Current happenings in the Internet governance context October to December 2019:
The most important event in the global Internet governance discussion in the fourth quarter of 2019 was the 14th Internet Governance Forum in Berlin. Featuring 7,000 participants – 50 percent of these remote – more than 200 sessions, and a broad range of tangible outcomes, it was the largest and most successful IGF since the forum was launched in 2006. Particularly the discussion how to implement the recommendations of the UN High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation with a view to the 75th anniversary of the United Nations on 24 October 2020 and the keynotes of UN Secretary-General António Guterres and German Chancellor Angela Merkel marked a new political dimension of the IGF.
Other events of political relevance for the evolution of the global Internet governance ecosystem in the fourth quarter of 2019 included
- The adoption of the UN resolution by the 74th Session of the UN General Assembly to create a new intergovernmental working group with the mandate to elaborate a convention how to combat cybercrime (December 2019)
- The resolution of the 24th UNESCO General Conference to start working out a normative instrument concerning artificial intelligence (November 2019)
- The presentation of the final report of the Global Commission on Stability in Cyberspace (GCSC) at the Paris Peace Forum, which proposes to develop a norm to protect the public core of the Internet (November 2019)
The adoption of the “Contract for the Web” of the World Wide Web Foundation within the framework of the 14th Annual Meeting of the IGF in Berlin (November 2019)
As to the four large baskets of the global Internet governance ecosystem, the following activities and events in the fourth quarter of 2019 are particular worth mentioning:
In the field of cyber security, the UNO and its subsidiary organisations and working groups are taking an ever more prominent role. This applies in particular to the two groups newly founded in 2018, the Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) and the 6th Group of Governmental Experts (UNGGE6), which operate under the 1st Committee of the UN General Assembly (Disarmament and International Security). Both groups are discussing norms for responsible state behaviour in cyberspace and confidence- and capacity-building measures in cyberspace (CBMCs). In the background, the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) and the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA), both based in Geneva, work to coordinate the constantly expanding cyber security agenda of the UN. UNODA has been chaired by Under-Secretary General Izumu Nakamitsu since 2017, who is steadily gaining international reputation. Next to the negotiations concerning peace and international security, the UNO is developing a network of negotiations and instruments for combating cyber crime and cyber terrorism; these include the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI), the UN Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNDC) and the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism (UNOTC). New to this group is the planned intergovernmental UN committee designed to draft a cybercrime convention; it will operate under the 3rd Committee of the UN General Assembly (Social, Humanitarian & Cultural Issues). The following activities stood out in the fourth quarter of 2019:
- The 74th session of the UN General Assembly decided on 24 December to establish a new committee (open-ended ad hoc intergovernmental committee of experts) that will have the mandate to draft a UN convention how to combat crime in cyberspace;
- From 2 to 4 December 2019, the Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) held an Informal Intersessional Meeting in New York. It was the first time for governments and non-state actors to conduct a structured, open dialog on an equal footing about peace and international security within the framework of the UNO;
- The 6th UN Group of Governmental Experts (UNGGE6) held its first official meeting from 8 to 13 December2019 in New York. The focus of the meeting was on the reports of the five regional consultations UNGGE had held with OSCE, AU, ASEAN, OAS and the EU.
- The report by the chair of the Group of Governmental Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (GGE LAWS) of 8 November 2019 included a work schedule for 2020 and 2021;
- At the NATO Summit in London on 3 and 4 December 2019, the heads of state or government confirmed the strategy that had chosen to improve NATO’s capabilities to respond to cyber attacks;
- The African Union (AU) founded a new African Union Cybersecurity Expert Group (AUCSEG) on 12 December 2019;
At the 7th INTERPOL-Europol Conference (9 to 11 October in The Hague), a new campaign to prevent cybercrime and a program to raise public awareness of the risks posed by cybercrime was launched under the name “#BECareful”.
In the field of digital economy, digital commerce, digital tax, digital currency and the digital dimension of the UN's sustainable development goals (SDGs) are emerging as central issues of conflict. The World Trade Organization (WTO) is increasingly becoming the place where such discussions are held. Negotiations are primarily prepared by the OECD and the G20 ministerial conferences. The following activities stood out in the fourth quarter of 2019:
- Digital trade (Osaka Track): The moratorium on not imposing tax on e-commerce dating back to 1998 was extended by another six months in December 2019 and will stay valid until the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference (Nursultan, Kazakhtan, June 2020).
