Digital Watch newsletter - Issue 43 - September 2019

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Digital policy developments in September 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

increasing relevance

Heads of state convened in New York for the UN General Assembly’s General Debate, as part of the 74th session. Technology featured prominently in the debates. Benefits were lauded, while new challenges were raised. 

Sustainable development

same relevance

According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Digital Skills Insights 2019, capacity building is critical for the achievement of all SDGs.

The Africa E-commerce Agenda, released by the International Trade Centre and the World Economic Forum, noted that e-commerce can become the driving force behind sustainable development in Africa.

The 2019 Digital Economy Report published by the UN Conference on Trade and Development drew attention to the widening digital divides that threaten to leave developing countries even further behind.


increasing relevance

The Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) on developments in the field of ICTs in the context of international security held its first substantive session. Read our session reports

A massive Distributed Denial of Service (DDos) affected Wikipedia, taking the platform offline in several parts of the world. A major data breach exposed personal information of more than 20 million Ecuadorians. Microsoft released an emergency patch to fix critical vulnerabilities impacting Internet Explorer.

A poll conducted by the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) in 30 countries indicates that one in three young people has been a victim of online bullying.

E-commerce and Internet economy

increasing relevance

According to the European Commissioner for Competition, the EU may need more rules to govern the collection and use of data by Internet companies.

In the USA, a bipartisan coalition of attorneys general has launched an investigation into Google over potential anti-competitive behaviour. A French court imposed a €4 million fine on Amazon over abusive contractual clauses for retailers. Google agreed on a nearly €1 billion settlement with French tax authorities.

Facebook’s cryptocurrency Libra has been facing opposition from financial institutions, including in France and Germany.

California enacted new legislation giving more rights to gig workers. Brazil’s Superior Court of Justice ruled that Uber drivers are independent contractors.

Digital rights

increasing relevance

Jurisdiction and legal issues

same relevance

In a case opposing France and Google, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled that the EU’s right to be forgotten does not apply globally. The CJEU’s Advocate General opined that copyright is not exhausted when it comes to the re-sale of e-books.

Internet intellectual property disputes made up 80% of cases at the Beijing Internet Court during its first year of existence. 


same relevance

China has started developing 5G standards for hospitals and medical institutions.

Belarus adopted new rules making it mandatory for Internet providers to support Internet protocol version 6 (IPv6).

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) installed an ICANN Managed Root Server instance in China.

Net neutrality

decreasing relevance

Australia’s national broadband network operator has dropped plans to tax video streaming services differently from other traffic.

New technologies (IoT, AI, etc.)

same relevance

At least 75 countries use AI for surveillance purposes, report finds. China plans to oblige online services to make sure that the algorithms they use promote 'mainstream values'. The US Air Force released an AI strategy.

A UK court ruled that the use of automatic facial recognition technology (FRT) by the police is lawful.  The Moroccan data protection authority announced a temporary ban on FRT use. Facebook introduced changes to its face recognition tools, giving users more control.

Germany has released a national blockchain strategy.  The UAE Ministry of Health is developing a blockchain-based system to share assessment information of health professionals.

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.

Digital Cooperation: Can Geneva make it a win-win? | 2 September 2019

The conference discussed Geneva’s rich past of finding solutions to problems caused by new technologies, and technology’s impact on human life. Speakers noted that today’s cyber-conflicts and the latest technological developments contribute to creating new types of warfare and require the development of new legal instruments. Speakers also referred to the new Swiss Digital Initiative, which will encourage discussions among actors and expand on existing principles and ethical behaviour in cyberspace. Discussions also highlighted the need to move away from the concept of ‘owning data’ to adopting an understanding of ‘using data’, and to look for win-win solutions where data can be used and exchanged rather than owned. Read our reports from the conference. 

Digital Day Geneva | 3 September 2019

Organised as part of the 3rd Swiss National Digital Day, actors from the public and private sectors and academia discussed the impact of new technologies on our daily lives and how we can prepare our workforce for upcoming changes. Participants also discussed new ways of teaching younger generations about technology and ways of providing them with future-proof education given the fast developments in technology. 

Privacy in the digital age | 12 September 2019

The discussion on privacy in the digital age, organised as a side-event during the 42nd Human Rights Council (9–27 September 2019), addressed the opportunities and challenges that new technologies, including AI systems, bring to the right to privacy and the protection of civic space. This was in the light of a draft which Germany and Brazil presented during the Council on protecting human rights online. Discussing transparency and accountability of digital identity systems, surveillance systems, and facial recognition technology, speakers agreed that although there is no one-size-fits-all solution, the regulation of such technologies should be firmly grounded in the existing human rights framework. It should also follow the principles of necessity and proportionality, while keeping in mind other privacy and security concerns.

Geneva and the future of multilateralism | 16 September 2019

The event, which celebrated the centenary of the League of Nations, focused on the current challenges that multilateralism is facing. The multilateral system, which some speakers believe is a key political process for addressing today’s challenges and finding global solutions, is transitioning and must be adjusted to the reality of today. One of the suggestions which emerged from the discussion was a rethink of the entire co-operation system in which public-private partnerships would have to take on more responsibilities due to the current transfer of power towards the private sector. Read our reports from the sessions.

Issue 43 of the Digital Watch newsletter, published on 7 October 2019, by the Geneva Internet Platform and DiploFoundation | Contributors: Cedric Amon, Katarina Andjelkovic, Stephanie Borg Psaila (editor), Andrijana Gavrilovic, Pavlina Ittelson, Marco Lotti, Natasa Perucica, Sorina Teleanu | Design: Aleksandar Nedeljkov, Viktor Mijatović, and Mina Mudrić, Diplo’s CreativeLab