The beginning of a new decade is always an invitation to have a broader look into the future. What, in the next ten years, will happen in the Internet Governance Ecosystem? Will the 2020s see the usual swinging pendulum between more liberal and more restrictive Internet policies in an interconnected world? Or will we move towards a watershed? Will cyberspace, as we know it from the last 50 years as a place for innovation and mutually beneficial digital cooperation, change dramatically and turn into a battlefield between networks and states, where the prioritization of national interests and maximal profits will lead to a fragmentation of the Internet into “national segments”, “wallet gardens” and “alternative roots”? And how the next generation of Internet players will manage the next generation of Internet problems?
If you calculate a generation with 25 years, then 2020 is not only the beginning of a new decade, it also marks the entrance of the “third generation” of Internet leaders into the digital theater. The “fathers of the Internet” (Vint Cerf, Bob Kahn, Steve Crocker, Louis Pouzin, and others), who invented the Internet 50 years ago, are meanwhile grandfathers. Their children, who commercialized and politicized the Internet, have created a borderless space which is used now by more than four billion people for nearly everything. But now it’s time for the “grandchildren.” What will they do with this new “heritage of mankind”? Will the next generation of business leaders, technical experts, civil society activists and policymakers keep the Internet open, free, secure, innovative and unfragmented? Or will new “strong autocratic leaders” emerge, who wants to turn the Internet Governance Ecosystem into a space for militarization, digital trade wars and mass surveillance?
One procedural and four substantial issues
We live in an interconnected world. The UN High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation (HLP.DC), which presented its final report to the UN Secretary-General in June 2019, has called our time “the age of cyberinterdependence.”  Cyberinterdependce means three things: 1. No government can act alone. 2. No stakeholder can act alone and 3. All Internet related public policy or technical issues are interlinked.
This is the big challenge for the next generation of Internet Governance leaders. In the 2020s, they have to find answers at least for one procedural and four substantial issues:
The procedural issue is how to organize an inclusive, transparent, bottom-up policymaking process on a global level that combines traditional intergovernmental with innovative multistakeholder processes to find sustainable solutions for a broad mix of individual but interrelated issues? Good experiences from the past — WSIS, NetMundial, IANA Transition — can help. In the 2000s, there was a more or less ideological battle between “isms” — multistakeholderism vs. multilateralism — which produced more controversy than progress. In the 2010s, it was widely recognized that both concepts could co-exist, which was reflected, inter alia, in the NetMundial Conference (2014) and the IANA transition (2016). But as the UN Panel has outlined, for the 2020s, this will not be enough. The next generation of Internet Governance will need much more inclusive processes where multilateralism and multistakeholderism have to be treated as two sides of one coin.
To revitalize the Internet Governance definition from WSIS Tunis Agenda (2005) can help the new players to understand the nature and complexity of the issue. In Tunis, the heads of 193 UN member states agreed that stakeholders should participate “in their respective roles” in Internet policymaking, but should “share” decision making. In other words: Governments remain governments, businesses remain businesses and civil society remains civil society, but all stakeholders have to work hand in hand to bring their special expertise to the decision-making table to find the best solutions for everybody. In the technical world of the IETF, this process leads to “rough consensus.” Can the world of politics learn something from these experiences?
The concept of “sharing” is the DNA of the whole Internet. It leads to a “win-win-situation” and does not know losers. If the concept of sharing is ignored or substituted by a 20th century “zero-sum game” with winners and losers, the risk is high, that in an interconnected world at the end of the day everybody is a looser. This is a fundamental lesson from the 50 years of Internet history, which should not be forgotten in the 2020s.
The four substantial issues are cybersecurity, digital economy, human rights and technology. For all four issues, one can paint the worst and best-case scenarios for the coming decade.
In the political field the worst case is a cyberwar with a new generation of cyberweapons, based on AI. The best case is the construction of a new cybersecurity architecture with a mix of intergovernmental treaties and multistakeholder arrangements, based on international law and human rights, which will protect the “public core of the Internet” as a “common heritage of mankind.”
