Will 2020 be the year that politicians bring the Internet to heel?

The mounting pressures from Governments around the world

The pressures to apply the “normal rule of law” to the on-line world are local, regional and global: from the Ring case in a Californian Federal Court , through the Digital Economy Act 2017 and the “Carnegie Bill” (to address on-line harms in the UK)  and the United Nations Resolution of 27th December , to the implementation in 2020  of the OECD/G20 plans to combat “Base erosion and profit shifting” (alias tax avoidance).

We can see the current positions of the Internet giants  beginning to change as they begin to come to terms with the inevitable. Thus Google is to “simplify” its corporate structure and license its Intellectual Property from the USA rather than Bermuda.

But we can also see the rearguard actions of those who do not want the Internet to be regulated or taxed. They claim the UN resolution is a platform for the introduction of state censorship and we should instead build on the Budapest Convention  and the ongoing work on Cybercrime by UN Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC, Vienna); including the existing Open Ended Working Group on Cybercrime  and their comprehensive study on Cybercrime .  That argument would be more convincing is had those making it done rather more to help law enforcement find effective means of protecting us from abuse now that most of the worlds criminals are, (like the most of the rest of us), on-line.

Meanwhile the Shanghai Cooperation (SCO) has formalised cooperation among its eight member countries (including India, China, Pakistan and Russia) on issues of cybercrime . Their members are among those taking steps to move away from dependence on the current US-centric Internet before we face a major flare up in first ongoing cyber war, that between the United States and Iran.

The United Nations Secretary General addressed the need for action when he opened the recent Internet Governance Forum in November, in Berlin, hosted by Angela Merkel. His remarks,  quoted in full below, cover not only the need to better provide equality of access but also to meet expectations of security, reliability and resilience.

I therefore expect 2020 to be the year that Governments around the world apply “normal rules” to those who still claim they are not responsible for how their products and services are used, even while they record and analyse all who use them to do, what, where, when and how, including to make available to advertisers and software developers.

The opportunity for the UK to take a post-Brexit lead

By the end of January the first stages of Brexit will have allowed the UK to begin to move ahead of the game. We will have the opportunity to become a trusted and trustworthy international hub for the quality control of good practice, no longer bound by what all the nations of Europe Europe can agree – although we will almost certainly wish to use both the EU GDPR and the Californian Consumer Privacy legislation (which comes into force this year) as base markers.

But we need to move rapidly to exploit that position in order to avoid being dragged down in a global collapse of confidence in the on-line world as the high tech bubble investment collapses. This will the year that players begin to lose their taxes and regulatory advantages. They will have to compete on quality of service. They will also have to begin to provide evidence  the advertisers that their messages are being seen by the audiences they want, as opposed to by pay-per-click botnets, alongside fake news.

We have to move equally rapidly to address the root cause of our recent lack of competitiveness, as identified by The Times of India ; the failure of our Education and Training establishment to educate and train the natives. We will no longer be able to rely on importing those educated and trained by India, Poland and others. Filtering children for academic potential and hosting world class centres of research excellence is no substitute for recognising and developing the diverse vocational and creative talents of the majority.

We have become a nation of haves and have nots. Some of the comments of the Secretary General of the United Nations (below) apply as much to parts of the UK as they do to developing nations. It is nearly a year since I blogged on what needs to be done to enlist the talents of all the UK natives, not just those willing to cripple their twenties and thirties with student debt. I look forward to seeing a majority Government taking the actions necessary to provide open and equal access to world class learning and training across the whole of the UK, including rural, small town and inner city.  [I will be blogging on this again].

UN Secretary-General remarks to the IGF 2019 – Berlin, 26 November 2019 – [as delivered]

Dear Chancellor Angela Merkel, excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, dear friends.

I am extremely pleased to be with you today.

And I am honoured to be sharing the stage with Chancellor Merkel. I am also privileged to share with her a unique background: we were both first trained in the sciences, she as a physicist and a chemist, and I as an electrical engineer. Then we both lost our way and ended up as politicians!

