Internet companies’ behaviour under scrutiny, governments exerting more pressure on companies to remove illegal content, and new legal measures planned to tackle fake news were among the main digital policy developments in January 2018.
These and other developments, trends, and regional updates were the subject of January’s just-in-time briefing on Internet governance – our monthly appointment on the last Tuesday of every month – which took place on 30 January 2018. They were also summarised in the Internet Governance Barometer for January, and in Issue 27 of the Geneva Digital Watch newsletter, published on 31 January 2018.
Ms Roxana Radu, Programme Manager at the Geneva Internet Platform and Internet Governance Associate at DiploFoundation, gave an overview of some of the events that were held in January, such as the MAPPING Surveillance Event in Rome, the 3rd meeting of the ITU Expert Group on the International Telecommunication Regulations and the CSTD Working Group on Enhanced Cooperation in Geneva, the World Economic Forum Annual (WEF) meeting in Davos, and the State of the Net Conference in Washington DC. She then spoke about the main digital policy updates of the month, including the launch of a Global Centre for Cybersecurity, by the WEF; the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development setting new targets for connecting the unconnected population by 2025; Japan and Estonia announcing that they will strengthen their cooperation on cybersecurity; Apple setting up a new data storage centre in China to comply with the country’s rules; and Google planning to build three submarine cables in 2019.
Continuing the briefing, Ms Marilia Maciel, Digital Policy Senior Researcher at DiploFoundation, gave an overview of the top trends in digital policy in January:
- Internet companies’ behaviour scrutinised. At the WEF meeting, world leaders and the private sector discussed digital opportunities and challenges. The ‘rise and monopolistic behaviour of the giant IT platform companies’ (as outlined by philanthropist George Soros) were among the main concerns raised.
- More pressure to remove illegal content. In Germany, a new law requires Internet platforms with more than two million users to proactively report and delete unlawful content. In the UK, the Home Office Minister called Internet companies ‘ruthless profiteers’, which cost government extensive resources when they fail to assist in the identification and removal of online extremism. The EU Home Affairs Commissioner called on Internet platforms to remove illegal content within two hours.
- New legal measures planned to tackle fake news. In a message for the World Communications Day, Pope Francis condemned ‘manipulative use of social networks’ and other forms of communications. The UK Prime Minister announced the creation of an anti-fake news unit tasked with combating discrimination. The French President announced plans for a new law through which judges will be able to block a website or account, especially during elections, and oblige Internet platforms to reveal the names behind the sponsored content.
- Taxation for Internet companies in focus again. Bloomberg revealed that Google shielded billions in revenue through a tax-avoidance scheme. In Davos, Google’s CEO said the company was ready to pay higher amounts of tax, but the issue was rather on where it should be paid. The Supreme Court of the USA will revisit a 1992 tax ruling which had made the Internet a largely ‘tax-free zone’ in the USA. The OECD and the European Commission are expected to issue their reports on tax measures in the first few months of 2018.
- Predicting the digital policy year ahead. January is typically the month when we look back at past trends and predict the ones for the year ahead. The Geneva Internet Platform joined this trend with two reports. The Top 20 Developments in 2017 provides an overview of the main developments that shaped digital policy last year. The Top 10 Predictions for 2018 outline key areas to observe closely this year: the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), digital politics of cybersecurity, digital trade and Internet economy, courts as makers of digital rules, artificial intelligence, cryptocurrencies, content policy, net neutrality, encryption, and ICANN developments.
During the interactive section of the briefing, several issues were discussed: enhanced cooperation and the status of discussions within the dedicated CSTD Working Group (which was having its meeting at the time of the briefing); an update on the work of the Freedom Online Coalition; ICANN’s efforts to ensure compliance between its WHOIS policy and the GDPR; what fake news and illegal content are, where we draw boundaries between one and another; the relationship between Internet of things and e-commerce; and how to deal with the rising cyber-threats, at national and international level.
Jacob Odame-Baiden gave an overview of several digital policy developments from Africa. The government of Ghana announced that it would complete the Digital Terrestrial Television Switch nationwide by the second quarter of 2018. In Kenya, the pilot phase of the project Interoperability among mobile money platforms was launched; its implementation will allow Kenyans to transfer funds across the networks of three major mobile money platforms. Preparations are ongoing for the Internet of Things Forum Africa, to be held on 14–15 March 2018, in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Providing updates from the Caribbean region, Wanda M. Pérez Peña started by speaking about the 21st Century Government programme, which aims to digitalise public services in the Caribbean. In St Lucia, the government initiated a project focused on providing free Internet access across the island. Authorities in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) announced plans for a specialised communications system that would maintain contact between the four main islands if traditional telecommunications networks go down.
Shita Laksmi provided updates from Asia, with a focus on Indonesia, where a National Cyber and Encryption Agency was established. Some key functions of the agency include developing, implementing, monitoring, and evaluating technical policies to act upon critical cyber issues, such as e-commerce, encryption, filtering, and cyber diplomacy.
Noha Fathy gave an overview of digital policy developments from Middle East and North Africa. In Iran, there were reports about Internet disruptions measures taken by the government. In Tunisia, the Ministry of Interior withdrew the biometrics identification bill from the Assembly of the Representatives of the People, following requests from members of the parliament to amend the draft law. The Arab Centre for Social Media Advancement published a report on the Internet Freedoms in Palestine: Mapping of Digital Rights Violations and Threats, focusing on the challenges to the telecommunications infrastructure and the violations to digital rights by state and non-state actors in Palestine.