Main session: Trust

10 Nov 2020 13:30h - 15:00h

Event report

The main session focused on three big issues; digital sovereignty, Internet fragmentation, and trust in ICT and content moderation. Mr Bertrand de La Chappelle (Executive Director and Co-founder, Internet & Jurisdiction Policy Network) opened the discussion saying that we are in a situation where the global cross-border nature of the Internet is challenging the sovereignty principle based architecture of societies. In this case, digital sovereignty is a new notion that is not quite well understood by all stakeholders. According to the online poll for the session attendees, Internet sovereignty is a part of the problem as well as a solution, while data sovereignty is not clear for all actors.

Mr Rudolf Gridl (Head of Division, Internet Governance and International Digital Dialogues, Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy) compared the attitude to the data sovereignty with the bipolar world order: ‘It really depends on your point of view, if it is something worth defending or if it is something that might even destroy the order of the Internet’. Also, Germany is looking forward to being a ‘self-determined digital economic space’ but ‘avoiding the creation of islands and silos between the great regions’. Mr Gridl also explained the concept of the European cloud as ‘European regulatory ownership’ rather than a physical localisation.

Then the moderator turned to the issue of physical location of data and its meaning. Mr Paul Mitchell (Senior Director, Technology Policy, Microsoft) claimed that it ‘maybe, possibly and sometimes’ matters. Data is not scarce in economic terms. The old rules of scarcity and control do not make sense anymore in data sovereignty debates. ‘I think it’s probably a mistake to focus on the idea of sovereignty itself.  I’d rather move the discussion to enabling social development and enabling economic development because data can be a shared resource in a way that physical assets cannot be’, concluded Mitchell.

The session also discussed the awareness of the data debate in the Asia-Pacific region and whether we take into account the perspective of small island states and least-developed states. Ms Atsuko Okuda (Director, ITU Regional Office for Asia-Pacific) noticed that the Asia-Pacific region is still less connected to the Internet. However, she agreed that data sovereignty is an important issue and establishing group norms and principles would be important for people who will have access to the Internet for the first time in their lives and know that their data is treated transparently. ‘People are starting to realise the importance of the data that they generate, or they share. So, within the country, there is an increasing awareness but perhaps there is no broad discussion, per se, but we are getting there’.

The moderator raised the question whether data sovereignty is more a matter of control and ensuring the right protections rather than the matter of location. Ms Alison Gillwald (Executive Director, Research ICT Africa) responded that data localisation is actually being used by governments that are concerned with controlling data, very often for political ends, but economic ends also deserve the right to exist to ensure proper industrial policy and development. But there is another side of the coin – the issue of legitimacy of particular states: ‘States whose legitimacy is challenged internally trying to control data flows both in and out of the country in order to control the citizens’. She also pointed, that big monopoly platforms are making data artificially scarce and this goes to the incredible need for countries to be able to co-operate globally.

Then the discussion moved to the technical aspect of introducing ‘borders’ to the Internet and whether it affects resilience. Ms Alissa Cooper (IETF Chair, Internet Engineering Task Force [IETF]) responded that the Internet was explicitly designed to encourage global interconnectivity and to be oblivious to international borders. Cooper said, ‘We continue to ensure that we can get as many new kinds of devices and kinds of networks connected and that we don’t tailor the protocols to the requirements of any particular jurisdiction or the way that networks are administered in a particular country. When we look at data sovereignty, it creates constraints around all of these things. We can’t ignore it and therefore it adds another layer of complexity we have to acknowledge when designing networks and deploying them in the real world’.

Mr Jun Murai (Founder and Board member, WIDE Project) added remarks on the historic role of governments who are now suddenly responsible for safe and trusted Internet spaces, including the data governance architecture. And there should be more explicit interstate dialogue on that.
Murai’s words were confirmed by the second poll of the session attendees that there is not enough international co-operation to address abuses online.

Then the speakers touched the topic of content moderation and the responsibilities of national authorities and global platforms. Gillwald spoke on the work of African Union (AU) Commission and Mr Gridl shared the progress in adopting the EU Digital Services Act. Then the moderator turned to Russia and its case of data localisation that affects the accessibility of content and services, having the LinkedIn example in mind. Mr Aleksey Goreslavskiy (Journalist, Head of NGO ‘Dialogue’) reassured that only one service is blocked for data mismanagement while others are arguing with the Russian authorities but still accessible. Then Goreslavskiy talked of government priorities in trust and digital development covering Russian e-government services’ advancements and interaction with citizens in social media.

The final poll displayed the strong consolidation of the audience that digital policies should respect the technical architecture of the Internet. The moderator turned to the last part of the session on the technical aspects of fragmentation. Okuda explained the nature of debates around the new IP proposal put forward by China Unicom, China Telecom, and Huawei to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) study group on standardisation strategy in September 2019. ‘There is an international space to share your views and research and the policy positions in the space of ITU and I would like to recommend interested parties to join and discuss and establish the international norms and principles that we lack at this stage’, said Okuda. Cooper stated that Internet protocol (IP) is one of the issues where we really do not want to see any further fragmentation. There is a small set of core infrastructure that maintains the global unity of the Internet – IP address spaces and DNS. ‘We need a harmonisation on the IP layer to allow data and connectivity to be seamless around the world. The idea to create something that is not interoperable with the IP and through away the investments that we made connecting billions of the devices to the IP network would be overwhelming to justify it’. She added that the new IP proposal in ITU does not show the sufficient level of justification.  Efforts of the global engineering community are put to the deployment of the IPv6 and maintenance of interoperability between IPv4 and IPv6.

The moderator summed up that digital sovereignty should be addressed through dialogue and international co-operation. He  concluded the session with the quote by Mr Vint Cerf from the IGF 2019: ‘Managing the way separate legal frameworks apply to the Internet is actually more complex than inventing it’.