CircleID: The year 2018 represents a tipping point for the Internet and its governance. Internet governance risks being consumed by inertia. Policy decisions are needed if we want to prevent the Internet from fragmenting into numerous national and commercial Internet(s).
Geopolitical shifts, in particular, will affect how the Internet is governed. The Internet is made vulnerable by the fragmentation of global society, which is likely to accelerate in response to the ongoing crisis of multilateralism. If this crisis leads to further restrictions in the movement of people, capital, and goods across national borders, the same is likely to happen with the digital economy, including the cross-border flow of data and services.
Filling policy gaps
The first sign of a crisis in multilateralism in digital policy was the failure of the 5th UN Group of Governmental Experts (UN GGE) to reach consensus on a final report. Towards the end of 2017, the World Trade Organization (WTO) failed to agree on any mandate for e-commerce negotiations during the WTO Ministerial meeting in Buenos Aires.
The gaps in global rules are increasingly being filled by bilateral and regional arrangements, in particular on cybersecurity and e-commerce. Plurilateral digital trade arrangements are being considered as an alternative to the shortcomings of the WTO e-commerce negotiations.
In 2018, national legislation and courts will have a major impact on the global Internet. The main regulation with global impact will be the entry into force of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation on 25 May, which will determine how data is governed beyond the shores of Europe.
Using divergences to reach convergences
There are a few elements on which to build constructive solutions and some optimism.
First, interests in digital policy are now more clearly defined than a few years ago, when digital ideologies focused only on blue-sky thinking and an ‘unstoppable march into a bright digital future’. Governments need to deliver prosperity, stability, and security as part of their social contracts with citizens. The industry needs to make a profit, whether it is by selling services online or by monetizing data. Citizens have a strong interest in having their dignity and core human rights protected online as they should be offline. A common thread binds them all: actors have a strong interest in preserving a safe, stable, and unified Internet.
A clear delineation of the interests of all actors, a healthy interdependence, and complementarity between those actors is a good basis for negotiations, compromise, and ideally, consensus, on how the Internet should further develop as a technological enabler of a stable and prosperous society.
Secondly, the diversity of the Internet is reflected in the diversity of interests and, ultimately, negotiating positions in digital geo-politics. While the USA, China, and Russia disagreed on the future of cybersecurity regulation within the UN GGE, they did agree about the need for digital commerce regulation in the WTO. All three countries are part of the WTO plurilateral negotiations on digital commerce. This variable geometry in the positions of the main actors in digital policy could create more space for potential trade-offs and compromise.
The 2018 forecast of the 10 main digital policy developments is set against this broad backdrop that makes progress and retreat equally possible. It draws on continuous monitoring of digital policy carried out through the GIP Digital Watch observatory and further discussed during the GIP’s monthly briefings.
For a more in-depth analysis, read the full article.
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1. GDPR: Data in the centre of digital politics – Data will dominate digital policy in 2018. Entering into effect on 25 May, the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will reshape the way companies, and institutions handle data in Europe and beyond. Its main impact will be on the Internet industry’s business model, which is based on data monetization. More broadly, data will also move to a higher place on the agendas of international organizations dealing with health, humanitarian, and development issues, among others.
2. Cybersecurity geopolitics: The search for new governance mechanisms – 2017 ended with increasing cybersecurity risks and a lack of multilateral solutions to deal with them after the failure of the UN GGE. In 2018, the search for new policy mechanisms will intensify. The following solutions are being considered: a 6th UN GGE with a specific mandate, a UN Open-ended Working Group, a Conference on Disarmament, a Committee on the Peaceful Uses of ICT, or an Expert Group on International Telecommunication Regulation.
3. Digital trade and the Internet economy – The growth of e-commerce worldwide has not been matched with the development of policy frameworks. In the aftermath of the failure of the WTO Ministerial Conference to initiate e-commerce negotiations, some countries will develop plurilateral regimes. One of the main challenges will be to delineate core trade from other digital policy issues that affect trade, such as cybersecurity and data protection. The Internet economy will also be impacted by data protection, taxation, and labor regulations worldwide.
4. Courts: Active maker of digital rules – In the search for solutions to their digital problems, Internet users and organizations will increasingly refer to courts. Judges could become de facto rule-makers in the field of digital policy, as was the case with the right to be forgotten. The CJEU ruled that Uber is a transportation (not information) company with far-reaching consequences for Uber and the sharing economy. Courts in Canada, Australia, Austria, France, and other countries are following this trend in shaping global digital policy rules.
5. Artificial intelligence: Between philosophical considerations and practical applications – Artificial intelligence (AI) features highly in public debates, with a wide range of views put forward, from being ‘the best or worst thing to ever happen to humanity’. This debate involving entrepreneurs, philosophers, politicians, and the general public will continue in 2018. On a digital policy level, AI will be addressed in the interplay with big data and the IoT. Other questions will include the automation and future of jobs, robot tax, privacy protection, and regulation of the use of lethal autonomous weapons.
6. Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies: Between boom and bust – The fast growth of cryptocurrencies opened many regulatory questions. Is this growth inflating a bubble that may soon burst? What should be the role of financial regulators in preventing a potential bust? In 2018, governments will focus on initial coin offerings and the risk of misusing cryptocurrencies for money laundering, tax avoidance, and illegal financial transactions.
7. Content policy: Fake news and violent extremism online – ‘Fake news’ was the word of the year in 2017. It will remain high on policy agendas in 2018 together with other content policy issues. France would like to introduce a new law against fake news in election time. Other countries are considering similar proposals. The main criticism is that fake news regulations may open possibilities for censorship and reduce freedom of expression. Researchers in civil society advise that a regulatory approach should be used only as an exception, while the focus should be on building a digital culture and critical thinking among citizens.
8. Net neutrality: Global impact of new US regulation – The US decision to end net neutrality triggered debate in December which spilled over to the new year. The main issues are how net neutrality will be protected in the USA, and since content transits mostly through the USA, and whether this will affect other countries worldwide. Net neutrality and zero rating will also remain high on agendas in some developing countries, while platform or data neutrality may move higher.
9. Encryption: More pressure on backdoor access – In 2018, governments worldwide will continue to put legal and policy pressure on Internet companies to provide backdoor access to users’ data, or reduce levels of encryption. Users’ data is the Internet companies’ main commodity, and losing users’ trust could endanger their business model. They will try to find a predictable regulatory framework for sharing data with law enforcement agencies, which would shield them from political and ad hoc pressure by governments.
10. ICANN: Online identities, jurisdiction, and governance – ICANN is likely to remain outside the policy limelight in 2018. Two issues that may resurface are related to broader online identities and jurisdiction. In a time when politics focuses on identities and symbolism, online identity may resurface as a major political issue. In particular, it could happen around the question of .amazon. While it is unlikely that there will be further impactful discussions or decisions on the US jurisdiction of ICANN, we might see more focused debate on the topic of ‘limited, partial, relative or tailored immunity for ICANN’.
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Based on the original article, A tipping point for the Internet: 10 predictions for 2018, published on 11 January 2018. Read the full article.
Written by Jovan Kurbalija, Director of DiploFoundation & Head of Geneva Internet PlatformFollow CircleID on TwitterMore under: Internet Governance
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