- Digital tax: In October 2019, the OECD put up a proposal for public discussion to introduce a global mechanism for imposing a digital tax. This was also an issue on the agenda of the G20 Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Nagoya in November. It further is one of the priorities of the 2020 work program presented by the Saudi-Arabian G20 Presidency on 1 December 2019. On 21 December 2019, the European Parliament adopted a resolution that requests Europe to take a unilateral approach if no global regulation for introducing a digital tax is in place by the end of 2020;
- Cryptocurrency: Facebook is facing new obstacles in its project designed to introduce a new Internet-based cryptocurrency (LIBRA). Some private partners, like PayPal, Visa, Mastercard and eBay, left the consortium. The Swiss government rejected a first application for a licence to use the payment system in Switzerland.
- Digitalisation and SDGs: UNO, ITU and UNESCO are urging that the implementation of the decisions of the UN World Summit on the Information Society be more closely linked to activities aimed at achieving the UN's sustainable development goals, particularly in view of the WSIS Review Conference planned for 2025 (WSIS+20);
Digital issues were not in the limelight when human rights were discussed in the 3rd Committee of the 74th Session of the UN General Assembly (October to December 2019). No special resolutions were adopted on the freedom of expression and privacy in the digital age. Proposals by the two Special Rapporteurs of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC), David Kaye and Joe Catenacci, for developing new instruments of international law, such as the prohibition of mass surveillance without cause, continue to meet with rejection by the majority of the HRC's members. While in the areas of cyber security and the digital economy a shift in discussion from non-governmental to governmental bodies can be observed, there is an opposite trend in the area of human rights: In intergovernmental bodies, Internet-relevant human rights issues are moving to the margins, while NGOs (Reporters without Borders, Freedom House, Human Rights Watch, etc.) are increasingly putting them in the forefront.
The activities in the field of new technologies continued to focus on artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things and 5G in the fourth quarter of 2019. The development of technical standards, e.g. for face and speech recognition, smart cities, DNS and e-mail protocols are ever more often discussed in politically controversial debates. The following activities stood out in the fourth quarter of 2019:
- The 40th Session of the UNESCO’s General Conference gave the green light for elaborating a normative instrument on the ethics of artificial intelligence.
- The Council of Europe, the UNESCO and the World Economic Forum Davos (WEF) published various new studies on the ethics and human-rights dimensions of artificial intelligence.
- The standardisation issues concerning the Internet of Things that are discussed in the ITU-T study groups 16 and 20 (in particular with regard to smart cities and face recognition) are becoming increasingly political.
The transaction of the .org domain, i.e. the sale of the Public Internet Registry (PIR) by ISOC to Ethos Capital, prompted a controversial debate about the role of the so-called I*organisations (ISOC, IETF, ICANN, NRO etc.) and their responsibility for the public interest on the Internet.
The trend that has been observed for several years to discuss more and more issues of the Internet governance ecosystem in intergovernmental bodies, continued in the fourth quarter of 2019. The statement made in the report of the UN High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation that (intergovernmental) multilateralism and multistakeholderism (of non-state actors) are not opposites but two sides of the same coin mirrors the new reality, although it is reflected in different ways in the various subject areas: Governmental bodies dominate the discussion on cyber security and the digital economy and hold back on human rights, but are increasingly trying to gain influence in the technical standardisation organisations in order to take the lead in discussions on topics such as artificial intelligence, Internet of Things and especially 5G. The picture is therefore very different for the individual subject areas when it comes to "enhanced multistakeholder cooperation”.
At the inter-governmental level, the following major activities and events in the fourth quarter of 2019 are particular worth mentioning:
- The 74th Session of the UN General Assembly, which adopted a total of six resolutions concerning digital issues in New York in December 2019.
- The 40th Session of the UNESCO General Conference, which decided in Paris in November 2019 to develop a normative instrument for artificial intelligence and gave the starting signal for the preparation of the WSIS Review Conference (WSIS+20) in 2025.
- The World Trade Organization (WTO), which decided on 10 December 2019 in Geneva to extend the moratorium on not imposing tax on e-commerce dating back to 1998 until the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference.
- The OECD, which put up a proposal for public discussion in Paris in October 2019 to introduce a global mechanism for imposing a digital tax.
- The ITU World Radiocommunication Conference, which adopted important standards in Sharm el-Sheikh in November 2019 for the future of mobile and satellite communication, including 5G.
- The G20 Presidency, which passed on to Saudi Arabia on 1 December 2019 and which will make digital trade and digital tax central issues of negotiation.
