Digital Watch newsletter - Issue 34 - September 2018

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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

same relevance

The new UN High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation continued to discuss digital policy mechanisms with actors worldwide. The panel’s focus areas will include, among other issues, building the capacity of individuals, organisations, and governments to adapt to the digital age; putting human rights and human agency at the centre of technology; and bridging the digital divide.

Sustainable development

same relevance

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU)and UN Women, in collaboration with the African Union Commission have launched a new initiative to equip girls and young women in Africa with digital literacy skills

In its latest annual report, The State of Broadband: Broadband Catalyzing Sustainable Development, the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Developmentrevealed that a growing number of governments have started to benchmark the status of broadband in their national plans, while raising concerns about the growing inequalities in access to broadband. The report also cites the rapidly expanding use of digital finance services – currently at 15.8% of the global population and anticipated to increase to 40% of the global population by 2025.


increasing relevance

The USA has published its first cybersecurity strategy in 15 years. Meanwhile, the DoD published a summary of its new cyber strategy, which calls on the military to ‘defend forward’ and to disrupt cyber activity at its source.

The European Commission has proposed new rules to help ensure terrorist content online is swiftly removed. The new rules state that content must be taken down by Internet platforms within one hour of being notified by the national competent authorities. They will also be required to take proactive measures to protect their platforms and users from terrorist abuse. 

The data of around 130 million clients of the Huazhu Hotels Group in China was being sold on the Dark Web for 8 bitcoins[link] –a low amount for the 141.5 GB database which contains 240 million records of personal data..

E-commerce and Internet economy

increasing relevance

The European Commission released a concept paper on the modernisation of the World Trade Organization (WTO). The release comes a few days after the delivery of Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker's final State of the European Union Speech, in which he highlighted the need to tackle threats to multilateralism and engage in the reform of the WTO.

China announced a multi-billion dollar investment to develop the digital economy over the next five years, investing in projects on big data, the IoT, cloud computing, smart cities, and the digital Silk Road.

The Indian government announced a review of its recently published draft e-commerce policy, following criticism from stakeholders, in particular from the business sector. It has formed a new group to address stakeholders' concerns over the draft policy.

Amazon's total market value surpassed $1 trillion, making it the  second American company to achieve this milestone, following Apple in August this year.

Digital rights

increasing relevance

The European Court of Human Rights ruled that Tempora, the UK’s programme of mass surveillance, revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden, violated the right to privacy of those targeted.

In their statement at the end of the Five Country Ministerial of 2018, the Five Eyes jurisdictions called on tech companies to voluntarily establish lawful access solutions to private data. 

In Luxembourg, the Court of Justice of the European Union heard more than 70 submissions in seven hours of hearings as part of the legal case involving Google, the French data protection authority (known as CNIL), and the right to be de-listed. CNIL argues that EU citizens’ rights are not respected; Google argues that 'the EU shouldn’t impose its view on others'.

Jurisdiction and legal issues

increasing relevance

The European Parliament approved amendments to the EU Copyright Directive, which attempts to harmonise aspects of copyright law across the EU. The vote included two controversial points, enshrined in Articles 11 and 13, dubbed the 'link tax' (or ‘snippet tax’) and the 'upload filter', the essence of which has been largely retained in the amendments..


same relevance

SACS, the new undersea cable connecting South America (Fortaleza, Brazil) to Sub-Saharan Africa (Luanda, Angola), has been activated.

Alphabet’s project Loon reached a new milestone of providing Internet signal across 1000 kilometers. This is the farthest Loon has ever beamed Internet access. Alphabet is preparing to launch Loon as a commercial service in 2019.

Net neutrality

same relevance

California’s approval of a new net neutrality bill, which prohibits blocking, slowing down websites, and anti-competitive zero-rating practices, was met by criticism from the head of the Federal Communications Commission ahead of the federal appeals court hearing.

New technologies (IoT, AI, etc.)

same relevance

The European Parliament has called for an international ban on the development of lethal autonomous weapons systems, after some countries were reportedly developing them.

The US DoD’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has announced a multi-year investment of more than $2 billion in its AI Next artificial intelligence campaign. DARPA said that key areas to be explored will include automating critical DoD business processes, improving the robustness and reliability of AI systems, enhancing the security and resiliency of machine learning and AI technologies, and pioneering the next generation of AI algorithms and applications.

