The 15th annual meeting of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) will be taking place online from 9-17 November with pre-events happening from 2-6 November. Our staff will be sharing key moments and takeaways from the sessions they attend. Check this page each day for the latest issues, arguments and ideas as they arise at the meeting.
Want to join and actively contribute to the IGF sessions? It's still not too late to register. Check out their interactive program and if you've missed any interesting session, take a look at the video recordings.
17 November 2020, 18:30 UTC
Day 7: Goodbye and see you soon!
A lot was said over 12 days and 250 sessions, leaving participants with many take-aways and recommendations, and maybe a feeling of being a bit overwhelmed. Since this blog is supposed to give you short bits, here is my pick of the top three issues.
- Sustainable development took the cake. It was one of the four thematic tracks and was addressed in a plethora of sessions. It was widely recognised that the Internet plays both a positive and a negative role in sustainable development. With the current climate crisis it is imperative that this shifts more towards the positive side.
- Fragmentation of the Internet will recreate the world divisions that we laid to rest with the end of the Cold War. It will likely destroy many of the benefits of the current Internet as well. We need to do everything in our power to avoid this.
- Access and human rights continue to be prominent in the debates as regions struggle to provide fast and affordable connection and the difference between the "haves" and the "have nots" continues to increase.
The first fully-virtual IGF attracted over 6000 participants from 175 countries. Despite these impressive numbers, the editorial of the final report rightfully points out that outside of a few thousand regular attendees, the IGF lacks prominence on the global digital policy radar. UN Secretary-General Antonio Gutterres has given the IGF some more political visibility and organisational support and has delivered a closing keynote address at last three IGFs. While backing from the UN is great, the IGF needs 1) stronger communications capacity and more news agency coverage; 2) specific and effective outreach to governments, business and tech; and 3) new blood in terms of both attendees and presenters. Thankfully this is a problem the organisers have already discussed in their planning meetings and want to address. However, the lack of a stable funding for the IGF has often been cited as a barrier. Let's hope we see improvement in the coming years. While there is still more work to be done, it's worth noting how far the IGF has gone. From the times when it was struggling to find a host for next year's iteration, the IGF has now hosts lined up for the next four years - Poland (which was supposed to be host in 2020), Ethiopia, Japan and Russia. See you there, maybe.
17 November 2020, 12:30 UTC
Day 7: How to deter malicious activity in cyberspace?
Cyberspace is often dubbed the fifth dimension of warfare, after land, air, sea and space. Strategies to deter and respond to cyberattacks are high on the agendas in countries across the globe.
Panelists in today's session cautioned that although many parallels are drawn with deterrence theory as applied to nuclear weapons, the situations, and by extension the appropriate approaches, are quite different. First, attribution capabilities, or finding who is responsible for the act, are not reliable and at times not even possible in cyberspace. Second, there is great uncertainty when it comes to cyberattacks and possible retaliatory measures, making analysis of cost vs. benefit hard to even carry out. Third, the cost barrier to enter is much lower than with the vast financial resources necessary for developing nuclear weapons.
The classical motivation behind deterrence theory is the threat of retaliation. Deterrence is a function of the total cost-benefit expectation of the party. To be effective, the response needs to be sufficiently painful to outweigh the benefit of the attack. It could be the possibility of losing political standing in the international community, or the attack can backfire, or the retaliation can be much more harmful to the attacker or any other number of things.
There are several strategies that can be employed to increase the chances of a successful deterrence that all centre around altering the cost-benefit calculation:
- Increase treat of retaliatory attack and the damage such action would cause
- Build defence and security mechanisms that would make effective attack less likely
- Create internationally recognised rules of responsible behaviour which would make the global community ostracise any attacker
- Increase interdependencies between countries, so that a successful attack will inflict damage not only on the victim but on the attacker as well
The panel agreed that there is not one specific recipe. To be effective, countries should use all tools on the menu. If you are interested to read more on this topic, take a look at this study mentioned during the session.
16 November 2020, 18:30 UTC
Day 6: The promises and perils of satellite internet
The danger of touching on such a topic within the constraints of the IGF means that there is always too little time. Especially to address a large issue such as satellite Internet. As mentioned in the session's chat, the ITU recently organised an excellent series of webinars addressing the various technological challenges that surround the different methods and technologies available. If you want to learn more about the topic, the archives of those sessions are certainly worth looking at.
