The European Commission’s plans for shaping Europe’s digital future, the interplay between health and digital technologies, and cybersecurity in international discussions were among the main digital policy trends in February 2020.
These and many other developments, trends and regional updates were covered during January’s just-in-time briefing on Internet governance – our monthly roundup on the last Tuesday of every month – which took place on 25 February 2020. They will also be summarised in the Internet Governance Barometer for February and in Issue 47 of the Geneva Internet Platform (GIP) Digital Watch newsletter.
The briefing was led by DiploFoundation’s Director of Cybersecurity and E-diplomacy Programmes Vladimir Radunović. He was joined by independent consultant Sorina Teleanu, DiploFoundation’s Research Officer Natasa Perućica, and DiploFoundation’s Multimedia Co-ordinator Arvin Kamberi.
A look back at the events in February 2020
Radunović spoke about the major Internet governance events in February, including:
- 6-7 Feb | Freedom Online Conference - Accra 2020
- 10-14 Feb | Second substantive session of the OEWG (New York)
- 14-16 Feb | Munich Security Conference
- 24-28 Feb | Second session of the GGE (Geneva)
- 25-26 Feb | UNLOCK Blockchain 2020 Forum (Abu Dhabi)
Main developments in February 2020
Radunović highlighted the main developments in the past month, such as:
- The IGF 2020 and its plans to tackle environmental issues.
- UNECA has urged African states to speed up digital development.
- Russia was behind the 2019 cyber-attack on Georgia, claimed UK, US, Netherlands.
- The Philippines has joined ongoing plurilateral negotiations on e-commerce.
- The USA has issued a new 45-day extension allowing Huawei to buy technology from US companies.
- Sweden started testing its central bank digital currency, e-crona. Kamberi briefly took the floor to explain that this is part of a wider trend, pushed by the emergence of China’s digital yuan.
- Facial recognition company Clearview AI remains under scrutiny due to privacy concerns.
- New Internet shutdowns were reported in Myanmar.
- A Russian court has fined Twitter and Facebook for breaching the country’s data localisation regulations.
- The proposed .org registry sale remains controversial.
- The European Commission published a White Paper on AI and the European Strategy for Data.
- Australia has published a national blockchain roadmap.
Main trends in February 2020
1. ‘Shaping Europe’s digital future’: The European Commission’s plans
The European Commission presented three policy documents outlining its objectives and plans to create ‘A Europe fit for the digital age’. A Communication on Shaping Europe’s Digital Future presented objectives and plans for the EU to become a ‘trusted digital leader’. A White Paper on Artificial Intelligence (AI) explores several policy options aimed at enabling the trustworthy and secure development of AI in Europe. The European Strategy for Data outlines plans for a European data space that would make the EU a leader in the data economy. Both the AI white paper and the data strategy are under public consultation.
2. The interplay between health and digital technologies
The outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19) brought the close interplay between the digital and health sectors into sharper focus. Digital technologies have been crucial in the efforts to control the spread of the virus, in addressing the spread of misinformation online, and in helping authorities and experts share reliable information. This is just one example of how digital technologies are being used in the healthcare sector. AI is increasingly used in medical research and healthcare: AI helped discover a new antibiotic, and a recent study showed that the AI outperformed radiologists in breast cancer detection. The EU’s White Paper on Artificial Intelligence identifies healthcare as one of the ‘high-risk’ sectors for AI applications that require new regulations. The European Commission also announced plans to create a Common Health Data Space, to facilitate the sharing and use of data in the health sector.
3. Cybersecurity features in international discussions
Cybersecurity was high on the international agenda in February. The Munich Security Conference, a high-level conference dedicated to international security, only had one session dedicated to cybersecurity. However, many discussions throughout the conference were linked to technology. High-level leaders discussed the international security implications of cybersecurity, AI, misinformation, and big data across security fields. This is a clear sign that cybersecurity is becoming a topic of mainstream and high-level concern.
Debates over rules, norms, and principles for responsible state behaviour in cyberspace continued within the framework of the Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) and the Group of Governmental Experts (GGE), as both groups held their second substantive sessions in February. The OEWG discussions revealed that countries remain divided on key questions: Whether existing norms are sufficient for the current cyber landscape and how (and does) international law apply in cyberspace. The OEWG has until September 2021 to finalise its report for the UN General Assembly. The details of the GGE discussions are not yet public. The GGE will have its third session in August, and its fourth and final session in May 2021. However, the group has until September 2021 to finalise its report for the UN General Assembly.
Events in March
Radunović gave an overview of upcoming major Internet governance events, including:
- 24 February – 20 March | Human Rights Council - 43rd Regular Session (Geneva, Switzerland)
- 5 March | European AI Policy Conference (Brussels, Belgium)
- 7–12 March | ICANN 67 (online)
- 9–10 March | Crypto Assets Conference 2020 (Frankfurt, Germany)
- 16–17 March | AI Summit 2020 (Brussels, Belgium)
- 17–18 March | Blockchain Expo Global 2020 (London, UK)
- 23–27 March | 23rd Session of the Commission on Science and Technology for Development (Geneva, Switzerland)
- 24–25 March | 7th Middle East DNS Forum (Riyadh, Saudi Arabia)
Updates from GIP & DiploFoundation
Radunovic also highlighted upcoming GIP and DiploFoundation activities:
- 2 March | March Digital Watch newsletter
- 3 March | [WebDebate] The UN beyond the West: How do countries from the Global South make their mark?
- 13 March | The road to Bern via Geneva – Second Dialogue: Protecting data against vulnerabilities: Questions of trust, security, and privacy of data
- 19 March | Data 2025 Conference - The Graduate Institute (IHEID)
- 31 March | Our next digital policy briefing
Amrita Choudhury provided updates from Asia. Pakistan introduced new rules for social media companies, China used AI to screen subway passengers for coronavirus symptoms, and Australia launched a booklet to help protect children online.
Dennis Foncham Doh gave updates from Africa. An entrepreneur started an open-source technology called Trees of Knowledge in Zimbabwe. Facebook worked with nine partners across Africa for a better Internet on Safer Internet Day.
Nona Fathy provided developments from the Middle East and North Africa. The World Bank Group launched initiatives that support women entrepreneurs in the Middle East. The International Data Corporation published a report on government spending in the Middle East and North Africa on ICTs.
Andre Edwards presented updates from the Caribbean. Estonian Cybernetica and Cloud Carib partnered to implement a secure data exchange in the Caribbean. The British Virgin Islands passed a cybercrime law.