from Net Politics and Digital and Cyberspace Policy Program

What Is the Digital Society We Want to Build Together?

Stakeholder Plenary Session of the Second Global Conference of the Internet & Jurisdiction Policy Network in Ottawa, Canada Justin van Leeuwen

One of the greatest and most pressing global governance challenges of the 21st century is managing the coexistence of national laws on the internet. Here's what one organization is doing to address it. 

March 20, 2018

Stakeholder Plenary Session of the Second Global Conference of the Internet & Jurisdiction Policy Network in Ottawa, Canada Justin van Leeuwen
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Paul Fehlinger is the deputy director and co-founder and Xavier Guyot de Camy is a project officer at the Internet & Jurisdiction Policy Network.

On February 26-28, 2018, over 200 senior-level participants from governments, internet companies, technical operators, civil society, academia and international organizations from more than forty countries met in Ottawa, Canada, for the second Global Conference of the Internet & Jurisdiction Policy Network, a multistakeholder organization that was launched in 2012.

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The second Global Conference was organized in partnership with the government of Canada, and supported by the OECD, the Council of Europe, UNESCO, the European Commission, and ICANN. Building on the results of the first Global Conference organized in November 2016 and subsequent intersessional work, the stakeholders gathered to address one of the greatest and most pressing global governance challenges of the 21st century: how to manage the coexistence of national laws on the internet.

As internet use increases worldwide, so do complex multi-jurisdictional problems. From access to user data in the Microsoft v. Ireland case, the German hate speech removal law, to internet shutdowns in Africa, or blocking WhatsApp in Brazil—a multitude of new issues, court decisions, legislative proposals and other efforts proliferate around the world at unprecedented speeds.

The tension between the transnational nature of the internet and national jurisdictions manifests itself in complex daily problems for public and private actors, who often try to find solutions under great pressure and urgency. As a result, initiatives are frequently taken without proper consideration for potential unintended consequences, including the extraterritorial impact of decisions and the scalability of such measures.

The cost of past inaction has been dire, leading to the current unsustainable situation. However, the cumulative patching of day-to-day problems under the pressure of urgency offers little in the way of addressing the overarching jurisdictional tensions. The high degree of legal uncertainty arising from the lack of coordinated policy solutions increases the cost of doing business, challenges governments’ capacity to protect their citizens and ensure respect of their legislation, and raises civil society concerns that abuses are not properly addressed or that solutions will harm users.

For the first time, in Ottawa, stakeholders agreed not only on the importance of addressing these issues of common concern, but also on components for potential frameworks and the necessity of establishing policy coherence between different initiatives.

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The participants jointly reviewed and refined work plans that lay out common objectives and structuring components to develop concrete solutions in the three programs of the Internet & Jurisdiction Policy Network: cross-border access to user data, cross-border content restrictions, and cross-border domain suspension. These documents form the core of the Ottawa Roadmap, which will help structure the work of the Policy Network ahead of its third Global Conference, to take place in Berlin on June 3-5, 2019, in partnership with the government of Germany.

The second Global Conference demonstrated the importance of the Internet & Jurisdiction Policy Network as a neutral space for stakeholders to discuss jurisdictional tensions and collectively develop frameworks for the governance on the internet. Given the complexity of those questions, it is crucial that policymakers, tech companies, civil society and others advance on an issue-by-issue basis and that the resulting operational solutions remain flexible and scalable.

The ongoing work conducted within the Policy Network to define policy standards for exponentially growing cross-border data flows and increasingly diverse online communities of hundreds of millions of people must reconcile competing objectives to collectively and at the same time: fight abuses, protect human rights, and enable the global digital economy. In Ottawa, stakeholders acknowledged their collective responsibility to act jointly and develop governance frameworks that establish legal interoperability and are adapted to the transnational nature of the internet.

Preserving the cross-border nature of the internet and its benefits will be no easy task, and can only be achieved through collaboration and joint action by all stakeholders. What is at stake is nothing less than the digital society we collectively want to build for future generations.

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