In the economic field the worst case is a digital trade war and new forms of digital neo-colonialism with the potential to ruin national economies and currencies and to deepen existing gaps and divides. The best case is a prosperous digital economy that will bring the next billion users to the Internet, stimulate innovation, raise the living standard for more and more people, help to achieve the UN sustainable development goals (SDGs) and create new jobs for decent work in the digital age.
In the field of human rights the worst case is mass surveillance und global censorship. The best case is a free Internet where privacy, freedom of expression, freedom of association, the rights to culture, education and work are protected and can be enjoyed by everybody, regardless of frontiers.
In the technological field the worst case is a new “standardization war” and an AI which goes out of human control. The best case is the development of smart cities that contribute to the building of a human-centered information society with “enabled citizens,” where technical innovation helps to improve healthcare, education, housing and public transportation.
The Agenda for 2020
But let’s look into the concrete issues which will be on the international political agenda for 2020.
A key political process will start already in January 2020 with the preparation of the “Global Commitment for Digital Cooperation”. To draft such a global commitment was one of the key proposals of the UN Panel. The plan is to adopt such a document on October 24, 2020, the 75th anniversary of the United Nations. It is not yet clear how such a new document will be negotiated. There is no need to draft a new treaty. But a “Global Commitment” would make sense indeed. If 193 UN member states, with the support of the multistakeholder community, could agree on a set of some general guidelines, this would be useful to frame the complicated process of Internet negotiations in the coming years. Such a “Global Committment” could include some basic paragraphs for trust and security in cyberspace, encouraging the ongoing cybersecurity negotiations. It could include some guidelines for the development of the digital economy, helping the WTO to find balanced solutions on eCommerce and digital taxation as well as strengthening the digital component of the SDGs. It could strengthen human rights in the digital age and supporting a human-centered development of AI. And it could encourage enhanced communication, coordination and collaboration among state and non-state actors in shaping cyberspace.
But the preparation of the 75th UN anniversary is not the only process. There will be a broad range of activities in all four main baskets of the Internet Governance Ecosystem:
In the field of cybersecurity it will be interesting to see whether the intergovernmental negotiations produce concrete outcomes. Such outcomes could become building blocks of a new global cybersecurity architecture. At the moment, we have four processes which are not formally interlinked, but are aiming more or less in the same direction:
- Under the 1st Committee of the UN General Assembly there are two separate, but complementary bodies which are negotiating norms on state behavior as well as confidence and capacity-building measures to strengthen peace and international security in cyberspace: The Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) has to present its final report until fall 2020. The 6th Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) has one year more. It has to deliver its outcome to the 76th UN General Assembly in Fall 2021;
- The second process takes place under the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) where another Group of Governmental Experts negotiates since 2014 “Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems” (GGE-LAWS). This GGE made some progress last year in agreeing on a number of “guiding principles,” however, there is a broad disagreement what the final outcome of the negotiations should be. Some states want to see a legally binding treaty that would prohibit AI-based weapon systems, similar to the prohibition of chemical or biological weapons. Others are rejecting even a moratorium for killer robots. The GGE LAWS will have two meetings in 2020. And it has to report back to the 6th CCW Review Conference in 2021;
- The third process has been opened just recently by a decision of the 74th UN General Assembly (December 2019). According to the adopted UN resolution, “an open-ended ad hoc intergovernmental committee of experts” will be established with the mandate “to elaborate a comprehensive international convention on countering the use of information and communications technologies for criminal purposes.” The UN resolution, initiated by Russia, was adopted by 79 votes. Sixty states voted against (mainly Western countries), and 33 abstained. It is unclear how such a controversial decision will lead to a broad-based outcome or a new Cybercrime Convention which would go beyond the existing Budapest Convention from 2001.