As public servants, we are entrusted with helping to address the most pressing issues of the day. And little can have more relevance to our lives and futures than the responsible and effective governance of the Internet and digital technology. Technological developments are unfolding at a speed with no parallel in human history.

The impact of digital technology is sometimes compared to that of Gutenberg´s introduction of the printing press to Europe in 1439. Both have democratized knowledge, but at very different speeds. It was only by 1950 that half of the world’s population was literate, meaning that it took five centuries for Gutenberg’s invention to benefit half of humanity. It has taken the Internet just 25 years to reach half the globe.

Digital technology is shaping history. But there is also the sense that it is running away with us.

Where will it take us?

Will our dignity and rights be enhanced or diminished?

Will our societies become more equal or less equal?

Will we become more, or less, secure and safe?

The answers to these questions depend on our ability to work together across disciplines and actors, across nations and political divides. We have a collective responsibility to give direction to these technologies so that we maximize benefits and curtail unintended consequences and malicious use. And so far, we have not kept pace.  There is an absence of technical expertise among policy-makers, even in the most developed countries.

Invention is outpacing policy-setting. And major differences in culture and mindset are creating further challenges.

The private sector has an attitude of trial and error, moving rapidly and correcting retroactively. Meanwhile, policy-makers prefer thorough consultative processes, and are reluctant to define policy frameworks and regulations before there is clarity on all consequences.

So, while industry has been forging ahead and at times breaking things, policy-makers have been watching from the side lines. Now, in a growing number of countries, and at regional levels, the governance gap is being addressed. And what Europe has achieved is noteworthy.

But there is still a major deficit at the international level, including even in Europe itself. This puts at risk our common aspiration for a universally accessible, free, secure and open Internet – one world, one Net, one vision. And it is clear for me that we live in one world. But it is not entirely clear that we will live only with one Net.

It is a very emotional moment, when 30 years ago, we have seen the fall of the Berlin wall. And so it is for me an enormous frustration to know that today, not only we are still building physical walls to separate people, but that there is also a tendency to create some virtual walls in the internet, also to separate people. And the only way to avoid it is if we are able to have one vision. And one vision and one world. I hope to be able to have also one internet.

Today, an accessible, free, secure and open Internet is at risk of fracturing along three intersecting lines. There is a profound digital divide; a social divide; and a political divide. Allow me take each in turn.

First, the digital divide.

Today, there are still 3.6 billion people without affordable access to the Internet. And most alarmingly, among the world’s 47 least developed countries, where the Internet could have a truly transformative impact, more than 80 per cent of the population is still offline.

And the gender gap in connectivity continues to widen. Only 2 per cent of women in Latin America and the Caribbean and in East Asia and the Pacific own a mobile phone with Internet access. Worldwide, some 327 million fewer women than men have a smartphone and can access the mobile Internet. Women are also drastically under-represented in information and communications technology jobs, top management and academic careers in the technological sector. And 90 per cent of start-ups seeking venture capital have been founded by men.

Connecting all the world’s people by 2030 must be our shared priority, not only for sustainable development, but for gender equality.
We must do better, especially for young girls in developing countries. There are many initiatives that need to be better supported and accelerated. One potentially game-changing connectivity project, called “GIGA”, is being led by UNICEF and the UN International Telecommunications Union to connect every school in the world to the Internet by 2030.

The digital divide is also exacerbated by the unequal distribution of know-how and expertise.  To address this, we will pursue the implementation of the recommendation of my High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation on capacity-building.

The digital divide can aggravate the social divide.

Given the polarizing nature of much Internet content, we cannot avoid the question of whether it is a tool to bring us together or whether it is dividing us.

My belief is that the Internet can be a powerful force for good, but we are seeing also 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. There are pressing questions to be answered regarding how we allow our lives, our political discourse and our societies to be influenced by an as-yet largely unregulated industry of social media providers.

Artificial Intelligence applications can be used to monitor and manipulate behaviour, to besiege us with ever more targeted and intrusive advertising, to manipulate voters, to track human rights defenders and to stifle expressions of dissent.

How do we safeguard privacy in an age of artificial intelligence, facial recognition, location monitoring, biometric sensors and the Internet of things?