Obviously, as raised in the session, many hope that with several different satellite platforms under construction, an abundance of connectivity can bring relief to underserved areas, where it is hard or practically impossible to provide Internet connectivity via more traditional means such as (fibre optic) cables and mobile technology such as 3G, 4G and soon 5G. Furthermore, many NGOs and civil society groups hope that satellite technology would provide more freedoms in situations where the political environment imposes restrictions or limitations. Whether such a relief would be possible, remains to be seen. As one panellist pointed out, network operators would still be bound by laws and might choose to comply with more restrictive regulatory regimes existing in certain markets.
On the technical side, a distinction between the different technologies is usually made based on the altitude in which the satellites operate. A distinction is made between the geo-stationary systems at roughly 36.000 km, an orbit in which you'll find the traditional telecommunications and TV systems; Medium-Earth Orbit (MEO), at about 8000 km, where you'll find the O3b system currently built; and Low-Earth Orbit (LEO), well-known names of which include Space-X's Starlink system, Oneweb and Amazon's project Kuiper.
Although quite large, the LEO space is getting rather crowded. This requires careful coordination between the different (private) operators and their respective governments. While the main separation must come in the form of having different altitudes assigned to the various operators, there is still some concern about collisions and left-over debris from failed satellites or launch vehicles. With constellations growing towards thousands of individual satellites, roughly the size of a washing machine, the risks of collisions are not totally theoretical. In addition, the rules aren't clear either - as two satellites approach each other, who would need to move out of the way? Many people call for additional agreements in the form of international treaties and laws, as one speaker remarked, not too dissimilar of the rules applied to the high seas.
This is certainly not the only concern. As you may have noticed, especially around dusk and dawn, LEO satellites can appear as very bright dots moving fast along the sky. Those reflections make it much harder for earth based astronomical observations. This is a problem several operators are now starting to address, with promises that future vehicles will be made less reflective.
Although interesting, these policy areas are largely beyond the scope of the RIPE community or the RIPE NCC. But not entirely. If you have been following the discussions around New IP (or Future Vertical Communications Networks), you may have seen that the proponents claim that the current internet protocols can't be used across satellite links. As several commercial offerings and a number of (public) beta trials by new operators have shown, IP works just fine across these new systems. Of course there is room for improvement, for instance, in the area of deterministic networking, which is under study by the Internet Research Task Force (IRTF). The challenges of finding the nearest ground station, possibly hopping the data across multiple intermediary satellites, might mean that those LEO systems will evolve their routing architecture far beyond of what we are used to in today's Internet.
In turn, there might also be effects on IP policy. With a global constellation of satellites, which RIR will provide the address space for providing continuous connectivity no matter where you are on this planet? We cannot ignore the discussions in international space, edging more and more towards a notion of "national Internets". There certainly are some things to think about and I hope at some point we can find some time at a RIPE meeting to talk about this and assess what might need to be done to make our services and policies fit for the dawn of a new space-age.
PS: If any satellite operator is reading this, got space on board for a RIPE Atlas software probe? Asking for a friend.
16 November 2020, 11:30 UTC
Day 6: ICT and the environment
Monday morning started with a session evaluating environmental best practices around the globe for the ICT supply chain. Panelists mentioned that countries and companies around the globe look to each other. It seems like nobody wants to be the only one, but equally, neither do they want to lag behind. Europe's leadership in announcing the Green Deal last year is having a domino effect with China and the US preparing and announcing their own initiatives.
In order to properly address impacts, we need to understand where they come from. Resource and water consumption are mostly spent in manufacturing, while the majority of energy consumption and GHG emissions comes from users equipment.
Over time we are making more efficient use of energy and materials. However, increased consumption means that overall use, and, by extension waste and emissions, are on the rise.
Furthermore, technological improvements don't always translate into better performance. Total consumption of 5G for example is higher than that of 3G and 4G, even though 5G is more energy efficient.
Despite the fact that average internet speeds (in the US) have improved by a factor of 5 over the last 10 years, average page load time has increased by 2 seconds over the same period.
We discussed two challenges in making serious headway. Firstly, some countries in Europe and around the globe are doing amazing work, but publish their efforts and findings in their own languages, which restricts their audience, impedes sharing of best practices and limits possibilities of research. Secondly, to correctly manage the situation, we need public environmental data about digital products. Eight years ago, the ITU tried to push for this, but failed, since most of the data is privately owned. It is great to have fora such as the IGF, where we can come together and discuss these challenges. Hopefully when we go home, we can share these experiences and find a common ground.
