Digital Watch newsletter - Issue 28 - February 2018

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Digital policy developments in February

The monthly Internet Governance Barometer of Trends tracks specific Internet governance issues in the public policy debate, and reveals focal trends by comparing the issues every month. The barometer determines the presence of specific IG issues in comparison to the previous month. Learn more about each update.

Global IG architecture

decreasing relevance

The Internet Society launched a Collaborative Governance Project to ‘expand the global knowledge and use of collaborative governance processes to solve problems and develop norms’.

Several global companies, including Airbus, IBM, Siemens, and Deutsche Telekom, signed a Charter of Trust for a Secure Digital World.

Sustainable development

same relevance

The Food and Agriculture Organization and Telefonica have concluded an agreement to work together on leveraging the use of digital technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and big data for agricultural development, food security, and nutrition. The World Bank Group and the GSMA also announced a partnership on harnessing big data from the IoT for growth and development.


increasing relevance

Speaking at the Munich Security Conference, UN Secretary General António Guterres called for ‘a serious discussion about the international legal framework in which cyberwars take place’.

India and Russia agreed to broaden cooperation on cybersecurity. They also called for norms to govern state behaviour in cyberspace, and for the continuation of the UN GGE. The UK and the USA  have publicly accused Russia of being behind the NotPetya ransomware attack in June 2017. Russia denied the accusations as groundless.

The Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community, presented by the US Director of National Intelligence, sees cyberthreats among top global threats in 2018.

A Russian supercomputer for nuclear researchTesla’s cloud system, and thousands of websites worldwide have been exploited to mine cryptocurrency.

E-commerce and Internet economy

increasing relevance

More than five years after Amazon was given a tax bill of almost €200 million by French tax authorities, the two parties have reached a ‘comprehensive settlement agreement’ for an undisclosed amount. The European Commission will present its plan for tax reforms for Internet giants by the end of March. According to EU Economic Affairs Commissioner, Pierre Moscovici, ‘digital taxation is no longer a question of if’, but rather of how.

In a case brought by an Uber driver, the labour tribunal in Paris, France ruled that Uber's 'business is intermediation rather than transportation', and that the driver was self-employed. In Morocco, Uber suspended its activity, due to regulatory uncertainty. The US State Secretary proposes the creation of a Bureau for Cyberspace and the Digital Economy, 'to formulate and coordinate a strategic approach necessary to address current and emerging cyber security and digital economic challenges'.

The European Commission launched the EU Blockchain Observatory and Forum, to help the EU stay at the forefront of blockchain developments. The Indian government announced that it does not recognise bitcoin as a legal tender for payment, and that it will seek for a thorough regulation of the cryptocurrency industry. The General Manager of the Bank for International Settlements warned that cryptocurrencies could become a threat to financial stability. The Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority published a set of Guidelines on Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs).

Venezuela launched the world’s first sovereign cryptocurrency, the petro.

Digital rights

increasing relevance

The Article 29 Working Party released revised guidelines concerning the implementation of the EU GDPR. The European Commission has sent a second letter to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), expressing concerns over the organisation's proposed models for ensuring compliance between its WHOIS policy and the GDPR.

A Belgian court decided that Facebook has been in breach of privacy laws by tracking users on third-party sites. Facebook intends to appeal the ruling.

Jurisdiction and legal issues

increasing relevance

A Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data Act (CLOUD Act) bill introduced in the US Congress seeks to clarify the conditions under which US authorities can access data stored by US companies outside national border.The bill was welcome by the Internet industry, and received with reticence by human rights organisations.

The European Parliament voted in favour of a new regulation on geoblocking, aimed to facilitate cross-border access to online services, within the EU, preventing the restriction or discrimination of content in particular locations. An exception for copyrighted materials has drawn criticism from consumer rights group.


same relevance

ICANN decided not to delegate the .corp, .home, and .mail generic top-level domains (gTLDs) because of concerns over collisions with name labels used in private networks.

Foreign affairs ministers of ASEAN countries expressed support for a proposal to build an ASEAN Smart Cities Network.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India recommended the adoption of policies to encourage the development of networks especially suited to IoT.

Net neutrality

increasing relevance

In the USA, states are taking measures to preserve net neutrality after the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted the Restoring Internet Freedom Order last December. The Internet Association expressed support for the Senate Congressional Review Act resolution, put forward to invalidate the FCC order. Attorneys-general in 22 states and Washington DC re-filed a lawsuit challenging the order.

The Netherlands’ Authority for Consumers and Markets denied a request to take action against T-Mobile’s alleged breach of net neutrality rules through its zero-rated music streaming offer.

In a report on Open Internet and Devices, the French regulator ARCEP noted that neutrality rules should also apply to devices, and not only to networks.

