Q1/2021 - Executive Summary

Q1/2021 - Executive Summary

Current happenings in the Internet governance context January to March 2021:

By now, the geo-political effects the Covid-19 pandemic will have in the long term are becoming obvious. They will also have an impact on the future structure of the global Internet governance ecosystem. In the first quarter of 2021, the cyber conflict between the United States of America and China has escalated. The issue of “cyber security” is emerging as the top priority theme from the broad range of issues that have been discussed controversially in the recent years under the common headline “Internet governance”. “Digital economy” follows suit.

As a result of this focus on geo-political and economic aspects the balance between the stakeholders of the multistakeholder model for Internet governance is shifting in favour of the governmental sector. Cyber security and digital economy have become a permanent issue on the agendas of government negotiations, be it at G7, G20 or BRICS summits, bi- or multilateral meetings of presidents and ministers of the exterior, discussions at the UN and its specialist organisations or at military alliances like NATO.

With the strong impetus the Covid-19 pandemic has given to global digitisation (working from home, home schooling, online shopping, video conferencing, data trade, etc.), digital society has become more vulnerable. The enormous increase in Internet service usage went along with a proportionate increase in Internet abuse. Cyber crime, cyber attacks on state and non-state institutions, cyber espionage and cyber sabotage, disinformation and hate campaigns featured considerable growth rates last year, and so did militarisation in cyber space.

The global surge in digitisation has revealed how much complete societies and economies depend on a working Internet infrastructure. Especially consistent non-discriminating access to the critical Internet resources, such as domain names, IP addresses, root servers, and guaranteed integrity of Internet based communication services, regardless of content and purpose, have proven to be vital.

As a result of this development, the technical infrastructure of the Internet has assumed a status that is comparable with what the UN defines as “common heritage of humanity”. The common heritage of humanity is a principle of international law that holds that defined territorial areas and elements of humanity's common heritage (cultural and natural) should be held in trust for future generations and be protected from exploitation by individual nation states or corporations. Inspired by the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, this principle has developed over the course of centuries and was first incorporated in an agreement in 1954 in the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property. In the 1970 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, the principle was codified in greater detail ; here, it related to the oceans and high seas. Today, the principle analogously applies to the outer space and the climate. A discussion has been ongoing for years investigating if the man-made cyber space should also be considered “common heritage of humanity”. In its 2019 final report, the Global Commission on Stability in Cyberspace (GCSC) had proposed to draft a separate norm under international law for the "protection of the public core of the Internet" based on the concept of common heritage of humanity.

These considerations also form the foundation of the policy of ICANN CEO, Göran Marby, which wants to see ICANN move to the position of a “neutral steward” of the global Internet community and avoid it being involved in the geo-strategic Internet conflicts between governments. Marby is using the term “Technical Internet Governance” (TIC) in this context: “ICANN’s role is to clarify and position itself as a technical nonprofit organization keen on keeping legislators and regulators understanding, and therefore mindful, of the way the Internet functions”. With this approach, Marby is trying to follow up on and evolve the Internet governance definition of the 2005 WSIS Tunis agenda. That definition, which laid the basis for the multistakeholder principle, had differentiated between the “development” and the “use” of the Internet. Most of the political conflicts in cyber space that have emerged since then are related with the “use” of the Internet. ICANN’s field of action is the management and the development of the technical resources of the Internet. However, the “development” and the “use” of the Internet are strongly interrelated, and the concrete political and legal arrangements of this relationship are just starting to be defined.

Thus, it is not surprising that the role of governments in shaping the digital world is gaining importance analogously to the extent issues such as cyber security and digital economy are being assigned greater priority. This development is not contradicting the more prominent role the private sector, the technical community and civil society have assumed over the last two decades. It is these non-state stakeholders, who are and will remain those who play a major part in developing, administrating, designing, owning and using the Internet infrastructure. In the end, however, governments are the ones who are primarily responsible for granting national and international security as well as economic growth and employment.

