Q3/2019 - Executive Summary

In the third quarter of 2019, further impetus for the global Internet Governance discussion was provided by the G7 Summit in Biarritz (24 – 26 August 2019) and the 74th UN General Assembly (which started on 24 September 2019) in New York.

At the G7 Summit on 25 August 2019, a "G7 Biarritz Strategy for an Open, Free and Secure Digital Transformation" and a "G7 Action Plan on Digital Transformation in Africa" were adopted.

At the 74th UN General Assembly, which began on 24 September 2019, Internet-related issues were discussed in three committees (1st Committee: Cyber Security, 2nd Committee: Digitisation and WSIS follow-up, 3rd Committee: Human Rights and Cybercrime).

The re-arrangement of the global Internet governance discussion continued also in the third quarter of 2019.

  • On the one hand, the shift of the debate from non-state to intergovernmental bodies is getting stronger, although this does not mean a return to traditional "multilateralism". Meanwhile, even bodies that were previously reserved exclusively for governments (such as the UN Disarmament and International Security Committee) are discussing the question of the meaningful involvement of non-state actors from the private sector, research, the academic-technical community and civil society.
  • On the other hand, the debate is increasingly structured according to the “four baskets” of the global Internet governance ecosystem (cyber security, digital economy, digital human rights, technology). A weakness of the currently applied inter-state negotiation structure is becoming apparent: While most of the Internet issues are interrelated in their nature and concern multiple disciplines, the negotiations are held separately and focus on one single discipline. This “silo approach” makes it more difficult to find sustainable and holistic solutions.

The UN High Level Panel on Digital Cooperation (HLP.CD) had pointed out both these problems in its report of June 2019. Multilateralism and multistakeholderism, they said, were not alternatives or contradictions but two sides of the same coin. In times of “digital interdependence“ and an “interconnected world” a holistic approach was required for global negotiations of cyber and digital issues. It remains to be seen in how far these two recommendations will be taken into consideration for preparing the “UN Global Commitment on Digital Cooperation”, which is planned to be adopted on 24 October on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the United Nations.

As to cyber security, negotiations of the related Open-ended Working Group (OEWG) started in New York on 9 September 2019. The OEWG was newly created by the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly in December 2018 with the mandate to draft norms and principles of responsible behaviour of states in cyberspace and to develop trust and capacity-building measures. The OEWG is open for participation to all 193 members of the UN.

  • This distinguishes the OEWG from the 6th UN Group of Governmental Experts (UNGGE), which was granted a similar mandate at the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly. In contrast to the OEWG, the members of the UNGGE are limited to 25 governments. The 6th UNGEE will start working in December 2019.
  • The negotiations on lethal autonomous weapons systems (GGE LAWS) were taken up again at the end of August 2019. The group operates under the umbrella of the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW).
  • Cyber security issues were on the agenda of the G7 Summit held in Biarritz from 24 to 26 June and of the meeting of the Ministers of the Interior of the “Five Eyes States” in London on 29 July 2019.
  • NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg confirmed on 29 August 2019 that NATO would regard a cyber attack on one of the NATO member states a case covered by Article 5 of the NATO Treaty, which would trigger collective defence. 
  • INTERPOL and the UN Counter-Terrorism Centre (UNCCT) published a handbook on 11 July 2019 how to combat terrorism with the help of the Internet. In September 2019, Interpol held a first training workshop for police authorities to enhance their capacities for online counter-terrorism investigations and law enforcement on the Internet.

In the field of digital economy, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) is developing into the central negotiation platform for issues of e-commerce and digital data trading. However, the refusal of India to join the “Osaka Track” of the G20 (June 2019) and thus the Davos “Joint Statement” of the 78 WTO members (January 2019) indicates that it will not be easy to reach an agreement.

