[Briefing #57] Internet governance in July and August 2019

27 Aug 2019


Event report

Privacy and data protection investigations on the rise, Internet access disrupted in many regions and AI developments continue at full speed were among the main digital policy trends in July and August 2019.

These and many other developments, trends, and regional updates were covered during August’s just-in-time briefing on Internet governance – our monthly appointment on the last Tuesday of every month – which took place on 27 August 2019. They will also be summarised in the upcoming Internet Governance Barometer for July and August and in Issue 42 of the Geneva Internet Platform (GIP) Digital Watch newsletter.

The briefing was led by Dr Stephanie Borg Psaila, Director for Digital Policy at DiploFoundation, and the Editor of the GIP Digital Watch observatory. She was joined by Amb. Ljupco Jivan Gjorgjinski, Minister Counselor and Charge d'Affaires, Permanent Mission of the Republic of North Macedonia in Geneva, and Chair of the 2019 CCW GGE on LAWS; DiploFoundation’s Director of Cybersecurity and E-diplomacy programmes Vladimir Radunović; DiploFoundation’s Digital Policy Senior Researcher Marília Maciel; DiploFoundation’s Multimedia Co-ordinator Arvin Kamberi, and GIP Digital Watch curator Sorina Teleanu.

A look back to events in July and August 2019

Borg Psaila spoke about major Internet governance events in July and August, starting with the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (New York). An analysis of 100+ statements delivered by state officials during the ministerial meetings shows that only 53 made a reference to technology, including its role in attaining the 2030 Agenda. We also looked at how technology can help achieve the SDGs and each target. 

Borg Psaila then spoke about the meeting of the CCW Group of Governmental Experts on LAWS (Geneva), and the G7 Summit 2019 (Biarritz, France). More information on Past events can be found at GIP Digital Watch Observatory at dig.watch/past-events

Amb. Ljupco Jivan Gjorgjinski, Minister Counselor and Charge d'Affaires, Permanent Mission of the Republic of North Macedonia in Geneva, and Chair of the 2019 CCW Group of Governmental Experts on LAWS, spoke about the meeting of the CCW GGE on LAWS. As the Chair of the Group, Gjorgjinski suggested a framework of international humanitarian law, and posed a set of questions to which states provided answers. States urged for a substantive interstate discussion. The Group adopted guiding principles and added another guiding principle on human - machine interaction. 

The main developments in July and August

Borg Psaila highlighted that updates related to e-commerce, digital rights and jurisdiction gained prominence during July and August. 

Radunović then spoke about the security updates during these two months, highlighting the organisational session of the UN Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) on ICTs and the regional consultations the OEWG held with the Organisation of American States (OAS). 

Maciel spoke about the outcome document of the G7 Summit, where it was identified that an overhaul of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) is necessary to improve effectiveness with regard to intellectual property protection, to settle disputes more swiftly and to eliminate unfair trade practices.

Borg Psaila explained the compromise USA and France reached on digital tax. France will repay tech companies the difference between the French tax and the tax to result from the taxation mechanism being developed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). 

Kamberi then spoke about the testimony of David Markus, head of Facebook’s Calibra, about Facebook's cryptocurrency plans in front of two US Congress committees.

Main trends in July and August

Privacy and data protection investigations were on the rise, Maciel explained. In Europe, the Irish data protection authority launched its third investigation into Apple’s compliance with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), while the UK's Information Commissioner’s Office looked into misuse allegations of personal data by FaceApp. In the US, Mark Zuckerberg was questioned by US Senators over child privacy protection. In the East, National Chinese cyber agency expressed concern over apps' over collection of users' data. Mercedes-Benz became embroiled in a scandal over car trackers it uses to track and repossess vehicles in the UK when drivers fall behind on payments. Equifax reached a US$700 million settlement with the US Federal Commission (FTC) over a 2017 data breach. British Airways, YouTube and Facebook were all fined for breaching privacy rules. Courts have been active in this area - the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled that websites using Facebook’ ‘Like’ buttons need to seek users’ consent when collecting and processing personal data, and examined the non-compliance of Spain and Greece to the GDPR.

