use of the conference program Zoom, attracted individual and organised cybercrime like a magnet. New types of criminal action, such as “Zoom bombing”, are emerging.

Controversial Issues: Cyber Security, Digital Tax and New IP

Like in 2019, the key content issues in the first quarter of 2020 were cyber security, digital economy, human rights and artificial intelligence. By now, these topics have become part of the political agenda at state and government head level. In this context, it is becoming increasingly obvious that the cyber superpowers (first of all China and the United States of America) are pursuing a “twin approach”: On the one hand, they support “national sovereignty in cyberspace” and consequently unilateralism. On the other hand, there is a growing involvement in multilateral negotiations. Areas of confrontation and cooperation are evolving in parallel in this context.

This ambiguous attitude was also observed at the large international conferences, such as the World Economic Forum in Davos (January 2020) or the Munich Security Conference (February 2020). Fierce debates on issues such as cyber attacks, online interference in elections, digital tax and 5G went side by side with assertations to be ready for constructive cooperation to solve global Internet problems, i.e. cyber security, digital commerce or artificial intelligence, within the framework of existing international mechanisms such as the UN and its specialised agencies.

The following occurrences stood out in the first quarter of 2020:

  • The new President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, presented the EU’s digital strategy of the next five years (Shaping Europe´s Digital Future) on 19 February in Brussels;
  • UN Secretary General António Guterres announced the adoption of a UN Roadmap for Digital Cooperation on 22 January in New York;
  • The two UN Working Groups on Cyber Security (OEWG and UN-GGE) achieved progress at their sessions in February 2020 in New York and Geneva;
  • The controversies between the USA and France increased in the course of a digital tax discussion within the framework of the G20 and the OECD;
  • The UNESCO has started to work at a new standard-setting instrument regarding the ethics of artificial intelligence;
  • At ITU, the discussion of a New Internet Protocol (New IP) for a so-called “Internet 2030” caused a new political debate;
  • The OECD has launched a project on artificial intelligence and freedom of expression;
  • The WIPO has launched a project on artificial intelligence and intellectual property;
  • The Freedom Online Coalition has adopted statements on human rights and cyber security and on digital inclusion;
  • The focal issues at the World Economic Forum Davos and the Munich Security Conference were digital economy and cyber security;
  • The Cyberspace Solarium Commission of the United States Congress has submitted a proposal for a new U.S. American cyber strategy.

At the inter-governmental level, the following major activities and events in the first quarter of 2020 are particularly worth mentioning:

  • the UN General Assembly, UN Secretary General António Guterres announced on 22 January 2020 that the UN was going to submit a “Roadmap for Digital Cooperation” by May 2020. The roadmap is part of the follow-up of the report by the UN High Level Panel (HLP) “The Age of Digital Interdependence” and will serve as a basis to prepare the 75th anniversary of the United Nations in October 2020.
  • The Open Ended Working Group (OEWG) held its second official session at the start of February in New York. At the beginning of March, the OEWG Chair, Swiss Ambassador Jürg Lauber, presented a draft of the final report;
  • The UN-Group of Governmental Experts (UN-GGE) held its second substantial session at the end of February 2020 in Geneva. No results were made public;
  • The Group of Governmental Experts for Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (GGE LAWS) elected the Ambassador of Latvia and former president of WSIS II and former chair of the ICANN GAC, Janis Karklins, chair of the Group.
  • The schedule of the U.S. American G7 Presidency for 2020 has been cancelled due to the coronavirus crisis. The G7 Summit scheduled for June 2020 will be conducted as a virtual meeting;
  • The G20 Presidency of Saudi Arabia started with sessions on digital economy, digital tax and cyber security in February 2020 in Riyadh. Further sessions to prepare the G20 Summit scheduled for November 2020 have been suspended for the time being due to the coronavirus crisis;
  • The preparations of the Russian Presidency for the BRICS and SCO summits scheduled for July 2020 in St. Petersburg have been put on hold for the time being;
  • In January 2020, the OECD presented a consolidated proposal for a global digital tax that is planned to culminate in  the establishment of a new tax regime that will be binding under international law;
  • At a workshop in Davos in January 2020, the WTO discussed cornerstones of an agreement on digital trade. However, no progress was made in the debate. The 12th WTO Ministerial Conference scheduled in Kazakhstan for June 2020 has been postponed;
  • On 19 February 2020, the EU Commission presented its comprehensive digital strategy for the period from now to 2025. The package comprising five documents includes, among other things, EU communications and white papers on digital economy and on artificial intelligence. Already in January 2020, the EU had adopted a “toolbox” that provides guidance to the EU Member States how to handle 5G. The High Level Internet Governance Group (HLIG) agreed in Brussels in January 2020 on the follow-up of the UN process on digital cooperation. The 2nd Brazil-EU Consultations on Preventing Conflict in Cyberspace were held in Brussels in March 2020;
  • The African Union and the EU have established a joint Digital Economy Task Force;
  • The UNESCO has appointed an expert group for the elaboration of a standard-setting instrument on ethics in relation with the development of artificial intelligence;
  • In February 2020, the ITU Council held a series of working group sessions in Geneva, including the CWG-Internet and the CWG-WSIS&SDG. At the meeting of the Telecommunication Standardization Advisory Group (TSAG), Chinese working papers on new Internet Protocols (New IP) presented to the Group provoked a political controversy. The WSIS Forum (WSIS+15) and the ITU Summit on artificial intelligence scheduled for April 2020 were postponed to autumn 2020;
  • The WIPO has launched a project dealing with artificial intelligence and intellectual property;
  • The OECD has launched a project dealing with artificial intelligence and freedom of expression;
  • No progress was achieved at the 43rd session of the UN Human Rights Council in March 2020 in Geneva with regard to the convention for control of government-led surveillance on the Internet proposed by UN Special Rapporteur Joe Cannataci.