This powershift in the global Internet governance ecosystem presents a challenge to enhancing the multistakeholder Internet governance model. The developments of the recent years have not only revealed the possibilities but also the conceptional weaknesses of the multistakeholder model. The model is mainly based on the principles of the WSIS Tunis agenda (2005), the NETmundial declaration of São Paulo (2014) and the mechanisms of the IANA transition (2016). Governments pay a lot of lip service to the multistakeholder model, but they also have most different interpretations regarding when it comes to applying it. To make the model sustainable, creative amendments must be made in the 2020s.

This is particularly obvious with regard to the long-standing controversy about Internet regulation. In the 1990s and the 2000s, it were primarily autocratic governments that requested the Internet to be governed by the state, while Western democracies rejected the idea. For them, it endangered innovation, creativity and the free exchange of ideas and information. “Innovation without permission” was the generally accepted leitmotif. Regulation stood for state censorship and protectionism and for the risk of a fragmentated Internet.

This attitude has been changing since the start of the 2020s. “Innovation without permission” and “free flow of information” are still applicable. However, in view of the growing abuse of Internet liberties, more and more governments of democratic states, too, are requesting transparent, fair and implementable rules for the Internet. Regulation is beginning to be perceived less as a synonym of censorship and protectionism than as a guarantee for a free exchange of ideas and information and for fair competition. Today, even transnational Internet companies, which relied on the “self-regulation” of the Internet 20 years ago, are requesting a functioning governmental legal system for the Internet that creates stable political and economic conditions, offers planning security and guarantees procedures governed by the rule of law for the event of conflicts.

On the one hand, this change in mindset has created the foundation for resolving previously unsurmountable obstacles to a global regulation of the Internet in international organisations like the United Nations or ITU. On the other hand, the gap between the interpretation of the “rule of law” by democratic and by autocratic systems has become much more obvious. This makes the global Internet governance debate more complicated in so far as agreement about meta concepts such as “governance” or the acceptance of “principles and standards” during international negotiations of contracts does not necessarily mean that the parties involved agree about the issue under consideration as such.

The currently emerging new international consensus about the need of global Internet regulation is based on widely differing interpretations of the way how to apply such regulation in the individual case. The rules and regulations of the USA and the EU on the one hand and those of China and Russia on the other are based on completely different concepts of “illegal content” or “cyber terrorism”. Even the USA and the EU do not have the same ideas concerning the arrangement and application of specific legal provisions, such as privacy or platform regulation for instance.

The consensus within the UN, which reaffirms in various UN resolutions that international law and human rights must apply both offline and online, is overshadowed by a growing lack of consensus how to apply the binding principles of international law of the Charter of the United Nations (1945) and the norms in cyber space stipulated by the UN Declaration of Human Rights (1948) in a concrete case. Is a cyber attack on the infrastructure of another state a “use or threat of force” in terms of Article 2.4 of the UN Charter? And if so, would a cyber attack provide a legitimisation to activate Article 51 of the UN Charter – the right of self-defense (hack back)? And what about the right to privacy (Article 12) and the right to freedom of opinion and expression(Article 19) in the digital space as laid down in the UN Human Rights Declaration?

China vs. USA: The “Alaska Clash”

In the first quarter of 2021, these different opinions and interpretations clashed particularly harshly at the first high-level meeting of China and the USA after the inauguration of the US administrators, on 18 March 2021 in Anchorage/Alaska. When US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, requested the Chinese to refrain from attacking the US in cyber space, Yang, the member of the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party that is responsible for foreign affairs, replied: “On cyber attacks, let me say that whether it’s the ability to launch cyber attacks or the technologies that could be deployed, the United States is the champion in this regard. You can’t blame this problem on somebody else“[1]

Under the Trump administration, the Chinese-American cyber conflict had already exacerbated in the second half of 2020 due to concrete measures being taken by the US (sanctions against Huawei, TikTok and WeChat and establishment of an anti-Chinese coalition / Clean Network Initiative), under the Biden administration it aggravated even further in the first quarter of 2021.
The medium- and long-term effects of this geo-political dispute are not yet clear. At present new alliances and partnerships are developing around the two cyber superpowers China and the USA. If this trend continues, it might lead to a political fragmentation of cyber space (trifurcation): transatlantic cyber partnership vs trans-Asian cyber partnership vs a new digital movement of non-aligned states.