- The forth process is pushed forward mainly by the G7 and G20. In 2019, both summits adopted documents to intensify the work to counter terrorism and violent propaganda as well as fake news. However, this is a slippery slope if the cleaning of illegal content from Twitter and Facebook accounts is delegated to private corporations, which often make no big differences between “illegal” and “harmful” content. Whether “harmful” content is also “illegal” is very often dependent on the context, and this can be decided only by independent courts and not by algorithms. If mechanisms are introduced to bypass independent courts, this can open the door for “private sector censorship” with the unintended side effect, that regimes, who do not value the existence of an independent judiciary, would feel encouraged to continue with “governmental censorship”.
So far, those four processes are mainly intergovernmental processes and organized in silos with only little communication among each other or the outside world of non-state actors. It remains to be seen how long governments will need to realize that they will be unable to achieve anything meaningful if they do not take a holistic approach and cooperate with non-state actors from business, the technical community, and civil society. The recommendations of the “Global Commission in Stability in Cyberspace” has produced a number of guidelines which give both state and non-state actors a role in “Advancing Cyberstability.”  Arrangements by businesses themselves as Microsoft´s “Tech Accord”, Siemens “Charter of Trust” or Tim Barner-Lees “Contract for the Web” can make substantial contributions to stabilize peace and enhance international security in cyberspace. New non-governmental players, as the recently established “Cyber Peace Institute” (CPI) in Geneva as well as other existing institutions like the “Gobal Forum on Cyberexpertise” (GFCE) and the IGF Best Practice Forum on Cybersecurity (BPF.CS@IGF) could play a constructive role.
The first informal intersessional consultative meeting of the OEWG with industry, non-governmental organizations and academia in New York (December 2019) demonstrated that multistakeholder cooperation can not only work but is extremely useful also in the field of cybersecurity. The report from this “Intersessional” will be presented to the next intergovernmental OEWG meeting in February 2020 in New York. Will governments just “take note” of this report, or will they rethink and innovate their future proceedings?
The key controversial issues in the digital eocnomy will be digital trade, eCommerce, taxation, digital currencies, SDGs and the future of work.
- The “Osaka Track” initiative, which came out of the G20 meeting under the Japanese G20 presidency (June 2019), is now negotiated within the WTO. However, there are only 78 WTO members who are engaged in these negotiations on “Data Free Flow with Trust” (DFFT). On the other hand, those WTO members represent more than 80 percent of global eCommerce. It is a big challenge for the forthcoming 12th WTO Ministerial Conference (June 2020 in Nursultan, Kasachstan) to produce an inclusive agreement. The so-called “WTO E-Commerce Moratorium” from 1998 expired at the end of 2019 but was extended just recently until the WTO Ministerial. This issue — if it remains unsolved — has the potential to provoke a digital trade war as big nations like India, Indonesia or South Africa reject the “Oaska Track” and China, US and EU are more or less in a waiting position because the whole reform project for the WTO is unclear, as long as the US continues to block the continuation of the WTO dispute settlement mechanism.
- The second big controversy is digital taxation. The issue is under discussion for a long time, mainly in the OECD, but also in the EU and other bodies. The EU has already produced hundreds of pages with drafts for legal texts, but could not agree on a common position. Some EU members preferred a “national approach,” others a “global solution.” The OECD, in cooperation with the G20, is working for years to propose a feasible mechanism. In fall 2019, the OECD started a public consultation on a new proposal for a global digital tax regime. The hope is to get an agreement before the end of 2020. However, the French president Emanuel Macron was not ready to wait, and France introduced a national digital tax in 2019, which infuriated US President Donald Trump. During the G7 summit under the French presidency in Biarritz (August 2019), the two presidents agreed that if a global solution is achieved until the end of 2020, France will terminate its national digital tax legislation. But what will happen if the OECD and the G20 will be unable to agree? Is a digital tax war unavoidable?
- Another controversy is the plan for digital currencies. Facebook’s LIBRA project is seen with growing mistrust by finance ministers and governors of Central Banks all over the world. Even private partners like PayPal or Mastercard have obvious problems in continuing with their support for the project. The Swiss government has recently rejected first drafts to license LIBRA. In the meantime, discussions have started among national banks to offer an alternative digital currency under their own control. At the same time, new mobile online paying systems — from AliPay to ApplePay — are becoming more and more popular for millions of costumers with a mobile phone.