13 November 2020, 19:30 UTC
Day 5: Technology to the rescue
The health crisis during 2020 is not the first time when we've needed the Internet and technology to mitigate the impact of natural disasters and to help us get out of the situation. It is however the first one where the effect has been felt on such a global scale and over such a long period of time. Technology has been blamed for anything from the spread of misinformation and polarisation of society though eroding privacy and other human rights to worsening the environmental disaster in which the world finds itself. In the midst of this it is important to remember that technology is just a tool, and it is on us to decide how we use it. In this session, panelists shared how ICT in their countries helped combat the pandemic and limit its negative impact on society. For example Internet and technology:
- brought many companies and producers online and allowed them to stay in operation and be competitive
- were used for healthcare research such as finding new ways to apply existing drugs, creating an algorithm that can recognise CT scans of COVID-19 patients and the controversial contract tracing
- made possible continued interaction with family members as well as remote visitation for inmates
- were used by governments to disseminate important information to people, particularly in times of lockdown or to those in quarantine
- allowed many to work from home and therefore keep being productive without compromising their health
- made virtual services mainstream - of particular importance to society, I should mention doctors visits and online learning
- pushed many governments to offer their services online
- the list goes on...
The discussion concluded by stressing the importance of continuously improving infrastructure, having a stable and supportive regulatory environment and being mindful of cybersecurity risks as well as the challenges some solutions may pose to privacy.
This got me thinking about the calls from some people that technological advances should not come at the cost of privacy and human rights and that they should slow down until we manage to figure out a way to use them safely. I disagree with this approach. The current situation is a clear example that technology can be used to save lives, livelihoods and economies. Slowing it down for whatever reason, would mean people getting hurt or sick, or left behind with no job or education, when that could have been otherwise. Instead of slowing development down, we should insist on speeding up the agreement on rules of its use and direction. Moreover, we need to be realistic. If tomorrow we agree on a set of guidelines that work for the time being, that doesn't mean that the problem is gone. In five years we will have new regulatory challenges, brought on either by new reality or by new technological developments. Regulatory work will never end. It is our job to keep up, rather than the technology sector to slow down.
At least that's what I think. I'd be curious to hear from you in the comments below.
12 November 2020, 16:30 UTC
Day 4: Do we have a right to be wrong?
On one end of the spectrum we have purposeful (bot-)coordinated disinformation campaigns disseminating fabricated content. On the other end we have the non-malicious average Joe forwarding clickbait with conspiracy theories. And then there is everything in-between. They all wreck havoc in societies by sowing confusion, division and polarisation. A thought provoking panel examined if technology can be used to counteract what technology has made so easy to carry out.
Jan Gerlac, Senior Public Policy Manager at Wikimedia, explained how bots are very useful to send welcome messages, flag double links and identify potentially flawed edits on their platform. It frees human editors to focus on more complex issues and reduces their time needed to handle certain tasks by a factor of 10.
Bot and human behaviour dynamics differ (still). Algorithms exist that can assess if certain online behaviours are bot-like. Naturally, they don't offer 100% accuracy, but instead give a likelihood estimation. From a platform's point of view, false information, whether it's from a bot or a gullible person, needs to be addressed. However, it does matter from a tactical perspective - the involvement of a bot naturally indicates a concerted effort that is likely to continue. Algorithms can also check if similar information or claims already exist in reputable sources, and flag it if it doesn't. Panelists gave examples of this malfunctioning and true information being flagged as false due to either just breaking-in or being confused by the algorithm for another story. So while technology can increase the speed of fact checking, this is a human problem that requires a human solution.
We spoke of the importance of digital media and information literacy for all ages, so that we can exercise critical thinking over the content we see online. But this will not happen overnight. What until then? Do people have the right to say the wrong thing? Do they have the right to be misinformed? Do they have the right to interpret information their own way and view the world in their own way? We cannot criminalise the unintentional spreading of false information - that would have devastating effects on freedom of expression. But should we put some responsibility to people who forward on information - to do a sort of minimal due-diligence fact check? How could that possibly look in practise?
11 November 2020, 19:30 UTC
Day 3: Access to research
Copyright is the right of creators to exclusively use their work or choose whom they give authorisation to do so. It exists in order to protect original work, creativity and investment.
