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International rules in the digital space?

Debate on freedom and regulation of the internet at re:publica 2019

Debate on freedom and regulation of the internet at re:publica 2019, © Auswärtiges Amt

09.05.2019 - Article

The Federal Foreign Office and re:publica 2019 host a debate on freedom and regulation of the internet

In the age of disinformation, bots and virtual hate speech, has the internet lost its potential to foster emancipation and democratisation? Or do we need binding rules for the digital space to preserve this very potential?

The question of the need and scope for international rules in the internet was one topic of this year’s re:publica, which has been the central forum for debate and visions on the future of the digital society for 13 years now.

Protection of privacy in the digital age

On the panel “Space of liberty or zone of conflict – who sets the rules for the internet?”, organised in cooperation with the Federal Foreign Office, consensus was soon reached on the basic need for elementary rules of behaviour in the digital sphere.

The right to privacy, for example, as Wolfram von Heynitz, Head of Cyber Foreign Policy and Cyber Security Coordination Staff at the Federal Foreign Office, explained, can only be protected internationally in an age of transnational data collection and distribution.

Governments, business and civil society around one table

However, Max Senges, Lead for Research Partnerships and Internet Governance for Google, pointed out that different countries and world regions had very divergent ideas on the precise content and limits of a right to privacy, which made it more difficult to reach a consensus on international rules in the internet.

The discussion participants also agreed that an approach was therefore needed that incorporated all relevant stakeholders such as governments, businesses and civil society groups and provided a forum in which different ideas could receive equal attention.

With the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), which was established more than ten years ago by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, a format to debate such issues is indeed in place, with the next session due to be held in Berlin in November 2019.

Europe needs to speak with one voice

However, in order to convert the proposals discussed at the IGF into binding rules and then also to apply them, stakeholders need to be clear about their own values and demonstrate the political will to implement them.

That is why, as Julia Schütze, Project Manager for International Cyber Security Policy at the Stiftung Neue Verantwortung stressed, the discussion on international rules in the digital space requires a clear European stance towards other players such as China and Russia. She said that was the only way to ensure that European standards on protection of the individual as well as on internet conduct between states could become the international standard.

The discussion was chaired by Gemina Picht, FUTURZWEI. Stiftung Zukunftsfähigkeit.

A record of the entire discussion is available here.

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