On the other hand, the US and the EU are striving for a transatlantic partnership of a new level, in which cyber security and digital economy are playing a central role. At a NATO meeting of the exterior ministers on 23 March 2021 in Brussels – the first one with the new US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken – “cyber” was once again confirmed to be an important field of operation for NATO, which is covered by Article 5 of the NATO Treaty, i.e. the mutual assistance clause applies. This is relevant in so far as the discussion in the USA, if the cyber attack on SolarWinds at the start of 2021 was to be rated as “espionage” or as an “attack”, is not yet concluded. “Espionage” is forbidden under international law. An “attack” violates the UN Charter. On 25 March 2021, the EU Commission, the heads of state and government of the EU countries and US President Joe Biden came together at a virtual summit. Top priority of the discussion was on the pandemic and its effects, but cyber security and the so-called “Digital Economy Rulebook”, which is fostered particularly by the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, also were issues on the agenda. Prior to that meeting, US President Joe Biden had had a virtual meeting on 12 March 2021 with his counterparts from India, Australia and Japan to conclude an agreement on close cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region. This agreement also contains a chapter about cyber security and the standardisation of new technologies. The four countries have been united in a loose association called The Quad since 2002. [2]

How comprehensive these partnerships will be, remains to be seen. The EU’s proposal to jointly write the “Digital Economy Book”, for instance, was not taken up by US President Joe Biden. As to the issues of data protection on the Internet, platform regulation and digital tax, the concepts of the US and of the EU vary in several points. “Europe’s Digital Decade“ as announced in March 2021 by the EU Commission relies on a “European digital sovereignty” and reduced dependency on the US-American Internet monopolists from Silicon Valley. For India, the principle of national cyber sovereignty has top priority, too. Nevertheless, the democracies of North America, Europe and Asia Pacific still have a common interest: Based on identical or similar democratic values, they all want to intensify digital cooperation and create a secure cyber space.

On the other hand, a new type of “trans-Asian partnership” is evolving. Five days after the Alaska clash between China and the USA, the foreign ministers of Russia and China met in the Chinese city of Guilin on 23 March 2021[3]. They agreed on an enhanced cooperation in the fields of cyber security and digital economy. On 26 January 2021, Russia had signed a new cyber security agreement with Iran[4]. On 27 March 2021, China and Iran concluded a 25-year cooperation agreement, which includes – among other things – the participation of China (Huawei, ZTE) in the establishment of the 5G infrastructure in Iran[5].

The “Shanghai Cooperation Organisation“ (SCO), with Russia and China as leading nations, is expanding its cyber security activities step by step. The aim of SCO is to gain greater international recognition. On 23 March 2021, the 75th session of the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution which does not only explicitly acknowledge SCO as an important international organisation, but also particularly recognises its efforts to strengthen international security in cyber space. At the last SCO summit, China’s President Xi Jinping called the relationship between the SCO members “a new type of international relationships”. In the 1970s, this expression was used by the Soviet Union for the relationship between the member states of the Warsaw Treaty.

Against the background of this possible scenario of bipolar “bloc formation” in cyberspace, however, there are more and more voices – especially in Asia and Africa – that support an Internet policy of “equidistance” from both the US and China. This is particularly true for India, now one of the largest Internet markets in the world with over 600 million Internet users. In Q1 of 2021, the Indian government prohibited the activities of the Chinese Internet services WeChat and TikTok, and introduced strict regulations for the US services Facebook, Twitter and Google. In the political discussion in New Delhi, frequent reference has recently been made to the policy of India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, who initiated the Non-Aligned Movement after the formation of the Warsaw Treaty in 1955. The aim of the members to the movement was to avoid being drawn into a possible conflict between NATO and the Warsaw Pact. By the 1980s, the Non-Aligned Movement comprised more than 130 states. In the United Nations, they organised themselves as the “Group of 77”, which also included well over 100 states.

Today, this model is considered an interesting source of inspiration in India for a future cyber diplomacy approach of the country. Lee Hsien Loong, Prime Minister of Singapore, assumed a similar position in an essay in “Foreign Affairs” in summer 2020[6].

