IGF 2022 WS #475 Balancing Digital Sovereignty and the Splinternet

Thursday, 1st December, 2022 (08:15 UTC) - Thursday, 1st December, 2022 (09:45 UTC)

Organizer 1: Civil Society, Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC)
Organizer 2: Civil Society, Eastern European Group
Organizer 3: Civil Society, African Group
Organizer 4: Civil Society, Eastern European Group

Speaker 1: Milton Mueller, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 2: Justyna Romanowska, Government, Eastern European Group
Speaker 3: Kateryna Bovsunovska, Civil Society, Eastern European Group
Speaker 4: Emmanuel Chinomso OGU, Civil Society, African Group
Speaker 5: Innocent Adriko, Civil Society, African Group

Additional Speakers
Esteve Sanz (Western Europe) is the Head of the Internet Governance and Multi-Stakeholder Dialogue in the European Commission. Knight Fellow at the Yale Law School and a post-doctoral fellow at MIT, Yale and IPTS (European Commission research centre).

Wolfgang Kleinwächter (Professor Emeritus from the University of Aarhus, Director on the ICANN Board (2013 – 2015) and a Special Ambassador of the NETMundial Initiative (2014 – 2016). Co-founder of the European Dialogue on Internet Governance (EURODIG), the Global Internet Governance Academic Network (GIGANET) and the Summer School on Internet Governance (SSIG))


Round Table - Circle - 90 Min

Policy Question(s)

1. What safeguards are necessary to ensure that Digital Sovereignty does not overreach into the realms of Digital Rights abuses? 2. How can the benefits of diversity, as well as the advantages of regional or cultural particularities be harnessed from digital spaces online, even amidst the negative effects of fragmentation? 3. How can young people be involved in reducing the current harmful trends in Internet fragmentation?

Connection with previous Messages: 4. Universal Access and Meaningful Connectivity Ensuring that all people everywhere have meaningful and sustainable access to the Internet must be a priority. Access to the open Internet is key for bridging the digital divide, as well as fostering democracy and human rights. (p.3) 5. Emerging Regulation: Market Structure, Content Data and Consumer Rights and Protection In the debate on digital sovereignty and digital autonomy, more focus needs to be placed on the individual autonomy of Internet users within the digital realm. (p.4) 7. Inclusive Internet Ecosystems and Digital Cooperation While the Internet contributes to social, cultural and economic growth, questions of governance, accountability, misuse, trust and access still exist. As the Internet cannot be dealt with from a one-dimensional perspective, collaborative, equitable and inclusive Internet governance is imperative and requires well-structured coordination and consolidation. (p.5) Digital cooperation requires trust, and the IGF can help build that. To adapt to the future, the IGF has to boldly embrace the policy controversies that face the Internet. (p.6) 8. Trust, Security, and Stability The norm to protect the Public Core of the Internet should not be interpreted as enabling or encouraging control over the Internet but as a norm of restraint that is largely oriented toward moderating malicious state behaviour. Actors around the world need to better understand and further define what is meant by “public” and what constitutes a violation of the norm. To this end, civil society and other non-governmental actors should continue in calling out violations of the public core norm. (p.6)


9. Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
10. Reduced Inequalities

Targets: SDG 4 - Quality Education Internet Fragmentation affects the possibility of accessing educational resources made available in other parts of the world. Additionally, it severely restricts the opportunities for lifelong education and capacity building. Within the Splinternet framework, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity which are supposed to be promoted through education are put at risk. SDG 9 - Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure Internet Fragmentation impedes access to information on innovation and scientific research conducted in different parts of the world. As a consequence, it affects the speed of innovative developments not allowing them to incorporate the latest advancements if they are made in countries with restricted or blocked access. SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities Internet Fragmentation further aggravates the inequalities caused, among others, by the digital divide, especially in the developing and least developed countries. It restricts enhanced representation for developing countries in global decision-making. Without equal opportunities on the Internet, true equality cannot be achieved. SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions Internet Fragmentation restricts access to information on human rights protection and human rights violations in different countries and affects the activities of human rights defenders. It challenges the rule of law on the national and international levels and reduces accountability and transparency of institutions at all levels, and their international cooperation.