  • Another controversial issue is the digital tax. In the margins of the G7 Summit in Biarritz, US President Donald Trump and French President Macron agreed to settle the contentious topic until the end of 2020 by a global solution within the scope of the OECD. France had introduced the tax – initially aiming primarily at US-American Internet company – in spring 2019. In response, the USA had threatened to impose sanctions. If a global solution is reached, France intends to repay the retained taxes.
  • Highly controversial is the plan pursued by Facebook to introduce a new, Internet-based crypto currency (LIBRA). The plan calls on governments to take a more critical look at the project.
  • Digitalisation is also increasingly becoming a priority in the implementation of the sustainable development goals of the United Nations 2030 Agenda. On 23 September 2019, the 74th session of the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution on the activities to be pursued in the remaining decade to reach the SDGs. In the resolution, the digital transformation is assigned a key role.
  • One focal issue is Africa. The World Economic Forum in Davos held its summer meeting at Cape Town, South Africa, in September 2019. Africa is turning more and more into a place where Chinese and Western development aid models clash.
  • When issues such as G5, AI, the Internet of Things and e-commerce are concerned, there are China's efforts (expansion of the digital Silk Road) on the one side increasingly conflicting with the cooperation offers of the G7 states (G7 Biarritz action plan on digital transformation in Africa) on the other side. It remains to be seen which role the BRICS Institute, founded in August 2019, will play in future networks.

In the field of human rights, the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva has become the main platform for discussing Internet-related issues, such as ensuring freedom of expression and privacy in the digital age. The HRC assigned special rapporteurs for the two subjects already several years ago. They regularly report to the UN Human Rights Council and to the 3rd Committee of the UN General Assembly. However, proposals of the two special rapporteurs on developing new instruments of international law, e.g. the prohibition of mass surveillance without cause, have not yet met with the approval of the majority of the UN member countries.

The field of new technologies primarily includes topics such as Artificial Intelligence, the Internet of Things and 5G network technology.

  • The AI Principles outlined at the G20 Summit in June 2019 in Osaka (based on a declaration adopted by the OECD) now provide a first high-calibre political instrument. It remains to be seen which influence this document will have on future discussions and negotiations on technology development.
  • In all these areas, ITU tries to present itself as a platform that can lead the world into the future. This was evident again at the "ITU World Telecom" at Budapest in September 2019.
  • One can also observe a “politicisation” in the non-governmental technical standardisation organisations. Even the IETF is not unaffected by this, as the discussions on new standards on cyber security or the protection of privacy show. The political consequences of the introduction of new protocols – such as DNS over HTTPS (DOH) – are not always immediately discernible in this context, which creates a new potential of conflict between governmental and non-governmental stakeholders in the medium term. 

At the inter-governmental level, the following major activities in Q3/2019 are particularly worth to be mentioned:

  • At the G7 Summit held under French presidency in Biarritz on 24 to 26 August 2019, a “G7 Strategy for an Open, Free and Secure Digital Transformation” and a “G7 Action Plan for Digital Transformation in Africa” were adopted. Cyber security, digital data trading and the future strategy of the G7 with regard to Artificial Intelligence were discussed in detail.
  • Under the Japanese G20 presidency, the G20 Labour and Employment Ministers held a meeting discussing, among other things, the effects of digitalisation on the future of work. The G20 Labour and Employment Ministers supported the recommendations of the ILO Global Commission on the Future of Work of January 2019.
  • In August 2019, the Chinese branch of the “BRICS Institute for the Future of Networks” was opened up in Shenzhen. The foundation of this institute had been decided by the BRICS Ministers of Communications under the South African presidency in September 2018.
  • On 24 September 2019 the 74th session of the UN General Assembly was opened. Internet issues were discussed in detail in three committees of the UN General Assembly (1st Committee: Cyber Security, 2nd Committee: Digitisation and WSIS follow-up, 3rd Committee: Human Rights and Cybercrime).
  • On 23 September, the UN General Assembly adopted, upon recommendation of the UN High Level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development (SDG), a resolution requesting the UN members to intensify their efforts in the remaining decade until 2030, also in the field of digital transformation.
  • Ursula von der Leyen, the newly elected President of the European Commission following the election of the European Parliament, has identified digitalisation as one of the priorities of her five-year mandate. In her new portfolio, her designated deputy, Margrethe Vestager from Denmark, will have extensive responsibilities for the development of the digital single market and the general Internet, cyber and digital policies of the European Union.
  • In a press article published on 26 August 2019, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg commented in detail on the cyber strategy of NATO. Cyber, he said, was the fifth dimension (next to land, sea, air, and space) of NATO defence for its members. A cyber attack on one of the NATO members was to be considered an Article 5 case of the NATO Treaty of Washington, which means that an attack on one member is to be treated as an attack against all and will thus invoke collective NATO defence.
  • The Open-ended Working Group/OEWG established by the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly in December 2018 had its first meeting in New York on 9 to 13 September. It was attended by more than 100 governments and numerous NGOs. The focal issues were the application of international law in cyberspace, norms and principles of responsible behaviour of states in cyberspace and the development of trust and capacity-building measures.
  • The UN Group of Government Experts (UNGGE) held first regional consultations in Europe (Bratislava), Latin America (Washington) and Africa (Addis Ababa) in the third quarter of 2019. Its first official session is scheduled for the beginning of December 2019 in New York.
  • The Group on Governmental Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (GGE-LAWS) made no progress at its meeting at the end of August 2019 in Geneva with a potential agreement prohibiting the use of killer robots. They adopted a work schedule for 2020 and 2021. Non-governmental organisations criticise this as a delaying tactic of the states that develop such weapon systems.  
  • The 76 members of the World Trade Organisation(WTO) that had announced in January 2019 in the margins of the World Economic Forum in Davos the start of negotiations to draft a multilateral agreement on e-commerce (Joint Initiative on eCommerce) met for their second confidential meeting at the end of September 2019. India is still rejecting to participate in the negotiations. Non-governmental organisations criticise a lack of transparency of the negotiations.  
  • The ITU organised the four-yearly “World Telecom Forum” in Budapest in September 2019, discussed issues of the future (Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence, 5G), prepared the next World Radiotelecommunication Conference (WRC19) and granted several awards for digital innovation, in particular to small and medium enterprises.  