At the multistakeholder and non-state level, the following major activities and events in the first quarter of 2020 are particular worth mentioning:

  • The preparations for the 15th IGF (November 2020 in Katowice) started in January 2020 in Geneva with a MAG session but have come to a halt due to the coronavirus crisis;
  • The preparations for the EURODIG (June 2020 in Trieste) were started with a PrepCom in January 2020. In the light of the coronavirus crisis it was decided to hold the EURODIG 2020 as a virtual meeting applying the model used for the ICANN 67 conference;
  • At the World Economic Forum Davos (January 2020), cyber security and digital economy were key issues of discussion;
  • At the Munich Security Conference (February 2020), militarization of cyberspace and digital sovereignty were key issues of discussion;
  • At its annual conference at the start of February 2020 in Accra, the Freedom Online Coalition adopted statements on human rights and cyber security and on digital inclusion;
  • The Global Forum on Cyber Expertise (GFCE) based in The Hague was converted into a foundation under Dutch law at the start of January 2020. Former Cyber Coordinator of the U.S. State Department, Chris Painter, became President of the Foundation Board;
  • The Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development has started a new campaign to enhance the information infrastructure in Africa;
  • At the 2nd virtual 6G summit in March 2020 in Lapland, a white book on 6G was discussed. In this book, first ideas for the development of next generation networks and services are being evolved;
  • The Charter of Trust initiated by Siemens has published eight guidelines in March 2020 for cyber security in the home office;
  • The Cyberspace Solarium Commission of the U.S. Congress has proposed to draft a new cyber strategy for the United States of America.
"To address the dark side of digital world, we must steer technology for positive change. I see several areas for action — starting with the global labor market. Automation will displace tens of millions of jobs by 2030. We need to redesign education systems. It’s not just about learning but learning how to learn, across a lifetime. We need more innovative approaches to social safety nets and rethinking the concept of work, and the lifelong balance among work, leisure and other activities. We also must usher in order to the Wild West of cyberspace. Terrorists, white supremacists and others who sow hate are exploiting the internet and social media. Bots are spreading disinformation, fueling polarization and undermining democracies. Next year, cybercrime will cost $6 trillion. Cyberspace itself is at risk of cleaving in two. We must work against digital fragmentation by promoting global digital cooperation. The United Nations is a tailor-made platform for governments, business, civil society and others to come together to formulate new protocols and norms, to define red-lines, and to build agile and flexible regulatory frameworks. Some responses may require legally-binding measures. Others may be based on voluntary cooperation and the exchange of best practices. This includes support for existing processes and institutions like the Open-Ended Working Group on information and telecommunications in the context of security, and the Group of Government Experts on advancing responsible behavior in cyberspace and within the General Assembly. I believe consensus has been built to strengthen the Internet Governance Forum to serve as a central gathering point to discuss and propose effective digital policies. Following up on the Report of the High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation, I will soon present a Roadmap for Digital Cooperation covering internet connectivity, human rights, trust and security in the age of digital interdependence. At the same time, we need a common effort to ensure artificial intelligence is a force for good. Despite last year’s important step within the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, we are still lurching toward a world of killer machines acting outside human judgment or control. I have a simple and direct plea to all Member States:  Ban lethal autonomous weapons now."

UN Secretary General António Guterres, New York, 22 January 2020

Wolfgang Kleinwächter

Professor Emeritus of Internet Policy & Regulation at Aarhus University