Internet access was disrupted in many regions, highlighted Borg Psaila. A major Internet shutdown was registered in Kashmir amid the worsening crisis, prompting the UN human rights experts to urge India to end communications shutdown in Kashmir. Internet disruptions were also registered in Indonesia, Nigeria, and Russia. Some internet service has been restored in Sudan after a court ruling; however, the president’s legal advisor called for the Internet ban to be put in place again. Internet access had been restored in Mauritania after a 10 day blackout, and Chad’s president lifted social media restrictions after over a year of outage. These developments show that there is an alarming trend of governments  increasingly resorting to shutting down the internet or stopping access to social media wherever there is unrest, which in turn leads to increased violence. 

Artificial intelligence (AI) developments continue at full speed, Teleanu explained. Scientists continue to push the boundaries of the application of AI. scientists at Flinders University in Australia announced that they have used to AI programs to develop a flu vaccine. There were developments in the field of the so-called brain machine interfaces: Elon Musk’s Neuralink revealed its work on brain-machine interfaces, and the University of California in San Francisco announced they discovered a new way to decode speech directly from the human brain. Additionally, Google announced it is working on improving speech recognition for people with impaired speech, and on developing real-time hand-tracking technology.

Facial recognition technology (FRT) continued to attract controversy, raising privacy concerns. Oakland became the third city to ban acquisition and use of FRT, and US presidential candidate Bernie Sanders stated that he will ban the use of FRT by the police if elected president in 2020. Privacy concerns were also raised by the use of the technology in airports in India or in City CCTV cameras in London. However, tech companies continue to develop the technology: Amazon announced improvements to its FRT, including the ability to now recognise fear. The trend of developing national AI strategies slowed down during the summer. In the EU, several member states (e.g. Croatia, Cyprus, Hungary, Slovenia, and Spain) need more time to develop their AI strategies. Meanwhile, the incoming president of the European Commission announced plans to develop legislation on ethical implications of AI.

Upcoming events in September

Borg Psaila outlined upcoming events in September 2019, including the First substantive meeting of the Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) and 42nd session of the Human Rights Council (HRC).

Updates from GIP & DiploFoundation

Borg Psaila gave an overview of the upcoming activities of the GIP and DiploFoundation. Diplo’s Shita Laksmi will moderate session at the Indonesia Lokadata Conference (ILOC) 2019 on personal data protection. The newsletter for July and August will be published by the end of the month of August. In co-operation with the Graduate Institute in Geneva, the GIP will organise and event entitled ‘Digital Cooperation: Can Geneva make it a win-win?’ which will look at the recommendations of the High Level Panel on Digital Cooperation. The event will be attended by President of Microsoft Brad Smith, former President of the Swiss Confederation and former member of the High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation Doris Leuthard, former Co-Executive Director of the Panel’s Secretariat Amandeep Singh Gill, and head of the Geneva Internet Platform and former Co-Executive Director of the Panel’s Secretariat Jovan Kurbalija. DiploFoundation will also organise an event entitled ‘Digital (and) Diplomacy: How to deal with digital aspects of foreign policy’ which will gather diplomats to discuss how they deal with the digital aspects of diplomacy. On 24 September, the September edition of the digital policy briefing will be held. 

Regional perspectives

Amrita Choudry gave updates from Asia. Singapore Convention on Mediation opened for signing. New Zealand modified tax laws to include cryptocurrency incomes.

Andre Edwards provided updates from the Caribbean. The government of Antigua signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Globex and Julius Capital Bank. Bahamas Industrial Tribunal launched an e-filing and case management system. Barbados passed a GDPR-like data protection law.

Noha Fathy highlighted the developments from the Middle East and North Africa. Turkish court blocked access to 136 websites. Three independent news websites were interrupted in Algeria amid protests calling for political reform.

Foncham Denis Doh provided updates from Africa. The African Peering and Interconnection Forum (AfPIF) 2019 was held in Balaclava, Mauritius. A hacking group entitled ‘Hexen’ was discovered targeting energy and telecom companies in Africa and the Middle East. The city of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania revealed plans to publish names of all married men on a state owned website in order to protect single women from dishonest men.


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