Digital Watch newsletter - Issue 42 - July & August 2019

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Digital policy developments in July & August 2019

With so many developments taking place every week, the policy environment is chock-full of new initiatives, evolving regulatory frameworks, new court cases and judgments, and a rich geo-political environment.

Through the Digital Watch observatory, we decode, contextualise, and analyse these issues, and present them in digestible formats. The monthly barometer tracks and compares them to reveal new focal trends and to determine the presence of new issues in comparison to the previous month. The following is a summarised version; read more about each one by following the blue icons, or by visiting the Updates section on the observatory.

Global IG architecture

same relevance

The G20 leaders’ Osaka Declaration on Digital Economy has sparked intensified discussions on facilitating cross-border data flows with trust.

G7 leaders have agreed on the Biarritz Strategy for an open, free, and secure digital transformation , outlining commitments in areas such as cross-border data flows and AI.

Sustainable development

increasing relevance

The High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development concluded its annual meeting dedicated to reviewing six sustainable development goals (SDGs) . Among the 100+ statements delivered by state officials, 53 referred to technology , including its role in attaining the SDGs.

The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) adopted a resolution on the role of frontier technologies in fulfilling the SDGs . A set of Best Practice Guidelines on fast-forwarding digital connectivity for all was adopted during the Global Symposium for Regulators organised by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).


same relevance

Microsoft revealed that nearly 10 000 of its customers were targeted or compromised by nation state cyber-attacks in 2018 .

The US National Security Agency announced that it will create a new Cybersecurity Directorate to prevent and eradicate foreign cyber threats .

The UN Group of Governmental Experts on advancing responsible state behaviour in cyberspace in the context of international security (UN GGE) held regional consultations with the Organization of American States .

The African Union has called for more efforts to combat cyberterrorism .

Cybersecurity Tech Accord signatories have agreed to implement vulnerability disclosure policies by the end of 2019.

The UK’s High Court ruled that the Investigatory Powers Act contains enough safeguards against the risk of abuse of the government's electronic surveillance power.

E-commerce and Internet economy

increasing relevance


USA and France have reached a compromise on the new French digital tax . France will repay tech companies the difference between the French tax and the tax to result from the taxation mechanism being developed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

G7 Finance Ministers adopted the Common Understanding on Competition and the Digital Economy , stating antitrust laws should adapt to the challenges of the digital economy.

The UK’s competition authority is considering measures to protect consumers against the growing power of technology giants . The Australian consumer and competition watchdog has issued recommendations for regulating digital platforms.

Facebook-owned WhatsApp plans to launch its first payment service in India in 2019.

Facebook’s Calibra head, David Markus, testified about Facebook's cryptocurrency plans in front of two US Congress committees.

Digital rights

increasing relevance

Tech companies face more privacy investigations, as a third investigation against Apple is launched in the UK , and Facebook CEO is questioned over child privacy protection in Kids Messenger app .

Facebook was fined an ‘unprecedented’ US$5 billion by USA’s FTC over the Cambridge Analytica privacy breach.

China’s National Computer Emergency Response Team has expressed concern over apps' over collection of users' data .

Car manufacturer Mercedes-Benz is involved in a privacy scandal over car trackers .

Internet access faces disruptions in many regions, including Kashmir , Indonesia , Algeria , and Russia . Previously imposed Internet restrictions were lifted in Sudan , Mauritania , and Chad .

Jurisdiction and legal issues

increasing relevance

The CJEU ruled that websites using Facebook’ ‘Like’ buttons need to seek users’ consent when collecting and processing personal data.

The US Appeals Court ruled that Facebook is not liable for terrorist content published on the platform . The company requires users to provide only basic information and therefore acts as a neutral intermediary.

Australia plans to block websites ‘hosting harmful and extreme content from terrorists’, the country's prime minister said.


same relevance

New undersea cables link Australia to Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands and bring high-speed Internet to the two islands.

Huawei and Intel announced the launch of powerful AI chipsets.

The CJEU fined Belgium for failing to provide broadband Internet infrastructure in Brussels.

Net neutrality

decreasing relevance

New technologies (IoT, AI, etc.)

increasing relevance

Scientists are pushing the boundaries of AI applications to develop flu vaccines , to decode speech from the human brain , and to improve speech recognition and hand-tracking technology .

Facial recognition technology faces new bans and investigations in the USA, the UK , and India

Incoming European Commission president announced plans for legislation on ethical implications of AI .

Amazon will allocate US$ 700 million to provide a third of its employees with upskilling training programmes in new technologies.

Policy discussions in Geneva

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

Human Rights and Digital Technologies: New Insights | 3 July 2019

Held as a side-event to the UN Human Rights Council, the session discussed the role of the Internet in fostering greater dialogue, empowering marginalised groups, and facilitating the exchange of information and ideas. Organised by the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights, the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, the United Nations Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council, and the Geneva Internet Platform, the session highlighted the need to address concerns about the degree of autonomy of new technologies and how this impacts human rights. Digital rights issues are now largely tackled inside traditional human rights circles such as UN bodies; actors must therefore take the discussions outside of these circles to ensure that human rights concerns are addressed appropriately. Read our report from the session.

Advancing digital and sustainable trade facilitation for trade diversification and inclusive development | 4 July 2019

How are countries progressing with implementing measures under the World Trade Organization’s Trade Facilitation Agreement? How are economies implementing technology-driven measures to strengthen the use and exchange of electronic trade data? This event discussed the preliminary results of the 2019 Global Survey on Digital and Sustainable Trade Facilitation, which was conducted by the five UN regional commissions across 128 economies from 8 regions. The survey found that countries have generally made significant progress in trade facilitation. Yet more efforts are needed to enhance cross-border co-operation and interoperability among paperless trade systems, and to enable the safe and seamless flow of electronic data and documents in the framework of international supply chains.

2019 Innovations dialogue: Digital technologies and international security | 19 August 2019

The conference, organised by the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research, discussed digital innovations and their impact on international security. Break-out sessions, led by practitioners from the tech sector, academia, and international organisations, looked at how quantum computing, distributed ledger technologies, and the IoT work. Discussions focused on the impact of AI on the prevention and de-escalation of conflicts, as well as on strategic decision-making. A key message was that more co-operation is needed among different stakeholders in addressing the security implications of new technologies.

Second meeting of the Group of Governmental Experts on LAWS | 20–21 August 2019

Following the first meeting of the Group of Governmental Experts on emerging technologies in the area of lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS) in April, the second meeting focused on finalising the group’s 2019 report. On substantive issues, the group made progress by adopting the guiding principles affirmed in 2018, which include aspects such as the applicability of international humanitarian law (IHL) to all weapons systems, and the need to retain human responsibility for decisions on the use of weapons systems. The group identified an additional principle, which states that human-machine interaction should ensure that the potential use of LAWS is in compliance with applicable international law, in particular IHL. Contentious issues re-emerged, including those related to the group’s mandate, as well as substantive issues related to human control and judgment in the use of LAWS.

Issue 42 of the Digital Watch newsletter, published on 15 September 2019, by the Geneva Internet Platform and DiploFoundation | Contributors: Cedric Amon, Katarina Anđelković, Stephanie Borg Psaila (editor), Andrijana Gavrilović, Jovan Kurbalija, Nataša Perućica, Sorina Teleanu | Design: Aleksandar Nedeljkov, Viktor Mijatović, and Mina Mudrić, Diplo’s CreativeLab