One size fits all? Global norms as a threat to inclusion

12 Nov 2020 10:00h - 11:30h

Event report

This session discussed how cross-border application of rules and regulations for content and conduct online, as well as the processes involved in the shaping of global standards and norms, are affecting access to information and digital inclusion. Speakers pointed to an increase in rules and regulations across the globe that attempt to form the Internet into something manageable.

Mr Frane Maroevic (Director Content and Jurisdiction Program, Internet and Jurisdiction Policy Network) clarified the findings of the Global Status Report on Internet and Jurisdiction of 2019, which highlighted that 80% of stakeholders observed insufficient international co-ordination and coherence regarding cross border legal issues and 90% of stakeholders agreed that cross border challenges will become more acute in times to come.

While some countries, especially from the global North, are taking the lead in setting norms, others are following these regulations reactively. Many times, laws are transferred arbitrarily by countries and many aspects are omitted. Also the same laws are interpreted in different countries in different ways due to the social and cultural contexts; as a result, following regulations literally does not make sense. Ms Agustina Del Campo (Director, Center for Studies on Freedom of Expression (CELE), Universidad de Palermo un Argentina) cited the example of the right to be forgotten; this was copied by different countries, but when applied in different jurisdictions, the dynamics became very different. A similar case occurred with the European directive regarding copyright law. Maroevic also cited the example of the German NetDG that was copied into different legal frameworks.

Maroevic pointed to an increase in regulations by companies and governments that at times stifle freedom of expression. With each country implementing its own set of laws, while simultaneously trying to regulate across jurisdictions, concerns are often raised concerning conflicts of laws between nations. Thus, the divergence of standards across the Internet is posing a challenge to interoperability of laws across borders.

Global companies such as Google follow international standards of human rights as a baseline, which they apply globally, and then adhere to local contexts, according to Ms Alex Walden (Counsel on Freedom of Expression and Human Rights, Google). The challenge at times for companies is how to balance the international standards of human rights with local requirements.

On standards, it was also pointed out that there is a need to discuss the technical standards setting that has been developed by the global North.

To preserve the Internet as a global resource, Maroevic articulated the need to find ways of strengthening co-operation and coordination of rulemaking. He suggested attaching different levels of responsibilities to different actors online, such as industry, governments, technical communities and users, based on the relationships between these different actors. It was observed that while a multistakeholder approach can help standardisation of governance standards, this approach is interpreted and defined differently in different Internet governance approaches, such as by Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) or the Internet Governance Forum (IGF). It was also observed that while a multistakeholder approach has been adopted globally, at local levels a top down approach is mostly adopted. Concerns were expressed that this top down approach may have consequences for inclusion.

More co-ordination and adoption of meaningful multistakeholder approach is needed. As an example of the adoption of multistakeholder approach to design a process, Mr Jan Gerlach (Lead Public Policy Manager, Wikimedia Foundation) suggested the Wikimedia Movement Strategy until 2030.