New research has explored the use of AI and machine learning for the healthcare industry, including in the development of pharmaceuticals, and in robotic surgery.

IBM plans to launch software designed to detect bias in AI models.

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.

Cyberstability Conference: Preventing and Mitigating Conflict

The conference, on 26 September, organised by the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) at the Palais des Nations, tackled a broad range of cyber-conflict-related issues. Some of the issues, such as the roles and responsibilities of states and the private sector, and Russia’s new resolution (one of two proposed drafts) on norms of state behaviour in cyberspace, triggered a lively debate. Structured around four panels, the first explored the risk of conflict through malicious use of ICT. The panellists mentioned the difficulty of agreeing to universal standards and the risks that this uncertainty poses for states and the commercial sector alike. 

The second panel focused on regional mechanisms and solutions for the prevention of cyber conflict. Stressing that regional approaches need to be specific to the area of the world where they are implemented, the speakers shared best cases from the African Union, the Asia-Pacific region, the EU, and the OECD.The third panel focused on the role of the private sector in countering the proliferation of ICT capabilities. Panellists from the private sector and academia presented different techniques, ranging from naming and shaming practices, to insurance markets and trade incentives. 

The final panel discussed multilateral processes across initiatives. Many of the panellists reiterated the importance of finding a common agreement on the applicability of international law in cyberspace and the application of UN GGE recommendations.

Human Rights Council (HRC), 39th Session

During the 39th session of the Human Rights Council (from 10 to 28 September), several reports were considered, including the report of the High Commissioner of Human Rights on the right to privacy. Building on discussions during the expert workshop held in February, the report states that the right to privacy is not limited to private spaces, such as someone’s home, but extends to public spaces and to publicly available information. It warns against intrusive practices that use technology to limit people’s privacy both online and offline, and affirms that the international human rights frameworks offers a solid foundation for addressing challenges arising in the digital age. With regard to the responsibilities of the privacy sector, it refers to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (in particular, Pillar II) as an ‘authoritative blueprint for all enterprises, regardless of their size, sector, operational context, ownership and structure, for preventing and addressing all adverse human rights impacts, including the right to privacy’.

Confidentiality of communication and privacy of data in the digital age (HRC side event)

This side eventto the 39th session of the Human Rights Council, on 25 September, was organised by Privacy International and the International Network of Civil Liberties Organizations, with the support of the governments of Austria, Brazil, Liechtenstein, Mexico, and Germany. The event focused on recent developments at international and national level with regard to the protection of the confidentiality of communications and of personal data. The event represented a platform for sharing the findings of the following studies: the report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on ‘The right to privacy in the digital age’, the report produced by the International Network of Civil Liberties Organizations ‘Unanswered Questions: International Information Sharing’, and the report on policy engagement for data protection ‘The Keys to Data Protection’produced by Privacy International. In addition, the panel discussion addressed the question of data protection principles; the protection and implementation of privacy and data protection with regard to the collection and use of biometric data; and the implications for privacy of use and implementation of AI.

New technologies and human rights (HRC side event)

In another side event on digital issues, on 26 September, organised by the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD) together with the Permanent Missions of the Republic of Korea, Austria, and Denmark, the discussion looked at whether we can leverage technology as a catalyst for the improvement of the human condition, namely reducing existing inequalities and helping us maximise our opportunities. The speakers warned that technology tends to replicate existing inequalities and power imbalances as technology is ‘like a frame: it shows the world as it exists but it is up to us to use it for good change’. Moreover, the speakers also considered that technology poses some limitations to human rights when it comes to ensuring the accountability and transparency of a device’s functions. Hence, most of the speakers stressed the importance of carefully considering potential human rights fallout before a given technology is put on the market; the need to develop a multistakeholder approach while testing a device, in order to limit human rights violations; and the importance of considering embedding privacy in the design of the device (privacy by design). 

Issue no. 34 of the Digital Watch newsletter, published on 2 October 2018, by the Geneva Internet Platform (GIP) and DiploFoundation | Contributors: Cedric Amon, Stephanie Borg Psaila, Amrita Choudhury, Andrijana Gavrilović, Stefania Grottola, Đorđe Jančić, Marco Lotti, Clement Perarnaud, Natasa Perućica | Design by Viktor Mijatović, layout by Aleksandar Nedeljkov, Diplo’s CreativeLab