Digital Watch newsletter - Issue 47 - February 2020

Digital policy developments in February 2020

The digital policy landscape is filled with new initiatives, evolving regulatory frameworks, and new legislation and court judgments. In the Digital Watch observatory – available at – we decode, contextualise, and analyse ongoing developments, offering a digestible yet authoritative update on the complex world of digital policy. The monthly barometer tracks and compares the issues to reveal new trends and to allow them to be understood relative to those of previous months. The following is a summarised version; read more about each development by clicking the blue icons, or by visiting the Updates section on the observatory.


Global IG architecture

decreasing relevance

The Multistakeholder Advisory Group decided that this year’s Internet Governance Forum (IGF) will address environmental issues in addition to those surrounding data, inclusion, and trust.

The OEWG and the GGE held their second sessions.


Sustainable development

same relevance

The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa urged African states to adjust their development strategies to the digital age.

The Belgian Development Agency and telecom company SES signed an agreement to deliver satellite connectivity to 20 African countries.

North Macedonia and Scotland are exploring digital ID solutions.


increasing relevance

A cyber-attack disrupted Internet connectivity in Iran. In the USA, a hack affecting MGM Resorts exposed the data of 10 million guests. Georgia, the UK, the USA, and the Netherlands accused Russia of being behind the 2019 cyber-attack that affected Georgia. Russia denied the accusations.

It emerged that US and German intelligence have spied on other countries for decades through rigged encryption equipment.

Brazil launched a cybersecurity strategy to protect the country from cyber-threats.

Facebook announced new parental control tools for its Messenger app. UNICEF and Bangladesh launched a partnership to train one million children in online safety.


E-commerce and Internet economy

increasing relevance

As part of ongoing antitrust investigations, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) ordered Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft to hand over detailed information on hundreds of acquisitions made over the past decade.

The US government issued a new 45-day extension allowing Huawei to buy technology from US companies.

G20 finance ministers reiterated their commitment to reaching a consensus-based solution on taxation in the digital economy by the end of 2020. The Spanish government approved a 3% digital services tax which is now to be discussed in parliament.

Sweden started testing an e-krona, a move towards the creation of the world’s first central bank digital currency.


Digital rights

increasing relevance

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada took Facebook to court over its privacy practices. The New Mexico attorney general sued Google for collecting student data through Chromebooks. The Irish Data Protection Commission launched inquiries into Google and Tinder.

Facebook, Google, and YouTube asked facial recognition company Clearview AI to stop scraping photos from their platforms. The company also faces a second class-action lawsuit in the USA and is under investigation by Canadian privacy commissioners.

The European Data Protection Board warned that Google’s acquisition of Fitbit has privacy implications.

New Internet shutdowns were reported in Myanmar’s Rakhine and Chin states.


Jurisdiction and legal issues

increasing relevance



same relevance

Google announced the shutdown of its free wi-fi Google Station programme.

Qualcomm announced the design of chips that can connect mobile phones to disparate 5G networks.

Sweden indicated it will not exclude Huawei from its 5G rollout plans. Huawei promised ‘5G for Europe made in Europe’. The USA warned that alliances will be at risk if countries use Huawei 5G technology.

The controversy over the proposed sale of the .org registry continued.


New technologies (IoT, AI, etc.)

increasing relevance

The European Commission published a White Paper on AI and a European Strategy for Data. The European Parliament called for stronger consumer protection in the context of AI products. Signatories of the Rome Call for AI Ethics committed to promoting ‘algor-ethics’.

Twitter introduced a new policy for dealing with deepfakes on its platform.

The Dutch government launched a campaign to encourage people to update their smart devices. Australia published a national blockchain roadmap.

In the USA the White House proposed increased funds for AI and quantum research for fiscal year 2021. India launched a National Mission on Quantum Technologies and Applications with a budget of approximately US$1 billion over five years.

Policy discussions in Geneva

Each month Geneva hosts a diverse range of policy discussions in various forums. The following updates cover the main events in February. For event reports, visit the Past Events section on the GIP Digital Watch observatory.


Collecting data: How can big data contribute to leaving no one behind and achieving the SDGs? – 19 February 2020

The Road to Bern via Geneva initiative began with a first dialogue focused on data collection issues, co-organised by the World Meteorological Organization and WHO. This and subsequent dialogues – on data security (13 March), data commons (30 April), and the use of data (23 June) – will feed into the 2020 UN World Data Summit (18–21 October, Bern).

During this first dialogue, more than 100 diplomats and experts emphasised the lack of common principles, norms, and standards in the collection and processing of data in International Geneva and beyond. A key challenge in the use of data in achieving the SDGs was raised, namely the difficulty of collecting data regarding vulnerable populations in remote areas. Read our session report for a summary of the discussions.

The Road to Bern via Geneva seeks to identify ways in which Geneva’s digital and policy community can contribute to understanding and meeting the data goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and support the implementation of the UN High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation recommendations.

The initiative is organised by the Permanent Mission of Switzerland to the UN in Geneva and the Geneva Internet Platform (GIP), with the participation of international organisations, permanent missions, the tech community, civil society organisations, and the press.


Join us for the next dialogue on 13 March 2020, on the theme ‘Protecting data against vulnerabilities: questions of trust, security, and privacy of data’.

Participants will explore practices, needs, and challenges related to protecting data, while also trying to identify new actors and new approaches that could ensure better data security and individual privacy.

Human rights in the context of cybersecurity – 26 February 2020

Organised by Ghana, the Netherlands, and Estonia, the event explored issues relating to the application and violation of human rights in cyberspace. The discussion was held on the margins of the 43rd session of the Human Rights Council and the second session of the UN GGE. Speakers emphasised the need for greater awareness of human rights and their violation in cyberspace, especially with Internet shutdowns and restrictions as well as online surveillance hindering the exercise of fundamental freedoms. Not only do such measures and practices erode traditional human rights (the right to privacy, freedom of expression and assembly online, etc.) but also others, such as freedom of movement and self-sovereignty, that may be less familiar to many. 

Considering the roles and responsibilities of various actors in cyberspace, participants underscored that governments, the private sector, and civil society all need to promote and uphold human rights in the digital environment. They also stressed that the role of tech companies needs to be defined with more clarity, given that digital security is to a considerable degree in the hands of corporations. Diverging views on the applicability of international law in cyberspace were also discussed.

Finally, repeated emphasis was given to the importance of identifying new avenues for dialogue and cooperation between the cybersecurity and human rights communities. Read our session report.

Issue 47 of the Digital Watch newsletter, published on 3 March 2020 by the Geneva Internet Platform and DiploFoundation | Contributors: Katarina Anđelković, Andrijana Gavrilović, Jovan Kurbalija, Marco Lotti, Nataša Perućica, Vladimir Radunović, Sorina Teleanu | Editing: Abe Davies | Design: Aleksandar Nedeljkov, Viktor Mijatović, and Mina Mudrić, Diplo’s CreativeLab. Get in touch:

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