The reasoning presented by Loong said that Singapore wanted to avoid a global cyber conflict and wished to establish a good relationship with both China and the USA. The discussion about “digital non-alignment” has only just started[7]. According to Kevin Rudd, former Prime Minister of Australia, it will gain momentum if the US-Chinese cyber conflict continues to exacerbate or becomes military[8].

It only seems that the UN agreement on a range of principle norms for state behaviour with regard to cyber security is contradicting the aforementioned aggravating confrontation in digital space. Regardless of all political controversies between the cyber superpowers, the final report of the Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) was adopted by consensus on 12 March 2021. After negotiating for more than two years, the 193 UN member states managed to agree on a common text. The OEWG report underpins the importance of international law and of the UN Charter for the digital space and affirms that the eleven rules for state behaviour in cyber space adopted by the so-called Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) 2015 must be observed. The OEWG final report also includes recommendations for confidence-building measures in cyber space and recommendations how to expand capacities in order to achieve a better understanding of cyber security issues. A “regular institutional dialogue” among all 193 UN member states was agreed. The mandate of OEWG had already been extended until 2025 by the 75th session of the UN General Assembly on 31 December 2020. Thus, there now is a new permanent UN negotiation strand dealing with cyber security issues.

The OEWG report is the first agreement between the cyber superpowers on cyber security since 2015. However, the OEWG report does not include any principally new obligations. Controversial issues were moved and “listed” in a separate paper of the OEWG Chair, the Swiss Ambassador Jürg Lauber. So, the consensus achieved in the OEWG does not represent considerable substantial progress. But it is of great symbolic significance. It stands for a “dual strategy” of the cyber superpowers.

This dual strategy will shape the political debate in the global Internet governance ecosystem in the coming years. Confrontation and cooperation will go hand in hand. Conflicts will not be swept under the carpet. However, none of the cyber superpowers is interested in escalating cyber conflicts beyond a certain level. They are watching each other, checking the reaction of the other side, testing offensive cyber capacities – possibly also via “proxys” – and balancing along a “red line” not clearly defined by international law. The risk implied in such a “digital pinprick policy” is not small one. Unintended side effects of “digital pinpricks” can create cascading effects and have the potential to spiral out of control. Parallel to this overt or covert conflict strategy, however, opportunities for cooperation are also being sought between the hostile cyber superpowers. Where there are common or similar interests, regardless of opposing values, agreements will be possible.

The role of the UN is gaining a new dimension against this background. This applies primarily to the “Roadmap on Digital Cooperation” announced by the UN Secretary-General in June 2020. It offers a range of neutral topics, in which there is a common interest despite of diverging value concepts, such as achieving the sustainable development goals (SDGs) until 2030, i.e. eliminating the digital divide. The UN Envoy for Technology appointed by UN Secretary-General António Guterres in January 2021 could play a central role in this context in the future. The office of the envoy reports directly to the office of the Secretary-General and has been ordered to implement the Roadmap on Digital Cooperation.

Here are the most important events and processes of the first quarter of 2021 in the four core areas of the global Internet governance ecosystem (cyber security, digital economy, human rights, technological development):

Cyber Security

The consensus achieved within the scope of the OEWG was the most outstanding result in the first quarter of 2021. Other cyber security negotiations (UN-GGE, GGE-LAWS) are still not making any progress. The plea of UN Secretary-General António Guterres to outlaw Internet-based autonomous weapons systems, which he repeated in February 2021, is still falling on deaf ears among the cyber superpowers. Nevertheless, the states are increasing their efforts to settle cyber security issues by bilateral state treaties. Still open remains the question, how the states are going to handle the growing level of cyber crime. The Budapest Convention against cyber crime is turning 20 in 2021 and is still considered the best possible international legal instrument by the Western countries. The number of ratifications is stagnating, however, and has settled at 65. This means that two thirds of the 193 UN member states have not ratified the Budapest Convention. Which support will be given to the process newly initiated in the UN by Russia in 2019 for drafting a global UN convention against cyber crime remains to be seen. The Western states have opposed the Russian proposal, but were outnumbered. The new “Intergovernmental Ad-Hoc Committee“ should have started preparations for the negotiations in August 2020. Due to the pandemic, the first organisational consultations of the Ad-Hoc Committee have been postponed to May 2021. Meanwhile, there is growing material pressure to find a global response to the global activities of cyber criminals. Interpol predicts that cybercrime will double in 2020, with an estimated damage of US$ 600 billion.