- How digitalization will influence the daily life of everybody was discussed extensively in the final report of the Global Commission on the Future of Work. The ILO Centenary Conference in June 2019, based on the recommendations of the Global Commission, adopted a “Decent Work Agenda” to manage the consequences of digitalization “to deliver quality jobs along with social protection and respect for rights at work to achieve sustainable, inclusive economic growth, and eliminate poverty”. A challenge not only for developing countries.
- Finally, digitalization and the SDGs is also a big issue. The SDGs are aimed at 2030. It is very clear that without progress in the digital economy, those goals will not be achieved. In particular, the African Union is pushing to make the 2020s a decade for “Digital Africa.” And there is a great outreach by China, Russia, the US and the EU to step in and to help. Help is certainly welcome; however, there is also a threat that the offered help is driven by geopolitical interests concerning a continent, where the next billion Internet users are waiting to be connected. The last thing Africa needs is becoming a battlefield between cybersuperpowers.
In 2016, the UN Human Rights Council reaffirmed that “the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online.” This was a fundamental statement; however, in many cases, this remains a lip service if it comes to concrete implementation measures. In dealing with national cybersecurity and digital economy, many governments see human rights often as “secondary issues”. Only a little progress has been achieved in recent years. In the contrary, more and more states shut down the Internet during election campaigns and crackdowns on protest. Digital mass surveillance has grown. Vague national laws require retention of user data and disclosure, weaken encryption or enable direct access to networks, often on the basis of spurious or sweeping national security justifications, and without judicial authorization or oversight. The failure of States to protect net neutrality, prioritizing profit over equitable access, is a particular threat to the rights of economically disadvantaged groups.
Proposals by the two UN Special Rapporteurs on freedom of expression and privacy in the digital age, David Kaye and Joe Catenacci, to stop legislation with a censorship potential or to draft new global instruments against mass surveillance, has been ignored by the member states of the UN Human Rights Council. The Council will have three sessions in 2020, and the two rapporteurs will come back with their proposals. In 2023 we will have the 75th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Let’s wait and see whether some progress can be achieved in the coming decade.
For a couple of years, technical issues like codes, protocols and standards are pulled more and more into political controversies. This is not a big surprise if one recognizes that standards for voice and face recognition, protocols for the DNS (DOH) and new applications and services as Blockchain, Internet of Things, Big Data, 5G and AI have deep political, economic, social and cultural implications. The battle around Huawei signals that there is “great boxing” ahead of us. The question who defines the standards for all those new services, who will control the market, how can fundamental ethical principles, freedom and privacy are incorporated into technologies “by design,” how security can be secured and how the human being will remain in control: all this has become a political battlefield, which is now even on the agenda of the G7 and G20.
Platforms for discussions are, inter alia, IETF and Study Group 20 of the ITU-T. In particular, AI has become a global topic of the highest priority. More and more governments have established national expert groups to find out what is at stake for their countries. The EU High-Level Expert Group on AI presented its “Ethics Guidelines for Trustworthy Artificial Intelligence” in April 2019. In May 2019, the OECD adopted a “Council Recommendation on Artificial Intelligence,” which was supported by the G20 summit in Osaka (June 2019). Since 2017 the ITU is organizing an annual “AI for Good Global Summit”. In November 2019, the 40th UNESCO General Conference adopted a resolution to start work on a normative instrument on the ethics of artificial intelligence.
AI is a very complex issue and difficult to define. Because it is a problem for the whole world, it could become a sphere for global cooperation. Positive experience from global cooperation in the Outer Space as the “International Space Station” (ISS) could be used as a source of inspiration. But as we have seen recently, even the outer space is now turned again into a space of confrontation and weaponization. In other words, the challenge for 2020 is to channel the global AI discussion into peaceful waters.