Rising tides of Fragmentation and Centralized Control continue to threaten the strength, stability, and future of the Internet; through actions that have been either state-driven or market-driven. Whereas state-driven centralization, which has sometimes been referred to as Digital Sovereignty, could portend benefits for flexibility and innovation on the Internet when control is centralized for citizens. However, when digital sovereignty (or state-driven centralization) begins to involve fragmenting the digital space to centralize sovereign control for governments at the expense of other Internet players, it portends critical risks for the “Internet Way of Networking”. These risks are insidiously similar to the long-term implications of business operations that consolidate data and assets in ways that centralize market dominance for strong Internet players, ultimately suffocating competition (also known as market-driven centralization). This is because a particular Internet player becomes an imposing force or dominating gatekeeper for mainstream digital / Internet-related operations, communications, and activities in particular sectors and jurisdictions. Splinternet is a concept that has been in and out of the spotlight in internet governance discussions for years, under different perspectives and names. We still perceive little consensus on its characteristics and what would really define which legislative or technological changes such as those causing the Splinternet. This is because, as has been earlier highlighted, there is a large overlap with debates on digital sovereignty, cybersecurity and the different types of fragmentation of the Internet, making the discussion much more complex than it might first appear. The juxtaposition with human rights issues and the inequality of commercial and technological power between more developed and less developed countries make this issue even more delicate. By their very nature as a generation that has been formed under the strong influence of the Internet and in a globalized world, mixing from an early age offline and online aspects of life under the constant influence of other cultures, the Youth are indeed qualified to promote conversations on such a subject. This is an issue that is also very high on the Youth agenda as the group most directly affected by the consolidation of a Splinternet in the future, and it is of direct and immediate interest to seek points of contact that can avoid this scenario. There are current regulatory attempts that may lead to a Splinternetdecoupling from the global Internet, similar to the setting up of an informational Iron Curtain in the Cold War Period. The Youth has to understand how such situations can be prevented or mitigated in modern-day reality. Therefore, it is necessary to continue establishing bridges for dialogue between different perspectives, setting up dimensions that allow discussions to gravitate towards establishing minimum consensus. This panel proposes to bring together high-level representatives of different views on this subject, not to debate among themselves, but to make their positions clearer to the audience and to the other speakers. While internet fragmentation threatens the unique, neutral, multi-stakeholder, free nature of the world wide web, states also need to ensure their digital sovereignty. That adds another dimension to the complicated discussion around the splinternet, as the balance between internet fragmentation and digital sovereignty is yet to be discovered. Youths desire an Internet that provides a safe space for development that is devoid of arbitrary censorship within geopolitical borders. Thus, it is vital to discover new tools and frameworks to ensure that human rights are respected and not abused in the digital world.

Expected Outcomes

1. Defining common grounds on concepts and arguments about digital sovereignty and Internet fragmentation, so follow-up discussions can be built upon this minimal consensus. 2. Finding policy recommendations to regulators aiming to protect their citizens against potentially harmful effects from the Internet without resulting in obstacles to the adequate functioning and access of a global network, especially considering Youth perspectives and concerns

Hybrid Format: All participants, both online and onsite, are considered to be an important part of the workshop, since collecting diverse opinions is the main goal of the session. Therefore, online and onsite moderators will cooperate to ensure that both online and onsite participants will have an equal opportunity to join the discussion with speakers and to ask them questions. Moderators will especially ensure that there is a common queue of questions for online and onsite participants so that each group has the same priority to ask questions to the speakers, whether they are online or onsite. If there is a notable disbalance between categories of participants, we will prioritize contributions from the group that has spoken the least.

Online Participation


Usage of IGF Official Tool.


Key Takeaways (* deadline 2 hours after session)

There is a need to define more precisely what internet fragmentation is, but we are currently far from this consensus

Call to Action (* deadline 2 hours after session)

There is a need for more dialogue among stakeholders with diverse positions, especially to define if there is such a thing as fragmentation on higher layers of the Internet

Session Report (* deadline 26 October) - click on the ? symbol for instructions

There is great difficulty in discussing digital sovereignty and Internet fragmentation today due to the lack of common grammar and concepts among the different actors that address the issue. This makes the discussion to debate the relationship between these two concepts even more difficult, which is why it is necessary to maintain a continuous dialogue between the various stakeholders involved to try to achieve solutions and cooperation.

There is a perception that people talk about fragmentation on different layers of internet architecture. The most worrying kind of fragmentation happens on the transport layer. It is still not an immediate major threat and previous attempts have failed, but these acts, such as the ones from China, may even re-design core internet protocols. If these ideas and actions spread, in the medium term this could threaten the Internet as we know it today. Governments should be careful to avoid creating legislation that results in obligations to Internet actors that may create profound barriers to access, and this concern requires appropriate assessments. Some experts argue that digital sovereignty will inevitably lead to nternet fragmentation, because the traditional sovereignty exerted by states within their borders do not apply well to cyberspace.

However, one should not ignore that states have legitimate interests in regulating that do not interfere with the adequate functioning of the Internet, sarising those concerns arisen from the Global South orsignificante that take into great consideration the protection of fundamental human rights that may conflict weconomiclogical and economical development. People should not confuse these core values with features that can be hindered by regulations or generate costs for companies, since this is just a shift in priorities. Market actors clearly prefer the idea of no regulation andbehaviorrs, but this behaviour may harm other stakeholders.

There is no clear consensus if we can define content issues as aspects of internet fragmentation. It should bg on the specifics of what happened, such as censorship acts. This is particularly important because there is a legitimate discussion at the application (or content) layer, debating if it is problematic, leading to dangers such as communication and discourse control by governments, or necessary to protect citizens, national and individual security, or even democracy.

The session stresses the need for continued dialogue between actors not only from different sectors, but also from different regions, to align bit by bit the concepts that are being used in the global debate.