[Read more session reports and updates from the 14th Internet Governance Forum]
If the growth of the digital economy poses significant opportunities and challenges for developing countries, much of the debate about data governance in the international fora has been and is based on the priorities or standards of developed countries, as shown by the US Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data Act (CLOUD Act) and the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The workshop gathered speakers from low and middle income nations to share the point of view of developing countries. A broader and more inclusive international co-ordination was identified as key in ensuring that developing countries fully engage with the global data economy.
To a large extent, data governance has been based on the priorities or standards set by developed countries, session participants argued. Mr Kamal Bhattacharya (Co-Founder and CEO, Mojochat) referred to a new publication by the Pathways Commission titled ‘Digital diplomacy: technology governance for developing countries’ which details how developing countries face significant challenges because they rely on data governance regulations set in developed countries (the EU and the USA). Mr Fabrizio Hochschild (UN Assistant Secretary-General for Strategic Coordination) agreed that rules adopted in more developed countries are governing processes in less developed countries in ways that are often unconducive to their needs. Ms Mariana Valente (Director, InternetLab) argued that there is a lack of evidence-based policies in many developing countries. Mentioning the recent case of intellectual property debates, Valente challenged the assumption that policy solutions found elsewhere systematically work in developing countries. As many large Internet platforms are headquartered in the USA, the extra-territorial effect of several US legislations transforms them into de facto standards for many digital fields. For instance, the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) determines the regime through which a platform has to comply with copyright notices, and can be used directly from Brazil to take down content from international platforms. Such legislations can circumvent national models for intermediary liability, which could be more in line with the interests of developing countries.
International co-operation is seen as essential to include developing countries’ concerns and interests when deciding for online standards and rules. Ms Elizabeth Stuart (Executive Director, Pathways for Prosperity Commission) highlighted that international co-operation was the most promising option for making digital technology governance work for developing countries. Though many denounce the progressive fragmentation of the Internet, there is still a very limited number of countries around the table when it comes to rules-setting. For Hochschild, there is also a need for capacity building at a regional and sub-regional level to make it possible for more engagement in the international fora. Hochschild detailed that the final report of the High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation convened by the UN Secretary-General proposed the introduction of regional help desks and regional capacity building mechanisms that could take into account particular country and community concerns in a more nuanced way, and help empower communities and regions to play active roles in the global debate.
By Clement Perarnaud