The Future of the IGF
One of the 2019 highlights was the 14th Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Berlin (November 2019). Inspired by the proposals of the UN High Level-Panel to move forward with the idea of an IGF+, the Berlin IGF produced tangible output as never before: Messages from Berlin, the Chair’s summary, session reports, a resolution from the high-level governmental meeting, and — for the first time in the history of the IGF — a resolution adopted by 160 parliamentarians from 60 countries, the “Jimmy Schulz Call”, remembering the member of the German Bundestag, Jimmy Schulz, who was one of the initiators of this first meeting of parliamentarians within the IGF and who passed away at the eve of the Berlin IGF.
The Berlin IGF also attracted related organizations to come to Berlin: The Munich Security Conference organized its annual Cybersecurity Summit. Tim Barners Lee opens his “Contract for the Web” for signatures. The Global Commission on Stability in Cyberspace presented its final report. A NetMundial+5 meeting evaluated the impact of this landmark multistakeholder conference. More than 200 sessions took place. The network of national and regional IGFs (NRI) has matured. Dynamic Coalitions (DCs) and Best Practice Fora (BPFs) adopt recommendations.
With the opening speeches of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the IGF also made a point on the busy agenda of world politics. Guterres underlined the role of digitalisation for achieving the SDGs. “My belief is that the Internet can be a powerful force for good, but we also see that it is a tool that can easily be put to nefarious use. The algorithms that determine social media can trap us in the echo chambers of our own opinions and prejudices,” he said. “We also need to understand the relationship between digital advances and inequality,” he added. “We know that inequality and exclusion drive social unrest and conflict. We also know that digital technologies, depending on their use, can be a force that widens social gaps or reduces them.” He offered the UN as the “appropriate platform” to address these global challenges.
Merkel was very clear in bringing multstakeholderism and multilateralism into the right balance and supported the idea to have special arrangements to protect the public core of the Internet. “This shared internet infrastructure has become a cornerstone of the global economy,” she said. “Billions of people can make their views and ideas known on the internet.” She criticized several governments which “are interfering with the freedoms the internet creates.” They see the Internet through their national lens, preferring unilateral actions and are trying to “to seal their nets off from the global internet.” But even some private companies, Merkel says, “are investing in their own, closed-off infrastructures. This raises the danger that global companies might build up parallel worlds — with their own rules and standards — which they will then try to impose on others via international bodies.” In her eyes, “digital sovereignty does not mean protectionism, or that state authorities say what information can be disseminated” rather, it describes “the ability both of individuals and of society to shape the digital transformation in a self-determined way… If we are convinced that isolationism is not an expression of sovereignty, but that we have to base our actions on a shared understanding and shared values, then precisely that — a commitment to a shared, free, open and secure global internet — is in fact an expression of sovereignty”. According to Merkel “an increasingly fragmented internet can never be good”. Insofar, she proposes “we should all be determined to protect the heart of the internet as a global public good.” Merkel, comparing the industrial revolution with the information age, said that “technological innovations do not just happen” and companies need “parameters and guidelines.” But the internet “cannot and must not be shaped by states and governments alone. Because the fundamental issues surrounding the Internet ultimately affect each and every one of us. That’s why we need a comprehensive dialogue and a multistakeholder approach, as we say these days.”
With the two speeches of Guterres and Merkel, the IGF got a substantial push, which will help to shape its future. The current mandate of the IGF ends in 2025. It will be up to the WSIS+20 Review Conference to decide about the future of an IGF+. During the Berlin IGF, UN Secretary-General appointed Anriette Esterhuysen, former president of the Association for Progressive Communication (APC), as the new Chair of the IGF Multistakeholder Advisory Group (MAG). She follows Lyn St. Armour, the former ISOC president, who retired after three years as MAG Chair. APC is a civil society organization headquartered in South Africa. Esterhuysen was also a former member of the Global Commissions on Internet Governance (2014- 2016) and on Stability in Cyberspace (2017–2919).
