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Internet governance in September 2018

Published on 12 October 2018
Updated on 05 April 2024

Countries stepping up their cyber offensive capabilities, data governance debates intensifying, and the calls for modernisation of the World Trade Organization (WTO) continuing were among main digital policy developments in September 2018.

These and many other developments, trends, and regional updates were covered during September’s just-in-time briefing on Internet governance – our monthly appointment on the last Tuesday of every month – which took place on 25 September 2018. They were also summarised in the Internet Governance Barometer for September, and in Issue 34 of the Geneva Digital Watch newsletter, published on 2 October 2018.

Dr Stephanie Borg Psaila, interim director at DiploFoundation and editor of the GIP Digital Watch observatory, gave an overview of some of the events held in September 2018, such as the 39th Session of the UN Human Rights Council, and the first meeting of the UN High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation.

Dr Borg Psaila then spoke about the main digital policy updates in September, including: Internet governance in September 2018

  • the Court of Justice of the European Union hearing more than 70 submissions in seven hours of hearings as part of the legal procedures involving Google, the French data protection authority (CNIL), and the right to be delisted;
  • The European Parliament approving amendments to the EU Copyright Directive. The vote included two controversial points, enshrined in Articles 11 and 13, dubbed the ‘link tax’ (or ‘snippet tax’) and the ‘upload filter’, the essence of which have been largely retained in the amendments;
  • The European Commission proposing new rules to help ensure terrorist content online is swiftly removed. The new rules state that content must be taken down by Internet platforms within one hour of being notified by national authorities.

Dr Borg Psaila also gave an overview of top trends in digital policy in September:

  • Countries stepped up their cyber offensive capabilities. The White House’s first cybersecurity strategy in 15 years, outlines the close interplay between economy and security (not only does the strategy specify this, but it emerges clearly around issues such as data flows and theft of trade secrets), and introduces a new Cyber Deterrence Initiative. The new cyber strategy of the US Department of Defense (DoD) departs significantly from its 2015 strategy, calling upon the military to ‘defend forward’ and to ‘prepare for war’. Mr Vladimir Radunović, director of e-diplomacy and cybersecurity programmes at DiploFoundation, stressed that the new developments must be considered in the new context. Since the Cyber Command was elevated to a Unified Combatant Command in May 2018, and the White House reversed the Presidential Policy Directive 20, setting elaborate interagency processes for conducting offensive cyber-operations, and giving the DoD more flexibility in running cyber-attacks against foreign adversaries. According to the Head of the US Cyber Command, the US is turning to ‘persistent engagement’ which means being constantly engaged in a state of war. The new DoD strategy uses stricter and explicit language, introducing the term ‘defend forward’ understood as DoD penetrating others’ systems to either understand the adversaries better or disrupt and halt malicious cyber activity before it happens. “This is the first time that conducting preemptive strikes has been formally put in a document in such manner. Interestingly, US cybersecurity documents now also deal with online malign influence, information campaigns, and propaganda and disinformation; this was commonly part of the ‘information security’ concept used by Russia and its allies, and was among main differences in how US and Russia approach cybersecurity.” Mr Radunović has said. Regarding the Cyber Deterrence Initiative, Mr Radunović pointed out that it aims to create a coalition of like-minded countries to work on the attribution of, response to and (legal, political, diplomatic, financial, and military) consequences for conducting cyber-attacks, giving the term ‘deterrence’ the meaning of consequences in the broader cyber policy area.
  • Data governance debates intensified, largely due to a debate on the new draft e-commerce legislation in India, published past summer. The bill has been controversial due to its data localisation provisions, which require online retail firms to store user data in India. In recent years, arguments around data governance have been quite polarised, with some in favor of free data flow, and some in favor of data localisation. Debates this month continued to follow this trend.
  • Discussions on WTO modernisation continued, as the European Commission advanced a proposal aimed at strengthening the WTO, and the G20 trade ministers called for intensified dialogue and action toward uplifting the WTO system at their meeting. Ms Marilia Maciel, digital policy senior researcher at Diplo Foundation, explained that the European Commission’s proposal can be clustered under three main areas.  The first area is the modernisation of the rulebook of the WTO, making it more consistent with today’s digital economy. The current rules are not in accordance with the current reality of online trade. The second area is strengthening WTO’s monitoring powers and making the rules more transparent. Ms Maciel pointed out that Europe and the US are concerned about Chinese subsidies distorting trade and providing competitive advantage to Chinese companies. The third area of the proposal is overcoming the current deadlock of the dispute settlement system, with the seats of the appellate body being filled and having the appellate body function well. Ms Maciel explained that the G20 trade ministers also pointed out that the WTO needs to be reformed and measures need to be put in place swiftly, so that the WTO can remain the body which countries continue to address trade issues.

Among the topics discussed were the impact the European Commission’s proposed rules regarding removing terrorist content online will have on freedom of expression online; the multistakeholder approach of the new US cybersecurity strategy; the impact of future modernisation of the WTO on developing countries; and the extraterritorial effects of the right to be forgotten.

Dr Borg Psaila then spoke about the upcoming events in October, including the UN High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation: Virtual Town Hall Meeting, the WTO Public Forum, ICANN63 Annual General Meeting, and CyberMediation and the role of blockchain and AI.

Regional perspectives

Grace Mutung’u gave an overview of digital policy developments in Africa. The Zambian government approved introducing taxes on Internet calls to protect local telecom companies. Activists put pressure on Benin to abolish social media taxes imposed on ‘open Internet services’ which are not based in the country and therefore do not contribute to the local economy. Kenya introduced excise taxes of 15% on Internet services, and 20% on mobile money transfers. The report for the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) – Cameroon raised concerns over the effect of Internet shutdowns on freedom of expression, assembly and association. News that the US will begin flying armed drones out of a remote base in Niger has raised concerns about human rights violations in the use of combat drones.

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Shita Laksmi provided updates from Asia. The World Economic Forum (WEF) on ASEAN was held in Ha Noi, on 11-13 September with the theme, ‘ASEAN 4.0: Entrepreneurship and the Fourth Industrial Revolution’. The Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore Teo Chee Hean announced the establishment of the ASEAN – Singapore Cybersecurity Centre of Excellence. The ASEAN Ministerial Conference on Cybersecurity (AMCC) followed up on the directions given by ASEAN leaders during the 32nd ASEAN Summit in April 2018, specifically to better co-ordinate ASEAN cybersecurity efforts.

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Updates from the Caribbean region were provided by Wanda Perez. Grenada, Saint Lucia, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines have decided to collaborate to build their broadband infrastructure, under a historic public-private partnership (PPP) arrangement. The fourth International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Regional Frequency Coordination Meeting for Central America and Caribbean Region took place in Belize City, between 11-14 September 2018. The outputs from the meetings facilitate the region’s transition from analog to digital terrestrial television and the allocation of the digital dividend.

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