Copyleft, on the other hand, grants everyone the right to freely distribute and modify the material under the condition that any subsequent work based on it has the same rights. It is kind of like open source, but with the additional requirement that any derivative work has the same licence as the original, i.e. should be free to access and use.
During this panel, we debated how in a lot of cases with literary works, the author assigns copyright to the publisher. They can no longer distribute their work for free, even if they wanted to and even if it is in the public interest to do so. This is often the case in academia, with the publishing of research articles in subscription journals. We have a paradoxical situation where research, often fully or partially funded by public money (universities), is not accessible freely to the public. Not only that, but the proceeds don't go to the authors (the researchers), but to the journal. Trying to counteract this are open access initiatives such as the one of the European Union.
Some worry that open access initiatives like this will mean the end of subscription journals and subsequently that articles will not be peer-reviewed any more, resulting in decline of the quality of research. Two points. First, consider that currently peers are paid very little, and in some cases not paid at all. And second, recently launched open access journals seem to have the same number of citations like similarly-aged subscription journals. Seems like research quality will be safe.
We also heard from youth representatives sharing that their learning and research has been impeded due to access to articles being only possible through computers in their university libraries, currently inaccessible due to the pandemic.
It seems like if the room, and some governments around the world, could have their way, paid subscription academic journals would soon be a thing of the past. We'd have the latest academic research at our fingertips. No excuses for ignorance. Thanks Internet!
10 November 2020, 17:30 UTC
Day 2: Overcoming the digital cold war
A clash of ideologies between the world's two super-economies made for a very interesting afternoon session. The US representative told us of their firm belief in the open, interoperable, reliable and secure Internet, governed by a transparent multistakeholder process. The US are concerned that Chinese aspirations of cyber sovereignty and proposals such as NewIP (or as it was renamed recently - Future Vertical Communications Networks) will substitute the multistakeholder model with a top-down approach, thereby destroying the core principles on which the Internet is built and currently operates. It will disenfranchise most actors from the decision-making process, even though currently the private sector owns most of the Internet infrastructure. It will curtail people's ability to access information from outside and freely communicate with each other.
We then took in the Chinese response. They are concerned that data of their citizens are stored on servers abroad and have the exact same concern as the US (and a series of other countries) of it being accessed by foreign governments. The Chinese push for sovereignty is simply a result of wanting to quickly counteract the failure of the multistakeholder model to address some of the Internet's ills.
A representative of Hong Kong added that the Hong Kong economy is naturally linked to China, so linking the digital economies as well is logical and not bad per se. It only becomes problematic once Hong Kong has to choose between the two models. He was concerned of the new security law in Hong Kong that will allow law enforcement to seize equipment and servers with no scrutiny by the judiciary. Even though law enforcement has not officially yet used these powers, there has been a noticeable effect on the citizenry in terms of self-censorship, such as deleting one's posts or even entire profiles.
Representatives from South Africa, India and Europe chimed in. Similar to Hong Kong, they do not want a fragmented Internet or having to choose between the US or the Chinese model. They acknowledged that a lot of the policies seem like a tit-for-tat trade measures. The US is not blameless, having included favourable clauses for its tech companies in bi-lateral trade agreements, their Clean Network Initiative and also moving to sovereignty with the Trump administration's ban of apps and chip export controls. The latter in particular was perceived as a pretty pointless action that would hurt the economies of both the US and China, with a likely long-term effect favourable to China - namely developing the technology themselves and no longer needing to import.
One thing is clear - when asked if they see any way to reconciliation, both parties were very vague and talked in high-level terms. Is this Europe's chance to make a difference? An influential economy that ideologically seems to want to find a middle ground - both keep the multistakeholder model, but also allow for some reasonable regulation and control. I hope, for all the world's sake, that we do find that golden middle, and soon.
10 November 2020, 13:30 UTC
Day 2: Believe it or Not, the Internet Protocol is on Sale!
It’s a catchy title, right? And the session itself provided some interesting insights into the IPv4 secondary market and all the myriad ways in which it is (or isn’t) affecting IPv6 adoption, end users, digital inclusion and Internet governance. (I should note that the RIPE NCC's own Marco Hogewoning was a panelist – but this in no way affects my opinion of how interesting the session was. Just saying.)