The Berlin IGF produced what the founding mothers and fathers of the IGF had in mind when they agreed in Tunis in 2005 on the “forum function”. The IGF in Berlin, with nearly 7000 participants (half of them online) from 161 countries, was the big, high-level marketplace for information and ideas, which produced tangible outcomes as input into the various Internet-related negotiations by organizations, which have a mandate to take decisions. The IGF+ proposal, which includes ideas for the establishment of a “cooperation accelorator” or a “policy incubator”, opens the door for the introduction of an additional layer in the IGF pyramid, which could close the existing gap between discussion and decision.
The preparations for the 15th IGF, scheduled for Kattowice/Poland from November, 2–6, 2020, will start already in January in Geneva with the first MAG meeting under Esterhuysens leadership. A series of national and regional IGFs will follow, as the 13th EURODIG in June 2020 in Trieste/Italy.
Timetable of Events
Internet Governance will be on the political agenda the whole year of 2020. It starts with the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos in January and the Munich Security Conference in February, where numerous workshops and roundtables are dealing with cyber and digital issues. The next meetings of the OEWG and the GGE will take place in February in New York and Geneva. The Freedom Online Coalition (FOC) will have its annual meeting in Accra/Ghana in early February. The next ICANN meeting in March in Cancun could become very hot after the controversial sale of PIR, the registry operator of the .org top-level domain. The sale has triggered for the first time since the IANA transition a discussion on whether the “empowered community” should appear at the stage of the Internet theater. This could also overshadow the Global Domain Week in Mai 2020 in Paris. End of March, ITU will organize its annual WSIS Forum in Geneva. RightsCon takes place in June in Costa Rica. Other ICANN meetings will take place in Kuala Lumpur (June) and Hamburg (October). IETF meetings are planned for Vancouver (March), Madrid (July) and Bangkok (November). The 3rd Paris Peace Forum will continue the discussion on Cybersecurity in November.
World leaders will also discuss internet Governance, cybersecurity, and the digital economy at the forthcoming summit meetings of the G20, G7, BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). The US chairs the G7 in 2020. The G7 summit will take place in June 2020, just on the eve of the US presidential elections. Saudi Arabia has overtaken the G20 presidency. The G20 summit is scheduled for in Riyad, November 21–22, 2020. Saud Arabia is planning to give digital and cyber issues a high priority. Under the headline “Shaping new Frontiers”, Saudi Arabia will push for a discussion around the future of the digital economy, including a new global digital tax regime. Russia has overtaken the 2020 presidency both for BRICS and SCO. St. Petersburg is the venue for the BRICS summit in July 2020. Russian president Wladimir Putin has already outlined that the misuse of the Internet for terrorism, cybersecurity, digital economy, and AI will be priority issues on the 2020 BRICS agenda. Similar priorities have been defined for the Russian SCO presidency.
The UN, the 75th General Assembly, UN bodies (OEWG, GGE, GGE LAWS, HRC, etc.) and nearly all UN specialized agencies (ITU, UNESCO, WTO, UNCTAD, WIPO, ILO, etc.) have also an agenda full with Internet-related problems. The highlight will certainly be, as mentioned above, the celebrations around the 75th anniversary of the United Nations on October 24, 2020. Beyond the UN, there is basically no intergovernmental organization anymore, which has not checked how they are affected by the digital revolution. This is in particular of great importance for organizations dealing with security aspects as NATO, OSCE, ASEAN, OAS, Interpol and others.
Next to the intergovernmental 2020 will see again an endless series of important expert conferences as Cycon in Tallin (March), Cyberweek in Tel Aviv (June), Black Hat & DevCon in Las Vegas (August), CyFy in New Dehli (October), Singapur Cyberweek (October), the Chinese Wuzhen “World Internet Conference” (November) and many others. And at the horizon, in the middle of the 2020s, the WSIS+20 Review Conference, is waiting. To prepare such a big meeting as early as possible makes sense — no quiet time for the Internet Governance travel circus.
Written by Wolfgang Kleinwächter, Professor Emeritus at the University of Aarhus
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Read more here:: feeds.circleid.com/cid_sections/blogs?format=xmlPosted on: January 7, 2020