- The 11th BRICS Summit in Brasília on 13 and 14 November that commented again on cyber security and digital economy, however without making any concrete decisions.
- The European Union, where the European Parliament adopted a resolution in Strasbourg in December 2019 that requests Europe to take a unilateral approach if no global regulation for introducing a digital tax is in place by the end of 2020.
- The Council of Europe, which published two new studies by expert groups in October 2019 on artificial intelligence and related responsibilities as well as on legal aspects of hate speech on the Internet.
- The African Union, which established a new African body of experts for cyber security in Addis Ababa in November 2019.
- The NATO, which drew attention again at its London summit in December 2019 to the dangers in cyberspace and confirmed its strategy of an extended cyber defence.
The continued negotiations of cyber security issues in the Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG), the 6th Group of Governmental Experts (UNGGE6) and the Group of Governmental Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (GGE LAWS) in New York and Geneva.
At the multistakeholder level, the following major activities and events in the fourth quarter of 2019 are particular worth mentioning:
- The 14th Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Berlin in November 2019 was the largest and most successful IGF since the forum was launched in 2006.
- The 2nd Paris Peace Forum in November 2019 discussed how to implement the “Paris Call for Trust and Security in Cyberspace” issued in November 2018.
- The 6th World Internet Governance Conference (WIC), which has been organised by the Chinese government in Wuzhen since 2014, adopted a new “Wuzhen Outlook” that reflects the Chinese view on the latest developments of Internet governance.
The “Contract for the Web” initiated by the father of the web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, was signed on 23 November 2019 in Berlin, just before the start of the 14th IGF.
At the non-state level, the following major activities and in the fourth quarter of 2019 are particular worth mentioning:
- The Global Commission on Stability in Cyberspace (GCSC) presented its final report “Advancing Cyberstability” at the Paris Peace Forum (12 November 2019), at the IGF in Berlin (27 November 2019) and at the Informal Intersessional meeting of the OEWG in New York (4 December 2019).
- The World Economic Forum Davos (WEF) published two studies on cyber issues.
- The Munich Security Conference (MSC) held its annual Cyber Security Summit in Berlin in November 2019.
- The Global Forum on Cyber Expertise held its annual meeting in Addis Ababa in October 2019 and will be transferred into a foundation.
- The Lisbon Web Summit (November 2019) has evolved into one of the world’s largest Internet conferences with 70,000 attendants.
- The annual report by the Freedom Forum about the development of global freedom on the Internet titled “Freedom on the Net 2019: The Crisis of Social Media” observes growing censorship and restrictions on the Internet, in particular in the social media.
"We have to clarify what we mean when, on the one hand, we want to retain our digital sovereignty but, on the other, we want to act multilaterally, and not shut ourselves off. Of course digital sovereignty is very important. But it may be that we all have come to understand something different by that, even though we are using the same term. As I understand it, digital sovereignty does not mean protectionism, or that state authorities say what information can be disseminated – censorship, in other words; rather, it describes the ability both of individuals and of society to shape the digital transformation in a self-determined way. So, in the digital world as elsewhere, technological innovation has to be in the service of humanity, not the other way around. Having found success with the social market economy system, we in Germany know that technological innovations do not just happen, that companies do not simply evolve automatically, but that they always need parameters and guidelines. That was the case in the industrial revolution, and it will need to be the same in the internet age. In other words, we need sovereignty over what happens. And so, if we are convinced that isolationism is not an expression of sovereignty, but that we have to base our actions on a shared understanding and shared values, then precisely that – a commitment to a shared, free, open and secure global internet – is in fact an expression of sovereignty. Because what would the consequences be if we went down the road of isolationism? To my mind, the consequences of an increasingly fragmented internet can never be good. They can be many and varied, but never good. The global infrastructure could become unstable and vulnerable to attack. There would be more surveillance. The state would increasingly filter and censor information. Perhaps the internet and mobile phone networks would even be shut down in order to prevent the people from communicating. This means that an attack on internet connectivity, the foundation for a free and open internet, has become a dangerous political instrument. Many people have first-hand experience of what that’s like. Attacks like this can deprive the people of their fundamental rights to information and communication. This turns the idea underlying the internet, the idea of its inventors, completely on its head. And so we should all be determined to protect the heart of the internet as a global public good. We can only do that if we think again about the governance structures of this global network that links us all."
Angela Merkel, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, 14th UN Internet Governance Forum, Berlin, 26 November 2019