In general, there was agreement among the panelists (and the participants, who got to take part in live poll questions throughout the session) that IPv4 scarcity and the resulting increase in the price of IPv4 on the secondary market has some negative effects and was not generally good for digital inclusion.
While IPv6 offers lower latency and is more affordable than IPv4, newer entrants still require IPv4, as it’s not yet feasible to run an IPv6-only network when customers still require access to content or services that are running only over IPv4. With the rising price of IPv4 on the secondary market, these players risk being priced out of the market. However, we learned that companies can also be strategic about how much IPv4 they really require. Some service providers – including several large ones, like Facebook – are running IPv6-only internal networks, providing IPv4 only at the edge where their customers require it.
Participants weighed in on the impact of the IPv4 market
We also learned how the IPv4 secondary market is being dominated by a few large players (notably cloud providers), and that some organisations buying IPv4 are using it alongside IPv6, while others seem to be using it as a way to delay IPv6 deployment. This is likely because the economic case for IPv6 is tricky; in itself, it’s more affordable, but other factors like equipment and skills development come into play. On the other hand, the cost of NAT can be so high for some organisations that it’s still cheaper to buy IPv4, or deploy IPv6 as a means of lowering their NAT costs.
One particularly interesting idea in IGF terms was that IPv6 may be a more equal protocol than IPv4. The recent policy to allow IPv4 into and out of the LACNIC region, for example, had a direct impact on the price of IPv4 in that part of the world. Higher prices inevitably end up negatively impacting the end user. As one commenter put it: There are plenty of other barriers to digital inclusion, so let’s focus on removing IPv4 as one of those barriers and just move to IPv6 already.
9 November 2020, 18:30 UTC
Day 1: What is the single most important policy you'd implement?
After five intense days of pre-events an even more intense week and a half of the actual IGF awaits. One of the questions panelists tackled during the opening plenary was: What is the single most important policy you'd implement? Speakers came from different backgrounds, so it is unsurprising to see the different approaches they took. Here are some:
- Increase the level of connectivity globally. We should realise that for good or for bad, telcos only go where there is profit. We need to come up with complementary models to make sure developing countries and rural areas don't lag behind.
- Improve infrastructure especially for developing countries. Traditionally, developmental aid is focusing on more classical instruments such as bridges and roads, but funding Internet access can have a very immediate and profound impact at a relatively low cost.
- Adapt decision-making concerning the Internet to the multistakeholder approach. This is definitely not a traditional channel for governments and some of them are still quite uneasy with this process. We should nonetheless join forces in defending it and making sure it is here to stay.
- Create an anti-fragmentation initiative. Policies, regulation and proposals in some (even most) countries today threaten to cut off parts of the Internet. We should do everything we can to prevent this from happening.
- We also need a strong anti-trust initiative. Some online players have become so big, that they prevent or make extremely difficult for new ones to join and compete effectively. We should find a balance to their power to make sure the Internet is open in a commercial sense as well.
- Ramp up education and capacity building efforts. This is desperately needed, so that people can become fully informed and responsible users of technology, but also so that they can reap all the economic and social benefits from it.
- Preserve the ability to operate encrypted platforms around the globe. This would ensure a more open Internet, respecting the privacy of its users.
9 November 2020, 13:30 UTC
Day 1: Engaging women online
Social attitudes towards tech mean that girls are not as actively encouraged as boys to enter the field or even work on their IT skills for day-to-day use. We see this when we look at the percentage of women among CS students, or among tech hires in companies and even the movie trope of women having no clue around computers. Such differences start out small in childhood, but translate into real and massive consequences later in life for income, experiences and increasingly, the ability to enjoy and fulfil one's human rights.
A thought-provoking panel today reminded us that we need to take an active role to remedy this situation. Stepping back and waiting won't resolve the issue as the visible and invisible barriers girls face from childhood are still there. Women are disproportionately affected by poverty, and by extension their chances of owning a computer or a mobile phone. What is more, there are parts of the world (and yes, also in the RIPE NCC's service region) where women are not allowed to have a phone, create a social media account or even a username, or have their online activities monitored by family members.
Once they are online, women also face a different reality than men. Language, both visual and verbal, is currently better tailored to men (think of words or icons of "man" meaning the default of a human). The panelists told us of their efforts to make language and functionality of websites more inclusive of women.
Panelists explained their moderation strategies to ensure a tolerant atmosphere.
