IGF 2019 WS #59 Digital Sovereignty and Internet Fragmentation

Organizer 1: Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group
Organizer 2: Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Organizer 3: Civil Society, Eastern European Group
Organizer 4: Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Organizer 5: Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Organizer 6: Civil Society, African Group
Organizer 7: Government, Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC)

Speaker 1: Mona Badran, Civil Society, African Group
Speaker 2: Alexander Isavnin, Technical Community, Eastern European Group
Speaker 3: Peixi XU, Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group
Speaker 4: Achilles Zaluar, Government, Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC)
Speaker 5: Vint Cerf, Private Sector, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 6: Lise Fuhr, Private Sector, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

Policy Question(s): 

The policy questions can be classified into three headings:

1. The nature of national sovereignty and its extension to 'digital sovereignty' or ‘cyberspace sovereignty’
- Is digital sovereignty compatible with the globalized access provided by the Internet protocols? What is gained and what is lost by trying to make cyberspace conform to principles of territorial sovereignty?
- How does sovereignty in cyberspace relate to/differ from traditional notions of sovereignty that shaped international communications policy since the 1850s?
- Why and how are countries trying to create "national Internets?" Are these efforts compatible with a global internet or will they lead to fragmentation of the infrastructure or the services and processes that it supports?

2. National and global effects of digital sovereignty:
- How do attempts by some countries to create a "sovereign Internet" affect the human rights of Internet users?
- How do national boundaries on data flows affect economic development, competition and efficiency in the global digital economy?
- How does sovereignty in cyberspace affect the security and privacy of Internet users?
- How do they impact foreign firms seeking to operate locally? Are they consistent with international trade and other multilateral obligations?

3. Governance responses:
- Would it be better to conceive of cyberspace as a global commons similar to the high seas or outer space? What are the policy and governance implications of classifying cyberspace as a global commons?
- What blend of institutional settings would be useful in addressing the conflicts engendered by by strongly statist digital sovereignty practices? What would be the role of e.g. security arrangements, international trade agreements, international privacy agreements, MLATs and other efforts to deal with access issues of concern to law enforcement and others?
- Is there any role in this discussion for multistakeholder cooperation, or is sovereignty a matter on which only states should engage? If there is a role, how could this be structured?

Relevance to Theme: The problem of how to achieve security, stability, safety and resilience needs to be discussed in the context of understanding the role of sovereignty in cyberspace. National sovereignty is the organizing principle of the traditional international political system. In the traditional sovereign model, national governments take most of the responsibility for protecting security, stability, safety and resilience. But because sovereignty is bounded by territory, their authority stops at their borders. The Internet, in contrast, is transnational in scope and provides the potential for borderless connectivity. Thus in cybersecurity traditional security and stability practices have had to be modified, often relying on multistakeholder cooperation and cross-border operations in which the power of states is shared with many other actors.

Today, in a context of cyber-attacks by state actors and a globalized digital economy, efforts to assert territorial control into cyberspace and project it onto all things digital are gathering momentum. Across the world, governments of many political complexions are considering or have adopted broad policy frameworks they say are necessary to maintain what they variously describe as cyber, data, informational, digital, or technological sovereignty. They have been implemented via such measures as forced data localization, barriers to cross-border data flows, routing and surveillance requirements, digital industrial policies and trade protectionism, and censorship and blocking of classes of data flows or Internet-based platforms. Russia and China are prime examples but many other countries are assessing these different models.

This roundtable includes participants from Russia, China, Brazil and Argentina as well as Iran, the USA and Europe.

Relevance to Internet Governance: The tension between national sovereignty and the global Internet is probably the single most fundamental Internet governance issue today. The Internet protocols create a globally connected virtual space in which anyone from anywhere in the world can communicate; in the technical structure of cyberspace distance and territory do not matter. Governmental authority, on the other hand, is bounded by geographic territory and each government is supposed to have supreme authority in its territory. Ever since the World Summit on the Information Society, governments have been trying to insert the concept of sovereignty into Internet governance discussions. On the other hand, many Internet users, platforms and service providers have been promoting the benefits of seamless global interconnection. There is a clash between the two distinct models of Internet governance. The tension between sovereignty and globalization plays out in several Internet governance issues. The debate over data localization often appeals to “technological sovereignty.” The global debate over cybersecurity and cyber norms also has struggled to understand how notions of sovereignty can be reconciled with the globalized espionage and attack capabilities provided by cyberspace.


Round Table - Circle - 90 Min

Description: The purpose of this workshop is to explore the new discourse and practice of national sovereignty over cyberspace and to consider its implications for Internet openness vs. fragmentation. The session would be organized as an interactive roundtable. In the first half, the moderators would pose a few policy relevant questions pre-arranged with speakers and foster fluid debate. In the second half the floor would be opened to dialogue with all in-person and remote participants.

The roundtable has a highly diverse set of organizers and a well qualified set of discussants. The people and organizations proposing this workshop are from Europe, Iran, Egypt, USA, Argentina and Russia. It will be moderated by Milton Mueller and William J Drake, prominent academics who have written seminal scholarly works on the topics of cyberspace sovereignty and Internet fragmentation. Discussants include Lise Fuhr, the Danish director of the European Telecommunications Network Operators Association. Vinton Cerf of Google is one of the founders of the Internet and a key figure in the Internet technical community. Two perspectives from Russia are included. Co-organizer Ilona Stadnik is an international relations scholar from St. Petersburg University, Russia. Alexander Isvarin heads the Internet Protection Society of Russia, a civil society organization that advocates for Internet freedom in the country. Ambassador Achilles Emilio Zaluar Neto, from the Foreign Ministry of Brazil, is a government stakeholder. Xu Peixi, Communications University of China, is a leading Internet governance scholar from China. Mona Badran, Cairo University Egypt, specializes in the study of digital trade.

Expected Outcomes: The workshop will produce a better understanding of the technical and economic feasibility of the various digital sovereignty models being considered or implemented around the world and their implications for global Internet governance. The workshop is expected to clarify what is really happening and dispel any myths about cyber-sovereignty proposals. The workshop is expected to foster a more informed dialogue between the BRIC nations and Internet globalization advocates about governance models for cyberspace.
The organizers of the roundtable have specific plans for disseminating the ideas and outcomes from this panel into other forums and to the public. They will develop a report on the workshop outcomes and publish it on their widely-read websites. Results will be taken into cybersecurity conferences such as CyCon in Tallinn and Cycon US. Internet institutions such as ICANN, regional Internet registries and IETF are also forums for continuing the discussion of this problem.

Discussion Facilitation: 

The roundtable format will allow a dynamic and flexible discussion. The moderators are experienced Internet governance scholars and participants who understand the different points of view. The group of organizers have 13 years of experience in organizing and facilitating IGF workshops and Schools of Internet Governance in different world regions. They will allow the contrasting views and national perspectives to be presented at the outset and then open it up to reactions and responses from the other roundtable participants. At least 30 minutes of the 90 minutes will be reserved for audience and remote participant questions and comments. It should be noted that Internet Governance Project, which is rooted in academia, has organized dozens of successful roundtables and panels both inside and outside of IGF and is very experienced at managing them.

Online Participation: 

We will use it to allow remote participants to submit questions or directly participate in the discussion in real time.


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