Digital Economy

Numerous pending issues of the draft global agreement for a digital tax negotiated by the OECD, which was presented on 12 October 2020, were largely clarified in internal negotiations in the 1st quarter of 2021. The Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors of the G20 countries were optimistic at their meeting on 26 February 2021 that a final agreement would be reached by summer 2021. Negotiators George Mina (Australia) and Hung Seng Tan (Singapore) also reported progress in the negotiations on the future of digital trade at a WTO meeting on 16 March 2021 and expressed confidence in reaching agreement in all ten chapters of the negotiations by the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference. The 12th WTO Ministerial Conference, scheduled for July 2021 in NurSultan (Kazakhstan), was postponed on 1 March 2021 to November 2021 and is to be held in Geneva. Issues relating to the development of the digital economy are becoming increasingly important also in the context of the “UN Decade of Action” (2020 - 2030) to implement the UN sustainable development goals (SDGs). With the appointment of a “UN Envoy for Technology” in January 2021, new perspectives for overcoming the digital divide by 2030 are emerging.

Human Rights

On 3 March 2021, Freedom House presented its annual report on the state of Internet freedom in the world. The report finds that Internet freedoms have been dismantled year after year for a decade and a half, and the number of those countries that Freedom House categorises as “not free” has grown. 38 per cent of the world's population live in “countries that are not free”. However, at the 46th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva (22 February to 26 March 2021), Internet freedoms played no role. The Special Rapporteur on “Privacy in the Digital Age”, Joseph Cannataci, presented a report on “Artificial intelligence and Privacy”, but it was only discussed in the margins and did not lead to the adoption of a resolution. In the second part of his report, Cannataci addresses the protection of children's privacy in cyberspace for the first time and makes 27 recommendations on how this protection could be ensured.

Technological Development

Negotiations on a legal instrument on artificial intelligence in the Council of Europe are making progress. On 20 January 2021, a high-level virtual meeting of experts took place under the German Presidency of the Council of Ministers. On 26 February 2021, the fourth plenary session of the Ad hoc Committee on Artificial Intelligence (CAHAI) adopted a new roadmap. A draft legal instrument should be on the table by December 2021. UNESCO has continued its work on a recommendation titled “Artificial Intelligence and Ethics” with regional consultations. UNESCO intends to adopt a related legal instrument at its 41st General Conference in November 2021. As to the topic of technical standardisation, the debate on a new Internet Protocol (New IP) – triggered by a Huawei paper for an ITU Focus Group in 2019 – was preliminarily closed at a meeting of the ITU Study Group 13 in March 2021. No consensus could be reached. Without such consensus, a recommendation cannot be submitted to the ITU World Telecommunication Standardisation Assembly (WTSA). The WTSA is now scheduled for March 2022 in Hyderabad. However, it cannot be ruled out that individual governments will use either the WTSA or the ITU General Conference in Bucharest in autumn 2022 to raise the issue of “New IP” again. In the meantime, the Chinese authors of the “New IP Paper” have revised their 2019 proposal and are presenting it under the new name “Polymorphic Networks” in other international standardisation organisations such as the IEEE.

Inter-governmental Level

At the inter-governmental level, the following activities and events in the first quarter of 2021 are particular worth mentioning:

  • On 23 March 2021, the so-called Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) founded in 2018 within the UN managed to agree on a final report. Controversial issues for which no consensus was achieved were listed in a separate report by the OEWG Chair, Swiss Ambassador Jürg Lauber, and attached to the final report;
  • On 15 January 2021, Fabrizio Hochschild was appointed UN Technology Envoy by UN Secretary-General António Guterres. A few days after the appointment, Hochschild was accused of allegedly inappropriate behaviour towards UN staff. In response, the UN Secretary-General initiated investigations, which are still ongoing. In the meantime, the office of the UN Technology Envoy has started its work on implementing the UN General-Secretary’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation;
  • UN Secretary-General António Guterres is seeking re-election in autumn 2021. In his “Vision Statement” on the future of the United Nations of 23 March 2021, he dedicated a separate paragraph on “digital cooperation”. In several speeches he held in the first quarter of 2021 – including that at the virtual Davos Economic Forum Summit and the virtual Munich Security Conference – he underpinned the central importance of digital cooperation and cyber security and once again advocated a ban on Internet-based autonomous weapons systems;
  • The Italian G20 Presidency has taken up work on 1 January 2021. All ministerial and expert meetings are currently planned as virtual events. The meeting of the G20 Digital Ministers is scheduled for July 2021 in Trieste, Italy. The G20 Summit shall take place in Rome in October 2021;
  • The motto of the British G7 Presidency is “Build Back Better” and the focus will be on tackling the impacts of the Covid-19 crisis. One of the seven leading themes is digital policy. The G7 Summit is scheduled for end of June 2021 in Cape Bay in Cornwall;
  • On 1 January 2021, India has taken over the BRICS Presidency. There were no activities worth to be mentioned in the first quarter of 2021;
  • The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) has gained additional recognition at international level through a UN resolution that was adopted on 23 March 2021 by the 75th session of the UN General Assembly. SCO Secretary-General Norow attended several conferences dealing with cyber security and digital economy and met with leading representatives of the Alibaba Group;
  • The pending issues of the package agreement on a global digital tax negotiated by the OECD have been largely settled in smaller negotiation groups. The G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors were optimistic at their meeting of 22 February 2021 to reach a final agreement by mid-2021;
  • Further progress has been achieved in the first quarter of 2021 in the negotiations to end the WTO Moratorium on electronic commerce from 1998 and to conclude a new WTO agreement on digital trade. At a meeting of the responsible working group on 12 March 2021, the negotiators were optimistic to reach consent in all ten chapters of the new draft agreement until the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference, which has been postponed from July 2021 in Kazakhstan to November 2021 in Geneva;
  • The European Commission has published its strategy for “Europe’s Digital Decade” on 9 March 2021. The President of the EU Commission and various Commissioners explained details of the strategy in numerous speeches;
  • The Ad hoc Committee on Artificial Intelligence (CAHAI) of the Council of Europe gave more details of its work schedule for preparing a draft for a legal instrument at its plenary session on 9 February 2021;
  • The consultations on the draft by the Ad hoc Expert Group (AHEG) of a legal instrument on the “ethics of artificial intelligence” within the scope of UNESCO were continued at various regional conferences in the first quarter of 2021. The recommendation is planned to be adopted at the 41st session of the General Conference of UNESCO in November 2021;
  • In January 2021 and in March 2021, ITU held two conference series of the ITU Council Working Groups and of the ITU Study Groups. Proposals submitted by Russia to put the management of critical Internet resources back on the ITU agenda were not supported by a majority (ITU-CWG Internet). The Chinese proposal concerning a new Internet protocol was rejected (ITU Study Group 13). The annual WSIS Forum of ITU will again be held as an online event in May 2021;
  • The office of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media has published a podcast series in March 2021 on the issue “Artificial Intelligence and Freedom of Expression”. The expert conference on this topic scheduled for the first quarter of 2021 was postponed to 5 April 2021;
  • At the meeting of the NATO Ministers of Foreign Affairs on 16 March 2021, the attendants once again pointed out the dangers of hybrid warfare. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg explained details of the NATO strategy on cyber security in several speeches in Q1/2021.

Multistakeholder level

At the multistakeholder and non-state-level, the following major activities and events in the first quarter of 2021 are particularly worth mentioning:

  • Preparations for the 17th IGF in December 2021 in Katowice, Poland, have started with the MAG Open Consultations from 22 to 24 January 2021. The IGF MAG Strategy Group has submitted proposals for an IGF+ (Multistakeholder High Level Body & IGF Parliamentarian Track);
  • On 1 January 2021, Finland took over the chairmanship of the Freedom Online Coalition (FOC). To mark the 10th anniversary of the FOC, a ministerial conference is to be held in Helsinki in December 2021;
  • The 2021 World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos was held under the headline “The Davos Agenda” from 25 to 29 January 2021. Speakers included UN Secretary-General António Guterres, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen;
  • The 2021 Munich Security Conference (MSC) took place on 18 February 2021 as a virtual meeting. Speakers included US President Joe Biden, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and UN Secretary-General António Guterres, who all included the topic of cyber security in their speeches;
  • The Global Forum on Cyberexpertise (GFCE) signed a two-year contract with the African Union on 8 March 2021 for education and training for governments and diplomats;
  • The Charter of Trust (COT), initiated by Siemens, published a statement on the new EU Cyber Security Directive (NIS-2) on 25 March 2021, criticising the planned rules for oversight and reporting obligations;
  • The Tech Accord, initiated by Microsoft, published a statement on ICANN's EDPD on 16 February 2021, complaining about the restricted access to WHOIS data;
  • Freedom House has stated in its 2021 annual report that there is a further dismantling of freedoms on the Internet. 54 countries, home to a third of the world’s population, are described as “not free”;
  • RightsCon will take place for the tenth time in June 2021. The program was published on 1 March 2021
  • The Lisbon Web Summit is planned to be held as a physical meeting from 1 to 4 November 2021. 100,000 participants are expected to attend;
  • On 12 February 2021, the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFTC) submitted a proposal for a “hash-sharing taxonomy framework” to take more nuanced action against terrorist and extremist content on the Internet;
  • The Oversight Board appointed by Facebook announced its first decisions on 28 January 2021. It is unclear how the large number of cases will be handled in the future. At the end of the 1st quarter of 2021, 30,000 cases were pending;
  • Membership in the Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence (GPAI) has grown to 19 with Brazil, the Netherlands, Poland and Spain joining;
  • The CyberPeace Institute in Geneva published a study on 9 March 2021 dealing with hacker attacks on medical facilities.
"We must shape the rules that will govern the advance of technology and the norms of behavior in cyberspace, artificial intelligence, biotechnology so that they are used to lift people up, not used to pin them down.  We must stand up for the democratic values that make it possible for us to accomplish any of this, pushing back against those who would monopolize and normalize repression. Democracy doesn’t happen by accident.  We have to defend it, fight for it, strengthen it, renew it.  We have to prove that our model isn’t a relic of our history; it’s the single best way to revitalize the promise of our future.  And if we work together with our democratic partners, with strength and confidence, I know that we’ll meet every challenge and outpace every challenger. You know, we must prepare together for a long-term strategic competition with China. How the United States, Europe, and Asia work together to secure the peace and defend our shared values and advance our prosperity across the Pacific will be among the most consequential efforts we undertake. Competition with China is going to be stiff. That’s what I expect, and that’s what I welcome, because I believe in the global system Europe and the United States, together with our allies in the Indo-Pacific, worked so hard to build over the last 70 years. We can own the race for the future.  But to do so, we have to be clear-eyed about the historic investments and partnerships that this will require.  We have to protect the space for innovation, for intellectual property, and the creative genius that thrives with the free exchange of ideas in open, democratic societies.  We have to ensure that the benefits of growth are shared broadly and equitably, not just by a few. We have to push back against the Chinese government’s economic abuses and coercion that undercut the foundations of the international economic system.  Everyone — everyone — must play by the same rules."

Joe Biden, President of the United States - Virtual Munich Security Conference, 19 February 2021

"The storming on the U.S. Capitol was a turning point for our discussion on the impact social media have on our democracies. This is what happens when words incite action. In a world where polarising opinions are the most likely to be heard, it is only a short step from crude conspiracy theories to the death of police officers. In December, the Commission launched the Digital Services Act and the Digital Markets Act – our new framework for the digital market. Of course, imposing democratic limits on the uncontrolled power of the big tech companies alone will not stop political violence. But it is an important step. At its most basic, we want to make sure that what is illegal offline is also illegal online. And we want clear requirements that internet firms take responsibility for the content they distribute, promote and remove. Because we just cannot leave decisions, which have a huge impact on our democracies, to computer programmes without any human supervision or to the board rooms in Silicon Valley. Today, I want to invite our American friends to join our initiatives. Together, we could create a digital economy rulebook that is valid worldwide. A set of rules based on our values: human rights and pluralism, inclusion and the protection of privacy. We need to join forces and protect these values with all our energy. A more and more assertive China has shown robust economic growth in 2020 – despite the pandemic. And a more and more defiant Russia continues to breach international rules at home and abroad – despite growing protests of its own citizens. It is up to us, the United States and Europe, to strengthen our cooperation again. As proven and trusted partners. As indispensable allies. Shoulder to shoulder. Because if we lead the way, this is not only about joining forces. This is a signal to the world."

