IGF 2021 Daily 4

Thursday, 9 Dec

Welcome to IGF Daily #4!

Dear reader, 

Thursday at the IGF brought two developments to the IGF’s modus operandi. First, the IGF was the target of two Zoom bombing attacks. Paradoxically, this cybersecurity breach illustrated the importance of cybersecurity for online meeting infrastructures. Second, there are more and more sessions with remote moderation and participation which pushed the IGF2021 meeting to a status quo of hybrid meetings where any activity could be conducted online or in situ.

Data featured prominently in different contexts, from the need for trustworthy data flows to data standardisation and the importance of current environmental data on sustainability and internet governance

It’s a wrap for our daily summaries for IGF2021. We’ll issue a final report summarising all five days of the IGF soon, so keep dig.watch/event/igf2021 in your bookmarks. Continue tweeting us via @genevagip.

Stay safe,

The Digital Watch team

Recapping yesterday’s discussions 

Theme 1. Human rights

A proposal for a Universal Declaration of Digital Human Rights emerged during yesterday’s discussion on human rights. This declaration calls for universal access to the internet and universal digital education. It was also suggested that the application of the UN guiding principles to the tech sector could have a similar impact to a possible social contract. Impact assessment and due diligence in developing new technologies should ensure the protection of human rights. Internet shutdowns and fragmentation were noted as fundamental threats to core human rights and overall democracy.

Women and girls remain the primary victims of online discrimination. Cyberviolence has consequences for womens’ lives, including serious mental health issues as well as professional obstacles, legal problems, and economic costs. A lot is missing to ensure the protection and promotion of gender rights online, starting with reliable data and including the sharing of best practices. 

Human rights were discussed in the context of AI as well. A key takeaway was a shift from considering AI in terms of technology alone, adding implications for the humans whose lives are affected by the application of AI. Any AI governance mechanism should take into consideration the economic impact, and more importantly, the impact on fundamental human rights.

Theme 2. Access and inclusion

Access and inclusion starts with the technical backbones of the internet to ensure a free, open, and interoperable internet. The requirements for an open internet are an accessible infrastructure with a common protocol, an open architecture, a distributed routing system, and a technologically neutral, general-purpose network, among others.

It was again noted that in addition to internet speed, stakeholders need to keep in mind that there are communities with no access to consistent electricity. In Africa, it is possible to have internet access even while no electric power is available.

On the rise in access and inclusion debates is the connection between inclusion and available economic models. On the one hand, innovations such as blockchain open new possibilities to redesign economic models. On the other hand, there is a regulatory void with such new technologies, and a lack of trust on the side of users. Countries with developing financial systems would benefit from policies addressing the issues of trust in fintech and support for innovative economic models. 

Theme 3. Regulation and data flows

The discussions in this year’s IGF have increasingly focused on the impact of national regulations on the functioning of the internet, free data flows, and the related responsibilities of online platforms. Diverging national regulatory frameworks impact the interoperability of the internet and create challenges for global trade, privacy, and security. 

Regulatory practices affecting the three main layers of the internet, including data, content, and AI were highlighted in a main session. The underlying theme was interoperability and data portability across platforms and services. Data standards are practical instruments that should facilitate the exchange of data. There is a growing number of initiatives that put data under the control of users, including the Finnish MyData and the Swiss initiative on digital self-determination

In a discussion on ethics and AI, the main message was that ethical behaviour is important for all software development, not only for AI. Developers should be responsible for their software as, for example, the car industry is responsible for the quality of the cars they produce. On the question of the ‘by design’ regulatory approach, there was a caution that the sheer complexity of software systems limits the possibility of implementing values and policies ‘by design’. Panellists agreed that regulatory priorities are different across nations and regions. For example, the predominant focus on AI and ethics does not reflect the regulatory and overall digital priorities of developing countries, which are related to access and inclusion. The discussion clearly showed that solid and predictable regulation is in the interest of all actors, including companies and users. Regulatory innovation is needed, including the development of policy sandboxes where new regulations will be tested and adjusted before they are implemented on a wider societal level. The IGF is a space to germinate innovative and impactful Internet governance frameworks.

Yesterday’s discussions on data governance continued with the impacts of data localisation policies, and the importance of balancing free data flows with national security considerations. Recent national policies and regulations imposing data localisation requirements are limiting the free flow of data and affecting the functioning of the internet. Data localisation negatively impacts privacy, security, economic opportunity, and has serious human-rights implications as well. Regarding global trade, data localisation equates with being protectionist and antitrade, hurting the global economy. 

Participants agreed on the need to balance interests in other areas as well, like the preservation and safeguarding of secure and responsible data transfers and governments’ right to regulate. Standardisation strategies for data governance within a country, international collaboration on the interoperability of standards, and avoiding silos were discussed as measures for effective data governance, in several sessions. 

From the Global South, participants identified three main issues of importance for data governance: (1) regulatory hindrances to cross-border data flows, (2) the necessity to recognise the value of data and its potential to boost national economies, (3) the need to create a data marketplace to enhance competition and data interoperability.

The tech sector proposed that data governance policies should consider different solutions for different types of data. As there is a trust deficit related to the security and privacy of information in digital networks, data-privacy frameworks should foster interoperability between jurisdictions so that data flows uninterrupted.