How can we ensure that human rights obligations apply online as they do offline?

The Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights and others are working on the urgent task of understanding better how exactly international human rights can be applied in cyberspace.

We also need to understand the relationship between digital advances and inequality. New technology has contributed to a steep rise in the number of billionaires over the past 20 years. And use of digital technologies by those who have yet to fully share in such benefits has also made them increasingly aware of the gulf between rich and poor, between their misfortune and the wealth and security others enjoy.

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.

The High-Level Panel’s recommendation to maximize digital public goods are important and deserve further support.

Let me now turn to the third, and potentially most dangerous divide: the political divide.

Today, there is a real risk of a geo-political rupture – a great fracture of trade, security and Internet systems.

You are all familiar with the politics surrounding 5G technologies. You are also aware of the growing efforts of some States to construct ever harder borders in cyberspace, on the one hand, and the ever-increasing number of cross-border cyber-attacks, on the other. Low-intensity cyber-conflict between major States is not a future prediction but a feature of our present time.

In such a climate, mechanisms that build trust and cooperation are indispensable. The growing frequency and severity of cyber-attacks are undermining trust and encouraging States to adopt offensive postures for the hostile use of cyberspace. The potential dangers of this demand a much more vigorous collective response.

If we do not work together to address these divides, we will be remembered as the generation that ruined the early promise of the Internet.
With its unparalleled convening power and universal legitimacy, I see the United Nations as the appropriate platform where all relevant actors can meet to address such global challenges.

Allow me to propose three ways in which this Internet Governance Forum can lead the way.

First, let us build this Forum into a platform where government representatives from all parts of the world – along with companies, technical experts and civil society – can come together to share policy expertise, debate emerging technology issues, agree on some basic common principles, and take these ideas back to appropriate norm-setting fora.

Second, I encourage us all to take up the recommendation of the High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation and explore the possibility of a Global Commitment on Digital Trust and Security. This political commitment would be open to governments, industry and institutions worldwide and will help us prevent further political division. It will build on agreed global norms for cyberspace and the pioneering work done for the Paris Call and the Christchurch Call, as well as processes fostered under the auspices of the UN General Assembly. We will consult widely and bring this forward next September as Member States mark the 75th Anniversary of the United Nations.

Lastly, I will soon appoint a Technology Envoy to work with governments, industry and civil society to help advance international frameworks, and nurture a shared digital future that puts people first and helps bridge the social divide.

These ideas can be building blocks towards a shared digital future that we can be proud to pass down to future generations.

A future with one world, one net, one vision.

I encourage you in your efforts this week.

Thank you

= = =

On the 27th December Russia proposed the response to the call by the Secretary General for action.

It was confirmation that 2020 will see Governments around the world taking action to bring the Internet under control.

The UK has the opportunity of Brexit to position itself as a democratically accountable, neutral arbitrator for services that are trusted by all. This would be a natural complement to the position of the City of London as the most trusted centre for financial services – now freed from the risk or being hobbled by EU protectionist regulation.

Have we the will to do so?

If so, we must first demonstrate leadership in facing down those who believe they have no need to be accountable for their failure to help address the harms done by those who misuse their products and services. I therefore look forward to seeing DCMS taking immediate action to do so by expediting the delayed implementation of Age Verification, using the processes already developed and implemented by those UK providers who worked to the original timetable for implementing the Digital Economy Act 2017.

[The link to the “processes” says these are designed for UKAS accreditation but this is not yet available.  I understand that these may now have been agreed but not yet announced. Those wanting details of progress should contact the Digital Policy Alliance Age Verification and Internet Safety Group . This has been working for some years to brief officials and politicians on the issues and practicalities in this area and has much excellent material].

I also expect to see the Chancellor take a lead in implementation the OECD/BEPS processes is his budget in order to “encourage” on-line multinationals to pay VAT on their UK turnover and Corporation Tax on their profits in the UK instead of Luxembourg or Dublin. Will he also seek tax the $trillions that have vanished through the Crown Dependencies to cover our post Brexit defence (and global emergency response)  expansion) budgets? Watch this space?

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