Ursula von der Leyen, President of the EU Commission

"Wild West behaviour in cyberspace has created new vectors of instability. … We need to ease geopolitical tensions and enhance diplomacy for peace. We cannot solve the biggest problems when the biggest powers are at odds. Our world cannot afford a future where the two largest economies split the globe into two opposing areas in a Great Fracture — each with its own dominant currency and trade and financial rules, its own Internet and its artificial intelligence capacity and strategy.  A technological and economic divide risks turning into a geo-strategic and military divide.  We must avoid this at all costs. We need a ceasefire beyond traditional battlefields: In homes, workplaces, schools and public transportation, where women and girls face an epidemic of violence. And in cyberspace, where attacks of all kinds are happening every day.  Digital technologies must be a force for good — and that requires also a total ban on lethal autonomous weapons, the most dangerous dimension that artificial intelligence can bring to the future of war. It is time to re-define global governance for the 21st century. The collective security arrangements agreed more than 75 years ago have prevented a third world war. Our common principles must endure for the 21st century. That means ensuring new ways to deliver global public goods, to build a fair globalization and solve common challenges. We do not need new bureaucracies.  But we need to strengthen multilateralism, a networked multilateralism that links global and regional organizations, economic and political entities, and an inclusive multilateralism that engages businesses, cities, universities and movements for gender equality, climate action and racial justice. And a multilateralism that respects the rights of future generations. Many believe that growing multipolarity in the world will guarantee by itself peace. But let us heed history. More than a century ago, Europe was multipolar – but there were no multilateral governance mechanisms. The result was the First World War."

António Guterrres, UN Secretary-General

  1. Alaska summit: China tells US not to underestimate Beijing’s will to safeguard national dignity, in: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aj_N5yODoNk
  2. Quad Leaders’ Joint Statement: The Spirit of the Quad, 12. März 2021: „We will launch a critical- and emerging-technology working group to facilitate cooperation on international standards and innovative technologies of the future“, in: https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/03/12/quad-leaders-joint-statement-the-spirit-of-the-quad//a>
  3. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to media questions following talks with Foreign Minister of China Wang Yi, Guilin, 23. März 2021, in: https://www.mid.ru/en/foreign_policy/news/-/asset_publisher/cKNonkJE02Bw/content/id/4647898/a>
  4. A Cybersecurity Agreement Between Russia & Iran, 26. Januar 2021, in: https://dfnc.ru/en/cyber/a-cybersecurity-agreement-between-russia-iran//a>; siehe auch: The Iran-Russia Cyber Agreement and U.S. Strategy in the Middle East, US Council of Foreign Relations, 15. März 2021, in: https://www.cfr.org/blog/iran-russia-cyber-agreement-and-us-strategy-middle-east/a>
  5. Dave Burstein, 0B China-Iran Deal Includes a $Billion 4G-5G Network, Most Likely Huawei, CircleID, 3. April 2021, in: https://www.circleid.com/posts/20210403-400b-china-iran-deal-includes-a-billion-4g-5g-network//a>
  6. The Endangered Asian Century America, China, and the Perils of Confrontation, Lee Hsien Loong, Foreign Affairs, Juli/August 2020, in: https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/asia/2020-06-04/lee-hsien-loong-endangered-asian-century/a>
  7. Juan Ortiz Freuler, The case for a digital non-aligned movement, Berkan Center Harvard Law School, in: https://cyber.harvard.edu/story/2020-06/case-digital-non-aligned-movement/a>
  8. The Next Phase of U.S.-Chinese Relations A Conversation With Kevin Rudd, Foreign Affairs, 12. Februar 2021, in: https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/2021-02-12/next-phase-us-chinese-relations/a>

Wolfgang Kleinwächter

Professor Emeritus of Internet Policy & Regulation at Aarhus University