Digital Watch newsletter - Issue 24 - September 2017

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IG Barometer for September

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

increasing relevance

BRICS leaders expressed support for the central role of the UN in developing norms of responsible state behaviour in cyberspace. They emphasised the principles of the international law as enshrined in the UN Charter and reiterated the call for a UN-based universal regulatory binding instrument on combatting cybercrime.

Sustainable development

same relevance

The ITU and the UN Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development’s ‘The State of Broadband 2017: Broadband Catalyzing Sustainable Development’, provides a global snapshot of Internet access, examines trends in connectivity, reviews policy and regulatory developments, and presents a number of policy recommendations. It emphasises the utility of broadband technologies in accelerating the SDGs related to food security and ending hunger; health and well-being; inclusive and quality education for all; and protecting the environment.


increasing relevance

During the 72nd session of the UN General Assembly, Russia formally announced it had drafted a universal convention on countering cybercrime. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov proposed to open the discussion during the current UN session.

Europe is still not well-equipped when it comes to cyber-attacks, which can be very dangerous to the stability of democracies and economies, European Commission President Juncker said in his State of the Union address. The EU therefore plans to beef up the cyber agency ENISA.

Researchers have discovered a botnet, called ‘Onliner’, that has collected 711 million email accounts used to send spam messages. In another attack, the personal data of 140 million people was exposed by a breach on Equifax’s website, one of the three biggest consumer credit reporting companies in the USA.

E-commerce and Internet economy

increasing relevance

New tax proposals and regulatory rulings have placed e-commerce and the Internet economy under focus this month.

The members of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) are undertaking another round of negotiations on 23-27 September. An issue that remains unclear is how much of the Trans-Pacific Partnership’s (TPP) terms will carry over into the NAFTA process.

Economic ministers from the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) – a proposed free trade agreement between the 10 member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the six states with which ASEAN has existing free trade agreements – pledged to ramp up their negotiating efforts on an extensive regional free trade deal, following a meeting in Pasay City, Philippines.

In a communication by the European Commission to the European Parliament on a ‘Balanced and Progressive Trade Policy to Harness Globalization’, the Commission laid out its vision and priorities in the field of trade negotiations.

Ahead of the 11th WTO Ministerial Conference, the WTO Public Forum in Geneva focused on priorities and ways forward on digital commerce.

Digital rights

increasing relevance

La Agencia Española de Protección de Datos (AEPD), Spain’s data protection watchdog, has fined Facebook €1.2 million for collecting personal data from Spanish users without informing them of how it would be used.

Google is being sued for gender discrimination in its employee practices, over pay discrimination and channeling of women into lower paying job tracks. Google denies the claims.

Authorities in Togo have ended an Internet shutdown after blocking Internet access during protests on 5 September, while Saudi Arabia has decided to lift the ban on Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services, such as Skype, which have been prohibited since 2013. In India, new rules will legalise temporary phone and Internet service shutdowns 'during a "public emergency" or for "public safety'"'.

Jurisdiction and legal issues

same relevance

Google will start complying with search warrants requiring it to produce data stored in its servers overseas, the US Justice Department has said. One exception will be search warrants issued by courts in the Second Circuit (Connecticut, New York, and Vermont), after a New York judge ruled last year that Microsoft could not be obliged to provide data stored overseas on the basis of search warrants.

Privacy Shield raised the bar for transatlantic data protection, the US Secretary of Commerce and the European Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality said in a joint press statement.


increasing relevance

Amazon has put forward its arguments to the ICANN Board, urging it to immediately approve its applications for .amazon. In a resolution issued on 23 September, the board stated that further consideration was needed, and asked its Accountability Mechanisms Committee to review and consider the recommendation and provide options for the board on how to address it.

In Spain, judicial authorities issued an order asking Fundació puntCAT, the registry for .cat, to block all .cat domain names that host any kind of information about the independence referendum in Catalonia planned for 1 October. The referendum had been ruled illegal by the Spanish courts.

A new subsea cable connecting North America with mainland Europe has now been completed. The transatlantic cable Marea, which is 6600 kilometers long, has a capacity of 160 terabits per second..

Net neutrality

same relevance

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which is expected to make a final decision with regard to the US net neutrality rules by the end of the year, received millions of public comments during an online consultation period.

Meanwhile, in an interview, FCC chair Ajit Pai is encouraging US Congress to take hold of the issue and pass legislation.

New technologies (IoT, AI, etc.)

increasing relevance

Robotics, AI, and big data were among the topics discussed during the G7 Innovation WeekICT ministers called for an inclusive, open, and secure fourth industrial revolution, and committed to contributing to multistakeholder efforts towards a ‘socially beneficial AI’. Science ministers reiterated support for open science, and noted the role of big data in scientific work, while labour ministers underlined the need to place people and work at the centre of innovation.