The discussions on the third day of the IGF provided an excellent opportunity to discuss the responsibility of platforms and online content regulations in different parts of the world. 

While in Europe particular attention is paid to the impact of platforms and internet intermediaries on human rights, the rule of law, and democracy, with several pieces of legislation already in process, other countries are only starting to draft similar laws. Especially in Africa and Latin America, the regulatory landscape on platform responsibility is still emerging and fragmented, even though the impact of internet platforms can be very positive for their economic and social development. The harmonisation of regulation on platform responsibilities could prevent tax evasion and support of small and medium-sized businesses. 

The importance of increasing the level of consumer education on the functioning and responsibilities of digital platforms was also discussed. 

Data Governance 1
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Theme 4. Cybersecurity

The topic of cybersecurity and, specifically, the responsibilities of different stakeholders, appeared on the agenda again on the third day. From the viewpoint of states, we need to provide frameworks and rules to address malicious state activity, and engage in international cooperation. Cybersecurity response mechanisms and accountability for secure operations and critical infrastructure are implemented on the national level, even if a cyberattack is global. However, there is a lack of harmonisation between states’ cyber defense capabilities and their public commitments not to use these capabilities to intentionally damage the critical infrastructure of other states.

Case in point: attacks on the healthcare sector. A significant increase in the number of cyberattacks against hospitals and research labs has been recorded since March 2020. It is expected that these attacks will continue. ‘Cybersecurity is an enabler to providing healthcare,’ it was noted, but it is very difficult to address on a global scale because each nation handles cyberattacks differently.

There is also a problematic lack of sharing of technical information that would help actors identify the root causes of cyber incidents. Governments, even among partner countries, often deliberately choose to stockpile exploits (not to share identified vulnerabilities). This shows a lack of trust, which is essential to address a key collective responsibility: the resilience of the internet

National regulations and policies addressing cyber vulnerabilities as an essential element of cybersecurity need to reflect new norms and principles at the global level. Such coordination can be normative, as with the development of new standards by standard-setting organisations, or can take the form of cooperation with global companies that are developing good corporate practices for the protection of digital products, like the Geneva Dialogue on Responsible Behaviour in Cyberspace project (Geneva Dialogue).

Theme 5. E-health

COVID-19 brought e-health to the forefront. However, the fast transition online left people and societies concerned about data ownership, protection, confidentiality, and governance. Looking forward, the post-pandemic digital health blueprint should entail a trustworthy governance framework that ensures strong collective responsibility and protects data from exploitation by commercial purposes. Such a framework is indispensable to save lives and answer health needs, and should be used to abolish inequalities and poverty, which are at the root of public health policies.

The distribution of vaccines and medicines through online portals across state borders, the right to safe medicine, and the impact of diverse regulations on this right entered the internet governance discussions. Positioned at the intersection of internet governance and health policies, e-pharmacies providing cross-border dispensing offer a rapidly-growing marketplace for medicines. Developing voluntary policy standards and interoperable solutions could be the way to retain innovation, inclusiveness, and flexibility in this area.

Theme 6. Environment

On day three, the discussion on the environment and digitalisation focused on two aspects: how to make digital technology sustainable and energy efficient, and how to use digital technology to monitor environmental changes. 

Debates were triggered by the Report of Policy Network on Environment and Digitalisation and organised in four directions: environmental data, food and water systems, supply chain transparency and circulation, and overarching issues.

Harmonising environmental data according to standards is the first condition for sharing and processing data for evidence-based decision making. Standards are also central to managing food and water systems, supply chains, and the circular economy. You can consult other recommendations from the report on digitalisation and the environment. During the debate on field research on digital and environment, the main criticism concerned the lack of solid research methodology and essential data. 

Additional discussions focused on the potential of digital technologies to contribute to a green, inclusive, and decarbonised circular economy. Smart cities, e-government, and the use of AI and the IoT to prioritise environmental solutions provide additional benefits of fighting hunger and food insecurity, and access to clean water. Additional investment is needed to advance the adoption of digital technologies to solve environmental challenges. 

Theme 7. Digital literacy

Digital literacy has a serious impact on society and the economy. It can help develop the tools to eradicate human suffering and create opportunities. Basic digital skills will not do this alone, since skills on using the internet meaningfully and safely are crucial as well. Because the digital age has unleashed an avalanche of information, misinformation, and disinformation, the development of media and information literacy skills are also necessary for users to digest and understand the information they consume.

A Greek temple, with columns of ICT competence, smart use, values and attitudes, and understanding the digital age supporting the roof of digital literacy.
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Yesterday’s discussions in visuals

The infographics below show the most frequently used words in the sessions we analysed, the most prominent topics and baskets, and how the discussions this year used prefixes.


Frequency of words during yesterday’s IGF sessions

(Click on the image to open the full-sized interactive version in a new tab/window.) 

Keeping up with IGF 2021: We’ve got you covered
This week, we’re reporting from IGF sessions and publishing session reports on the Digital Watch observatory. Don’t miss the final report, out soon. Bookmark https://dig.watch/event/igf2021/  
Diplo’s AI Lab has also worked on an automated system for generated summaries from IGF sessions, which will complement our traditional reporting. To view our automated summaries, follow the links at the bottom of each session report.