Internet and Jurisdiction Policy Network 2019

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[Read more session reports and updates from the 14th Internet Governance Forum]

The Internet & Jurisdiction Policy Network (I&J) enables stakeholders to address the transnational policy changes of the digital age. It ensures policy coherence and co-ordination among initiatives, processes, and actors, bridging issues like the digital economy, human rights, and cybersecurity. The I&J Policy Network aims to be an important link for over 300 entities from 50 countries, spread out over 6 stakeholder groups: Internet platforms, technical operators, civil society, academia, international organisations, and states. At this session, the I&J Policy Network launched its first Global Status Report.

While introducing the I&J Policy Network, Mr Paul Fehlinger (Deputy Executive Director, I&J Policy Network) explained that the organisation has hosted many informed debates in order to enable evidence-based policy innovation, to connect stakeholders and build trust and co-ordination among actors, and to advance concrete solutions to move towards legal interoperability.

The I&J Policy Network produces global and regional status reports with the aim of building capacity and mapping actors and initiatives. It maintains a retrospect database, as well as a newsletter that provides regular updates on various trends related to digital policy. It also develops framing papers and outcomes, which find common challenges and solutions for all relevant entities.

The network connects stakeholders by organising events all around the world. So far, there have been 200 events in 40 countries.

Speaking about the policy work of the I&J Policy Network, Mr Bertrand de la Chapelle (Executive Director, I&J Policy Network) described the network’s three main policy initiatives: the data and jurisdiction programme, which deals with cross-border access to electronic evidence; the content and jurisdiction programme, which deals with cross-border content moderation and restrictions; and, the domains and jurisdiction programme, which deals with cross-border DNS-level actions to address abuses. These initiatives allow stakeholders to develop voluntary policy standards.

Any proposed policy initiatives are made up of three elements: the operational norms, which help actors organise their own behaviour as well as interactions with others; the operational criteria, which guide actors who develop, evaluate, and implement solutions; and the operational mechanisms, which offer concrete avenues for co-operation.

The I&J Policy Network Global Status Report is a response to the urgent call for the mapping of relevant global initiatives, and is put together by over 300 senior stakeholders. Mr Dan Svantesson (Professor Co-Director of the Centre for Commercial Law, Faculty of Law, Stockholm University) discussed the key findings of the report, and noted that stakeholders are strongly concerned with abuses and legal uncertainties, and believe that cross-border legal challenges will become increasingly acute over the next three years.

The report points to the following main challenges: a lack of common agreement on substantive values; a lack of shared understanding of key legal concepts and vernacular; a risk of a race to the bottom (increasing rate of government deregulation to attract or retain economic activity in their jurisdictions); distrust amongst Internet users who may not know which laws apply; voluntary or involuntary fragmentation; and a failure to strike an appropriate balance in regard to the obligations imposed on Internet intermediaries.

The report also points to a ‘dangerous spiral’. Much of what has been done to date has been an attempt to solve global problems through a national lens. This has led to a legal arms race that has resulted in unco-ordinated, reactive, and quick-fix public and private policy initiatives. This piecemeal approach has proven to be detrimental on numerous levels, and has thus been coined as a ‘dangerous spiral’. Such an environment has led to competing assertions of jurisdictions where compliance with one state’s laws unavoidably results in a direct violation of other states’ laws. It prevents actors from efficiently addressing abuses online, hampers digital innovation and growth, and favours the rule of the strongest.

In conclusion, the strongest message from stakeholders was that ‘co-ordination is a must’. Other takeaways from the report include: not addressing jurisdictional challenges comes at a high cost; that the question is not whether to regulate, but how and by whom; and, that the Internet is neither the problem nor the cause of the problem, but is at risk of becoming a victim of a lack of appropriate governance mechanisms.

By Pedro Vilela

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