IBM and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s newly created AI Lab will work on AI algorithms, the physics of AI, the application of AI to industries, and advancing shared prosperity through AI. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau welcomed the opening of a Facebook AI lab in the country.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has proposed the creation of a single global drone registry. In the USA, the Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration released a new set of guidelines for automated driving systems (ADS), which provide a nonregulatory approach to automated vehicle technology safety’.

Geneva digital developments

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 2017 Broadband Commission Report

The State of Broadband 2017: Broadband for Catalyzing Sustainable Development report, released on 14 September at the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) headquarters, investigates broadband accessibility and affordability, by monitoring how countries are doing with fulfilling the targets set by the Broadband Commission in 2011. This year’s report shows an increased difficulty in defining and monitoring broadband and ICTs, and a growing digital inequality between developed and developing countries.

Launch of the Global Internet Futures report

The Internet Society celebrated its 25th anniversary during an InterCommunity global event spanning six continents. The findings of the Paths to our Digital Future report, launched on 18 September, shaped the conversations in the 17 interactive nodes around the world. The report’s recommendations are clustered around the need for online social norms and proactive measures to empower people to shape their own futures.  

Meetings of ITU Working Groups

The open consultation on Over the Top services (OTTs) by the ITU Council Working Group on International Internet-related Public Policy Issues (CWG-Internet) was held on 18 September; the consultation summary is now available. At the member states-only CWG-Internet meeting, which took place on 20-21 September, Brazil reported on how it had conducted a national multistakeholder process to encourage Brazilian entities to respond to the CWG’s open consultation, resulting in 8 contributions from stakeholders in Brazil (just over 10% of all contributions). Both the CWG-Internet and CWG on WSIS: Implementation of Outcomes discussed the process of updating plenipotentiary resolutions relevant to their activities, with a number of states noting that there are regional preparatory processes underway to develop draft proposals for updates to resolutions.

Identity in the NBCIS Era

How is the NBCIS (Nanotechnologies, Biotechnologies, Information Technologies, and Cognitive Science) era shaping our identities and the identity of democracy? This question was addressed by philosopher Jean-Michel Besnier at the Flux Laboratory on 20 September during Democracy Week 2017.[link] Science has the potential to create a new type of human by solving biological and cognitive limitations. Humanity based on free choice, respect for dignity, and the power of human rationality will be challenged.

Artificial Intelligence, Justice, and Human Rights

This side event (20 September) of the Human Rights Council’s 36th session discussed the potential impact of AI on justice systems and human rights. Recognising that AI can generate opportunities and threats to justice systems, the speakers expressed concern about the discriminatory potential of AI. Based on data tainted by human bias, the use of AI in justice systems could result in the judgement of individuals based on correlation and on the group they belong to, rather than on the motivation for and consequences of their actions. A human rights framework could provide an effective way of addressing the risks of AI, and identifying red lines.

Artificial Intelligence Geneva Summit

This half-day event – organised by DigitalSwitzerland, École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), and the Canton of Geneva on 22 September – focused on a key controversy: Should robots be given rights, or should we assess their interaction with humans based on empathy levels? Many issues were raised, including advancements in digital epidemiology, robot dependence, data ownership, and corporate governance. In addition to calls for ‘privacy by default’ and ‘ethics by design’, speakers suggested that the legal process be transformed to provide timely responses to AI dilemmas.

4th meeting of the Working Group on Enhanced Cooperation

The fourth meeting of the working group of the UN Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD) was held on September 25-27 in Geneva. Members of the working group remain divided on the issue of whether or not a new UN mechanism is needed to fully implement enhanced co-operation, and whether any new mechanism should focus on intergovernmental decision-making or multistakeholder involvement. There were some broad agreements on less contentious topics (such as alignment with the sustainable development goals (SDGs)). The ongoing differences of opinion on a new mechanism were also reflected in debates at the meeting about the structure of the final report, with some members wanting the report to document discussion on non-consensus recommendations, and others not.

Issue no. 24 of the Geneva Digital Watch newsletter, published on 30 September 2017, by the Geneva Internet Platform (GIP) and DiploFoundation. Contributors: Stephanie Borg Psaila, Samantha Dickinson, Jovan Kurbalija, Marco Lotti, Virginia Paque, Marilia Maciel, Roxana Radu, Vladimir Radunović, Barbara Rosen Jacobson, Sorina Teleanu. Design by Viktor Mijatović, layout by Aleksandar Nedeljkov, Diplo’s CreativeLab