The regular Geneva Internet Platform webinar briefings on Internet governance, which summarise the main developments of each month and explore upcoming developments, resumed in January.
For the first time, local hubs – currently being formed in different regions worldwide – were invited to share their regional perspectives. The Rio de Janeiro hub, hosted by the Center for Technology and Society of the Getulio Vargas Foundation School of Law, joined the briefing in January. More hubs are expected to join upcoming briefings.
During the briefing, which was also attended by online participants worldwide, DiploFoundation director and GIP head Dr Jovan Kurbalija highlighted the main developments in January, and the findings of the IG Barometer for the month.
Main events in January 2016
The main events which took place in January were:
A more detailed list of events is available on the GIP Digital Watch observatory.
Main developments during the month
The major building blocks of the global IG architecture laid down in Tunis in 2005 were reiterated and strengthened with the WSIS+10 review process which culminated in New York in December 2015. The main focus this year will be on how to strengthen the IGF, given that its mandate was extended for another 10 years.
Strongly related to the WSIS+10 review are the consultations on enhanced cooperation which are taking place within the UN Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD). Mr Peter Major, UN CSTD chair, summarised the outcomes of the CSTD Intersessional meeting in January, which discussed the newly-proposed Working Group on Enhanced Cooperation. The WSIS+10 outcome document requested the chair to set up the working group which is ‘to develop recommendations on how to further implement enhanced cooperation as envisioned by the Tunis Agenda, taking into consideration the work that has been done on this matter so far. The group, which shall be constituted no later than July 2016, will decide at the outset on its methods of work, including modalities, and will ensure the full involvement of all relevant stakeholders, taking into account all their diverse views and expertise.’
Also in relation to the global architecture, the World Economic Forum’s report on Internet Fragmentation cautions that technical, governmental, and commercial challenges could lead to fragmentation if left unattended. The report, published in January, signals stronger involvement of WEF in future activities on digital space.
When it comes to sustainable development, Dr Kurbalija recalled the adoption of the 17 sustainable development goals in September 2015, and explained the relevance of another report published in January: the World Bank’s report on Digital Dividends, which addresses some of core digital policy issues, including how to adjust global governance to emerging business models. Despite their huge potential, digital dividends are not shared equally; the World Bank proposes analogue solutions to tackle this challenge. Read more about the WEF and World Bank reports in Issue 7 of the Geneva Digital Watch newsletter.
Security remained highly prominent in January. The start of the year was not as eventful as last year’s, with the exception of targeted cyberattacks in Ukraine. In the USA, one of the first important events of the year was the security officials’ meeting with tech companies in San Jose, California. The meeting looked at ways of making it harder for extremists and terrorists to use the Internet for propaganda. Encryption was the subject of debate in relation to the UK’s so-called Snooper’s Charter. Companies stressed that encryption was a fundamental security tool; the message was reiterated in an open letter to governments worldwide.
Two court judgments dominated the discussions on privacy. In Barbulescu vs Romania, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that employers may read private communications made during office hours, to verify whether they were completing their professional tasks during working hours. In Szabo vs Hungary, the same court ruled that Hungary’s surveillance of private individuals on anti-terror grounds was illegal. In 2016, one of the major developments will come from the Court of Justice of the European Union’s anticipated ruling on the question of Uber, requested by Spain: whether Uber is ‘merely a transport service or must it be considered to be an electronic intermediary service or an information society service.’ The ruling will have far-reaching consequences on emerging business models.
One of the main developments related to infrastructure was the EU’s proposal on radio spectrum, expected in February. In fact, the European Commission’s proposal was presented on 2 February, and aims to boost mobile internet services with high-quality radio frequencies.
In January, while the World Bank’s report raised concerns over the protection of net neutrality principles, the Council of Europe adopted a recommendation on the protection and promotion of freedom of expression and the right to a private life with regard to net neutrality, in that users’ rights should not be restricted by means of blocking, slowing down, or discriminating Internet traffic. Controversy continues to surround Facebook’s Free Basics service, which is now banned in India and Egypt.
Heated debates on e-commerce-related areas are also taking place. USA is debating a permanent ban on Internet access taxes, whereas Indian intermediaries are seeking tax exemptions for start-ups. Pakistan is being urged to remove taxes on broadband and data services.
Concerns over Uber’s emerging business model hit the streets in Europe, as taxi drivers launched protests in France.
When it comes to jurisdiction, the EU Data Protection Regulation will put the ‘one-stop-shop’ approach in motion, through which companies with operations in more than one EU country will be regulated by the national Data Protection Authority in that country where the company has its ‘main establishment’. Also in the EU, the new Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) Platform was launched in January.
Meanwhile, implementation efforts are under way, as work needs to be completed for the IANA transition to occur. While the US National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is likely to accept the transition proposal, the reaction of the US Congress is less certain, especially if the issue gets politicised during the 2016 Presidential campaign.
Ms Marilia Maciel and Mr Luca Belli, from the Center for Technology and Society of the Getulio Vargas Foundation School of Law (CTS-FGV), shared regional perspectives on behalf of the Rio de Janeiro hub. A vivid discussion – which sought to connect global developments with regional ones– took place within the hub right before the briefing.
A Brazilian judge’s decision, in December, to block Whatsapp for 48 hours after the company failed to cooperate fully with investigations, triggered controversy over legal cooperation and jurisdiction. Although the temporary ban was lifted after 12 hours, major disruptions took place in Brazil due to the high number of people who use the app for day-to-day communications. How can one ensure that measures related to legal cooperation are proportionate, and how can cooperation frameworks be strengthened?
The Whatsapp incident triggered a call for stricter regulation of over-the-top (OTT) services. Consultations are ongoing in Brazil: on one hand, it is believed that differences in regulatory obligations between OTT and telecom providers should be bridged. On the other, OTT service providers are in favour of deregulation.
Perhaps a bigger concern is the ongoing consultations (which have now entered a new phase) over proposed amendments to the Brazilian Civil Rights Framework for the Internet, also known as the Marco Civil Da Internet. More developments are expected in the coming weeks.
Ahead in February
The main events taking place in February are:
A more detailed list of events, and more information about each event, is available on GIP Digital Watch.
View the recording of the briefing to listen to the Q&A session; participants raised questions related to the ECHR judgments, the World Economic Forum meeting, and the departure of ICANN’s CEO. Download the presentation.
The next webinar briefing – Internet governance developments in February – will take place on Tuesday, 23rd February. Registrations are now open. More hubs are expected to join upcoming briefings. Join your nearest hub or establish a hub in your local community.