A lot more work remains to be done and we need boys and men to join in the conversation. Wouldn't you have liked to see a balanced classroom during your studies or at your departmental meetings? As someone who has worked in a both female- and male-dominated fields, I personally prefer an equal split. And if you have a daughter searching for career advise, why not IT? Flexible hours, work from home, decent pay, what is not to like?!
6 November 2020, 15:00 UTC
Pre-Day 5: Respecting Human Rights Online
On the final day of pre-events, the Internet Rights and Principles Dynamic Coalition presented their Charter - a living document outlining how the Internet should uphold human rights online. The coalition is active since 2008 and is open to anyone - if you are interested, join their mailing list.
During the session we discussed the importance of considering environmental, social and economic impacts of the Internet. One panelist mentioned that as climate change issues are becoming ever more urgent, social aspects are in danger of being left behind.
While ensuring the Internet industry uses clean energy is a noble goal, it is not enough, so long as we follow the produce --> use --> waste linear model. We talked about the The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal (UN) adopted in 1989 and how we urgently need to prioritise a circular model, where we reduce waste as much as we can and instead focus on recycling. Current business models of built-in obsolescence are a huge problem for achieving this goal as well as consumers obsession with having the newest model and discarding a perfectly functioning old one. It was acknowledged that sometimes, discarding otherwise functioning hardware is inevitable, due to it not supporting newer systems and apps, and using the old ones posing security risks.
I guess for now it is a balancing act. Next time you go out to purchase a new phone, computer or gaming console, ask yourself - do I really need one from a functional point of view, or am I just a slave to a skilful marketing champaign. The icing on the cake, in this case at least, is that being sustainable is also pretty good for your pocket!
5 November 2020, 17:30 UTC
Losing One of Our Own
The Internet governance community today received the sad news that Marilyn Cade, a long-time and very active participant in Internet governance discussions going back to the 1990s, has passed away. More comprehensive memorials and tributes will be delivered in the coming days, but over a long and storied career, Marilyn contributed to the establishment of ICANN and the Internet Governance Forum, provided support to numerous national and regional Internet governance initiatives, and acted as a mentor to many people from across the world, as the field of Internet governance grew in depth and diversity. She will be remembered by many in the community not only for her many achievements, but for her insight, wit and warmth.
The RIPE NCC extends our deepest condolences to Marilyn’s family and loved ones, and to all who will miss her contribution to this IGF and those that follow. There will be a Memorial held as part of the IGF 2020 on 6 November, at 21:00 UTC.
5 November 2020, 13:00 UTC
Pre-Day 4: How can we put safety at the core of design processes?
Safety by design is an all familiar buzz phrase that stands for thinking about and implementing safety measures at the design and production phases of a digital product or service rather than bolt them on retroactively. I hope that the reasons why this is needed or preferable are pretty obvious to anyone reading this blog, so I will instead focus on what industry representatives shared they do in practice. LEGO explained that when thinking about their digital portfolio, they conduct a risk analysis and decide to opt out of features for which the risk is too high. Snap Inc pointed out that safety and privacy are addressed by the same team. Both underscored the importance of understanding what users want them to deliver in terms of safety.
I wonder if that is the optimal approach. To be sure, listening to customer's need is great, but is it enough? Users are not experts on safety. They can certainly provide input but should they be burdened with informing or leading progress on this? As a user, I wouldn't even know where to begin suggesting safety measures to a car, plane or even furniture manufacturer and code is no exception.
That said, I concede that users do have a lot of control of what they do online and how they use certain tools, so education in digital literacy can go a long way.
Where consulting users could be useful is when it comes to cultural sensitivity. Sharing a photo of a woman wearing a tank-top can have vastly different consequences depending on her religions or cultural background.
Next we discussed the best approach from a regulatory perspective. Most panelists were sceptical of the gains achieved by voluntary solutions. They recommended a carrots and sticks approach where a voluntary, non-prescriptive solution is offered, but if companies choose not to use it and then consistently fall short of certain standards, there will be consequences.
4 November 2020, 16:00 UTC
Pre-Day 3: When can we expect an agreement on digital tax?
One of the keys to a successful economy is fair and predictable taxation. Yet tax issues are highly contentions and very complicated, which makes an agreement on taxing the digital economy, especially on an international scale, very difficult to reach.
An interesting panel discussed what is likely to happen in the near future. Naturally the most preferred option is a global solution, but at the moment there was little hope from any of the participants on that. That's not great, especially for international companies. Having regional or national laws that they would have to continuously keep up to date on and fellow would be extremely challenging. And then of course there is the issue of preventing double taxation.