At the multistakeholder level, the following major activities in Q3/2019 are particularly worth to be mentioned:

  • In the meantime, the “Christchurch Call” has been signed by 48 governments, the Council of Europe, the European Commission, the UNESCO and ten large Internet enterprises, including Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Amazon.
  • The program of the 14th Internet Governance Forum in Berlin on 25 to 29 November 2019 was published in August 2019.
  • On 6 September 2019, the first preparatory meeting for the 14th EURODIG took place in the North Italian city of Trieste, where the EURODIG will be held under the motto “Towards a sustainable governance of the Internet” from 10 to 12 June 2020. 

At the non-state level, the following major activities in Q3/2019 are particularly worth to be mentioned:

  • The Global Commission on Stability in Cyberspace (GCSC) has completed its draft of the final report. It will be adopted in Addis Ababa in October 2019 and presented to the public at the Paris Peace Forum and the IGF in Berlin (November 2019).
  • The World Economic Forum Davos (WEF) held its summer meeting at Cape Town in South Africa in August 2019. Digitalisation, Artificial Intelligence, 5G and cyber security were the key discussion issues.
  • On 25 September 2019, Microsoft, the Hewlett Foundation and Mastercard announced the establishment of a Cyber Peace Institute (CPI) in Geneva. The first president of the new CPI will be the former Dutch Member of the European Parliament Marjette Schaake.
  • One of the discussion topics at the annual alumni meeting of the Munich Security Conference (MSC) Young Leaders was military deterrence in cyberspace.
  • Two high-level international expert conferences in London (Global Pledge on Media Freedom, July 2019) and in the Vatican (Common Good in the Digital Age, September 2019) dealt with the future of media and society in the digital age.


When I think of the great scientific revolutions of the past – print, the steam engine, aviation, the atomic age – I think of new tools that we acquired but over which we – the human race – had the advantage, which we controlled. That is not necessarily the case in the digital age. You may keep secrets from your friends, from your parents, your children, your doctor – even your personal trainer – but it takes real effort to conceal your thoughts from Google. And if that is true today, in future there may be nowhere to hide. Smart cities will pullulate with sensors, all joined together by the “internet of things”, bollards communing invisibly with lamp posts. So there is always a parking space for your electric car, so that no bin goes unemptied, no street unswept, and the urban environment is as antiseptic as a Zurich pharmacy. But this technology could also be used to keep every citizen under round-the-clock surveillance. A future Alexa will pretend to take orders. But this Alexa will be watching you, Clucking her tongue and stamping her foot In the future, voice connectivity will be in every room and almost every object: your mattress will monitor your nightmares; your fridge will beep for more cheese, your front door will sweep wide the moment you approach, like some silent butler; your smart meter will go hustling – if its accord – for the cheapest electricity. And every one of them minutely transcribing your every habit in tiny electronic shorthand, stored not in their chips or their innards – nowhere you can find it. But in some great cloud of data that lours ever more oppressively over the human race. A giant dark thundercloud waiting to burst. And we have no control over how or when the precipitation will take place.

Boris Johnson Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 74th session of the UN General Assembly, New York, 24 September 2019
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