New technologies (IoT, AI, etc.)

increasing relevance

India is is setting up its first artificial intelligence (AI) institute, and has created four committees tasked with preparing a national roadmap on AI.

Germany does not have any intention to procure autonomous weapons systems.

The Worldwide threat assessment of the US Intelligence Community lists AI, the IoT and big data among areas that could generate national security. A report released by academic and civil society organisations outlines security threats that could be generated by the malicious use of AI systems, and makes recommendations on how to better forecast, prevent, and mitigate such threats.

Policy discussions in Geneva

Many policy discussions take place in Geneva every month. The following updates cover the main events of the month. For event reports, visit the Past Events section on the GIP Digital Watch observatory.

Launch of the Data Diplomacy report

The GIP hosted the launch of the report Data Diplomacy: Updating Diplomacy to the Big Data Era, on 8 February, prepared by DiploFoundation and commissioned by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland. The report maps the main opportunities of big data in different areas of diplomacy, proposing ways for ministries of foreign affairs to capture its potential, while describing the key considerations to take into account for big data to flourish. The event was attended by diplomatic representations, international organisations, and civil society in Geneva. 

Global Commission on the Future of Work: Second Meeting

The second meeting of the International Labour Organization’s Global Commission on the Future of Work, on 15‒17 February, focused on the main themes to be addressed in the 2019 report, prepared for the ILO centenary. The work of the high-level Global Commission is part of the ILO Future of Work Initiative launched by the ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder, in 2013. In its discussions, the 28-member Commission focused, among others, on the platform economy, skill building, the situation of youth, and universal social protection. The Commission agreed to seek outreach opportunities via technical meetings, collaboration with international organisations, and an information session with member states later this year. The next meeting of the Global Commission will take place in Geneva on 15‒17 May.

WSIS Forum: Final Brief

The 2018 edition of the World Summit on the Information Society Forum (WSIS Forum) will be held on 19–23 March in Geneva on the theme ‘Leveraging ICTs to Build Information and Knowledge Societies for Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)’. The consultation process for the WSIS Forum finalised on 19 February with a brief on preparations for the event, workshop submission information, and innovations in this year’s programme. More than 250 submissions were received from different stakeholder groups, proportionally distributed as follows: 22% government, 22% civil society, 20% international organisations, 19% private sector, and 17% academia. As in previous editions, the week-long event will feature a high-level track (consisting of a moderated policy session, high-level dialogues, the WSIS Prize 2018, and a ministerial roundtable) and a forum track (consisting of thematic and country workshops, interactive sessions, facilitation meetings, knowledge cafés etc.). The 15-year celebration of the Geneva Plan of Action is the highlight of this year’s event.

Expert Workshop on the Right to Privacy in the Digital Age                                        

The expert workshop, organised by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on 19‒20 February, focused on the identification of principles, standards, and best practices regarding the promotion and protection of the right to privacy. The two-day discussion comprised six different thematic panels ranging from the existing legal framework regulating the right to privacy to the role of  individuals, governments, business enterprises, and private organisations in the processing of data. Both the panellists and the participants stressed repeatedly the importance of focusing on the collective dimension of rights while addressing data protection. The discussion concluded that further guidance is needed to unpack the available legal framework for the protection of privacy. In addition to developing the principles, greater effort is needed to ensure adequate implementation of existing provisions as there is still a lack of adequate legal and procedural guidance at national level. Furthermore, the emergence of powerful data-driven technology brings both opportunities and challenges ‒ especially considering that there is an increasing reliance on extraterritoriality and demand for access to data stored abroad. The protection of children’s rights in the digital space also emerged as a new and important discussion point in the near future.

Roundtable on data partnerships in international organisations

As part of the GIP’s Data Talks series, representatives of international organisations gathered on 22 February to discuss how they could best engage in sustainable partnerships with the private sector to obtain new forms of data that could better inform their activities. The session zoomed in on three case studies of such cooperation between international organisations and the Internet industry, focusing on social media firms Facebook and Twitter, and e-commerce giant Alibaba. While it became clear that these kinds of partnerships need a tailored approach, some common lessons appeared, such as the importance of trust-building between organisations, and the need to set clear objectives, roles, and deliverables from the outset.

Issue no. 28 of the Digital Watch newsletter, published on 28 February 2018, by the Geneva Internet Platform (GIP) and DiploFoundation | Contributors: Stephanie Borg Psaila, Stefania Pia Grottola, Jovan Kurbalija, Marco Lotti, Clément Perarnaud, Roxana Radu, Barbara Rosen Jacobson, Sorina Teleanu | Design by Viktor Mijatović, layout by Aleksandar Nedeljkov, Diplo’s CreativeLab