Currently the most important forum where tax discussions are taking place is the OECD. They are pressed to produce regulation soon, yet even that seems unlikely, due to the complexity of the negotiations. Who when? Maybe the EU? Even if the EU manages to reach an agreement, by say 2021 at the earliest, it still needs to be ratified by the member states. It would take even longer, 2024-2025 at the earliest, to be implemented by companies. Who knows where we will be in 5 years... Panelists urged companies not to fall prey to this mentality and keep engaged and providing feedback to the process.
And what makes negotiations so difficult? It seems that when talking about digital tax, some countries are clear net-beneficiaries and others - net-contributors, in what is a zero-sum game. Several European countries tried to implement digital tax only to be threatened with a retaliatory tax from the US. The countries then decided to wait for an international solution. There are some successful examples though. Earlier this year India introduced a new 2% levy on digital transactions conducted by foreign e-commerce companies. I'm curious to see how the issue will pan out.
4 November 2020, 10:00 UTC
Pre-Day 3: Environmental justice and an anti-extractive internet
In the overflow of online events, this session stood out: all-female speakers gripped my attention, with their focus on taking action, multiple languages approach, taking into consideration diverse cultural and economic backgrounds, including young people, and reporting from the Global South.
Building on the collaborative work of the 17 existing Feminist Principles of the Internet, APC (Association for Progressive Communications) invited IGF participants into the interactive forward-looking collective thinking and acting on how to apply the core feminist principles of ethics of care into the environmental impacts of the Internet.
Personally, I have advocated for the Feminist Principles of the Internet in my previous work, most recently in my review of the IAB publication "Internet is for End Users" in this article on RIPE Labs.
4 November 2020, 10:00 UTC
Pre-Day 3: What does it take to create a successful Internet Governance school?
Summer Schools on Internet Governance are not new, with the first initiative emerging back in 2007 in Meißen, Germany. They aim to fill the gap of regular curricula on the emerging field of Internet Governance and the multi-stakeholder model. Over time EuroSSIG has become a great success, providing a diverse group of alumni from all around the world with the necessary skills and background to become leaders in the Internet governance eco-system. The RIPE NCC has been contributing from the start and also provided a helping hand in the first few editions of the South School of Internet Governance in Latin America.
Soon similar initiatives popped up all around the globe. So many so that two years ago a Dynamic Coalition was founded under the flag of the IGF. The coalition helps schools learn from each other, provides a network for organisers to talk about their experiences and the opportunity for the old guard to mentor and help newcomers, not only with filling the curriculum, but also with loads of practical tips. This has now led to the first version of the Toolkit, providing all the information you might need, assembled and curated by the people who have the experience.
Restrictions on travel and events due to the pandemic meant that many schools had to find alternative hybrid or fully online models. In these challenging times it is especially useful to exchange experiences and learn from each other. In fact, there is now a new initiative by the people behind the North American school, to develop a fully online course, making it even more accessible.
We were also joined by representatives of new schools in the RIPE NCC's service region - in Russia and the Western Balkans. We are of course looking forward to collaborating with the organisers and help with our expertise to provide a new generation of leaders with the knowledge they need. And naturally, we are also looking forward to the next generation of alumni participating in the RIPE community and all other fora that make up the Internet Governance system.
3 November 2020, 14:30 UTC
Pre-Day 2: Governance to Protect the Public Core of the Internet
The “public core of the Internet” is a phrase that you hear a lot in Internet governance discussions these days. The work of the Global Commission on the Stability of Cyberspace (GCSC) has helped popularise the concept, with some of its earliest output being the Call to Protect the Public Core of the Internet issued in 2017. That built on earlier work from the Netherlands Scientific Council for Government Policy (shortened to WRR in Dutch), which published a report in 2015, ‘The public core of the Internet. An international agenda for Internet governance’. As IGF MAG Chair, Anriette Esterhuysen noted, her organisation, the Association for Progressive Communications, had worked for many years to build recognition of such a public core.
It's therefore hardly surprising to see one of the first pre-events of this year’s IGF discussing this issue, with a focus on implementing the norms that GCSC has defined to protect this public core. This issue is relevant for the RIPE NCC and the global Internet number registry system as the work of both the WRR and the GCSC include “naming and numbering systems” as part of this public core, and include specific reference the Regional Internet Registries and their function. As the RIPE NCC’s Managing Director noted at the recent RIPE 81 meeting, now more than ever, we are seeing that registry function challenged by state regulations, particularly in the case of state-applied sanctions.
