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G7 countries to cooperate on digital regulation

Digital and technology ministers outline their agenda for how technology can be used to facilitate the post-Covid recovery, signalling closer collaboration in key areas of the digital economy

G7 countries and the European Union (EU) have signed an agreement outlining their joint agenda for digital and technology, which includes improving online safety, developing a more collaborative regulatory approach, and promoting the free flow of data across borders.

The joint ministerial declaration – signed by politicians from the UK, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the US and the EU – was agreed at a virtual meeting hosted by UK digital secretary Oliver Dowden ahead of the G7 Summit in June.

“Our collective recovery from Covid-19 must be rooted in a desire to build back a better, more productive and resilient global economy, with digital technology at its heart,” said the declaration.

“This should support open societies in the digital and data-driven age, and be guided by our shared democratic values of open and competitive markets, strong safeguards including for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and international cooperation which drives benefits for our citizens, economies and global wellbeing.”

G7 ministers said this tech-centred recovery would be delivered through six interventions, which include promoting secure digital and IT infrastructure supply chains, digitising paper-based transactions for international trade, and developing technical standards for the deployment of digital technologies.

Alongside the declaration, the politicians also agreed on a number of shared internet safety principles that will underpin their approach to regulating tech giants going forward.

These principles, which are based on the UK’s upcoming online safety laws, include fostering human rights online, supporting a multi-stakeholder approach, and promoting corporate social responsibility within tech companies.

“We believe that, including as part of their corporate social responsibility, companies should have the systems and processes in place, including safety-by-design principles, to take appropriate action with relevant stakeholders, including civil society and academia, to improve internet safety and reduce illegal and harmful content and activity in the online environments that they create, while respecting human rights online,” said the G7 safety principles document.

“We believe that companies should be transparent, including with consumers, about the presence of known illegal and harmful activity on their services, and the decisions and measures taken to improve internet safety, as well as be accountable for the decisions made to counter illegal and harmful content in line with their terms and conditions at global, national and regional levels.”

The G7 nations also adopted a number of operational safety principles about protecting children, boosting online media literacy, and empowering young people to participate in conversations around internet safety.

In addition to the safety principles, the G7 ministers also published a roadmap identifying where they can cooperate on facilitating the free flow of data across international borders.

Of note is the ministers’ intention to build up an evidence base on the impact of data localisation measures.

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“Data localisation can impact data flows, with possible consequences for businesses, particularly micro, small and medium enterprises,” said the roadmap. “We need further evidence and robust analysis of the economic and societal impact of data localisation measures across a globally distributed data ecosystem.”

It added that diverging domestic approaches to regulation can also affect data flows by creating uncertainty for businesses, meaning officials will work together to identify commonalities in these approaches, as well as to develop good regulatory practices and cooperation between nations.

The ministers added: “We will do this while continuing to address challenges related to privacy, data protection, intellectual property rights and security.”

As part of their efforts to establish a more collaborative regulatory framework, the ministers said they would work together through existing international and multilateral forums to find coherent and complementary ways of encouraging competition and supporting innovation.

“We note various approaches taken around the world to address these challenges, but recognise that we will be most effective if we find commonalities between them,” said the main declaration.

“To support existing workstreams on enforcement and policy related to digital competition, we will invite the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority to convene a meeting of G7 competition authorities in 2021. The purpose of the meeting will be to discuss long-term coordination and cooperation to better understand enforcement approaches, market characteristics and policy initiatives related to competition in digital markets.”

It added that the increased cooperation between competition authorities should be complemented by closer coordination between policymakers.

“As a coalition of the world’s leading democracies and technological powers, we want to forge a compelling vision of how tech should support and enhance open and democratic societies in the digital age,” said Dowden.

“Together, we have agreed a number of priorities in areas ranging from internet safety to digital competition to make sure the digital revolution is a democratic one that enhances global prosperity for all.”

Felicity Burch, digital director at the Confederation of British Industry, said the declaration and its attached agreements mark “a major milestone in the international digital agenda,” adding: “It can be a springboard for an inclusive, sustainable recovery and industry is ready to play its part to deliver this shared vision.”

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