In that sense, it is hugely important to see the GCSC strongly supporting the need to protect the registry function as part of the public core. In the IGF pre-event session, Nathalie Jaarsma, the Netherlands’ Ambassador at-Large for Security Policy and Cyber, noted that the norm on protecting the public core states that “states should refrain from doing things that may damage the public core”, and that the Netherlands believes, “that economic and social advantages of the use of the Internet are dependent on the trustworthy, predictable, stable and safe functioning of the core protocols and infrastructure of the Internet - protecting the public core is an issue of global concern, extending beyond the narrow considerations of national security.”
The ongoing discussions at the IGF and elsewhere (including the United Nations General Assembly’s First Committee) are perhaps some of the most relevant Internet governance issues for the long-term sustainability of the Regional Internet Registries and their function. It will be interesting to see how this makes its way into further sessions and discussions at IGF 2020 over the coming weeks.
2 November 2020, 19:30 UTC
Pre-Day 1: Academia's Take
The network of scholars focusing on internet governance (GigaNet), present what they've been working on for the past year at the annual GigaNet symposium.
This year a lot of focus was given to regulation. Germany's NetzDG was the first meaningful effort to regulate content on platforms. Even though lawmakers agree that the regulation has an imperfect design and amidst an array of criticism such as it's insufficient protection of freedom of expression of users, there seems to be a common ground in that NetzDG, however flawed, is better than nothing. You can read more about the process of creation of this law, key moments and pitfalls along the way and a commendation of the collaborative approach followed in this paper.
Next we moved to the question of what governance model will withstand the test of time?. Check out an overview of four possible platforms: 1) self-governance, such as the Facebook’s Oversight Board; 2) adjudication-focused rule-of-law, such as the Manila principles; 3) human-rights-focused framework, such as the one proposed by then UN free speech Special Rapporteur David Kaye; and 4) domestic regimes such as the United Kingdom’s Online Harms White Paper.
The same study also looks over the issue of platform legitimacy. If you want to get a bit more theoretical, read through their definitions. Input legitimacy refers to the extent people affected by a platform can participate in all rules governing it and the degree to which platforms are responsive to citizen's concerns. Output legitimacy explore if a platform’s actions enhance the lives and fits the values and identities of the people affected by it. Throughput legitimacy refers to the quality of governance processes itself and answers questions like: Does the process actually achieve its intended outcome? Are actors held accountable for decisions and responsive to input? Do people have enough information about the decision-making processes? Is there an institution within which transparency-based information can provide accountability? Do non-platform actors have an ongoing role in setting platform policy.
In a year such as 2020, the issue of the pandemic's impact on society is bound to come up. As the Internet became the main and in some cases the only option for some activities, transactions and interactions, efforts to put critical Internet infrastructure under national sovereign power clashed with attempts to, on the contrary - keep it in the international domain. The authors of this study suggest looking at existing frameworks such as the United Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Its provisions address sovereignty issues that countries face beyond their borders and might be a fitting analogue for finding common ground for global agreement for protecting critical Internet infrastructure as well.
2 November 2020, 16:30 UTC
Pre-Day 1: IGF 2020… Same-same, but very different
It’s been clear for many months now that the 2020 edition of the Internet Governance Forum would be unlike any that preceded it. And at the same time, it’s been obvious that IGF 2020 would be a remote event in a style that many of its participants have become very used to and familiar with in recent times.
So the IGF arrives this year at a moment when the importance of the Internet to our society is more apparent than ever, with all the risks and challenges associated with that, but with the added challenge of not pushing “one more webinar” onto an audience that is already suffering from online fatigue. Hopefully, that’s where the RIPE Labs can help a little.
Rather than a single week, the IGF has spread its many sessions across nearly three weeks, including pre-events. On this live blog, we’ll have RIPE NCC staff (and perhaps some guests) provide reactions and reporting on some of the discussions taking place, with a particular focus on their relevance to the RIPE NCC and the RIPE community. It would be great to have a more interactive discussion, so please feel free to use the comments section below to give us your own reactions, to disagree with our take, or provide any additional information.
Happy IGF 2020 everyone!