Sandra Hoferichter, Secretary General, EuroDIG
With text references to the Messages produced by the Geneva Internet Platform (GIP).
EuroDIG 2020 was planned to take place as a three-day meeting from 10-12 June, in Trieste, Italy, at the International Centre of Theoretical Physics (ICTP). EuroDIG was to be a satellite event in the overall programme of the EuroScience Open Forum (ESOF), and the overarching theme, ‘Towards a sustainable governance of the Internet’, was aligned with ESOF’s focus areas.
Because of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic we could not meet in Trieste in person and EuroDIG 2020 was held as a fully virtual meeting.
After discussing various options, it was decided to stick to a two-day programme structure, plus a Day Zero, in order to accommodate all of the topics that had been identified as being of relevance this year and to respect the community work that had already gone into session preparation. The challenge was to keep people engaged and focused for 2-3 days rather than risk losing them over a longer period.
We hoped that sessions would have similar participant numbers to a physical meeting. In this respect it’s notable that in recent years a trend developed where many participants only attended specific parts of the programme focused on their field of interest, while not participating for the entire duration of the conference. The effort to outline special interest tracks in the programme supported this trend, and reflected an effort to engage with new communities outside the traditional “Internet Governance bubble”.
Structurally, the EuroDIG 2020 programme followed the same format as the annual EuroDIG events have followed for the past five years. Sessions were held in the same manner as in a physical meeting, with key participants providing input and as much open discussion as possible, allowing all participants to contribute.
It was clear that EuroDIG 2020 would need to be entertaining, interactive and create a kind of community feeling in the virtual space. Out of this, the idea to create studios across Europe was born.
We established a “TV headquarters”-style studio in Leipzig where the EuroDIG Secretariat is located, while colleagues in Trieste, The Hague and Berlin established smaller studios and we connected with them. The feedback from participants showed that we achieved our aim, with a majority of attendees joining for multiple sessions, or even the entire conference, and that the studio approach and the moderation between the studios was much appreciated.
Thanks to the enthusiastic engagement of the next generation, YOUthDIG took place in spite of the pandemic. It was held virtually as a number of webinars held across May and June. Young people across Europe formulated messages on how they would like to see the digital environment developing, with focus on data protection, children’s safety, Internet access, inclusion and blockchain.
Another notable development this year was our cooperation with the scientific community, which has not been well represented at EuroDIG in the past. Accordingly, topics of particular relevance to the scientific community helped shape the EuroDIG 2020 programme.
On issues of access, connectivity, and community networks, participants found agreement that collaborating on the elaboration of 5G standards is key to ensuring interoperable data / IoT solutions and promoting the security of the 5G ecosystem. When talking about community networks it became clear that technical aspects go hand in hand with a strong network of community support: both the technology and the sense of community are crucial elements in ensuring the success of community networks.
The European digital economy was discussed this year in the shadow of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic and raised the question of whether this would usher in a fundamental digital paradigm shift, for instance with regard to the contradiction between data protection and health tracing technologies. This discussion must be continued, taking account of the knowledge we gain over the duration of the pandemic.
The panel on digital sovereignty was also influenced by the pandemic’s impact and related investments in telecommunication infrastructure; however, telecommunication regulatory frameworks were identified as being the key focus areas in particular for the European Union. More action from large companies is needed to spur innovative responses to the pandemic’s challenges, requiring stronger links to regional SMEs and start-ups, as well as the work of universities and research centres.
While the EU is at the frontline when it comes to enabling the digital sovereignty of individuals – thanks to the legal, ethical, and basic values that were in place before the digital era – it is crucial that the EU takes more action than before if it is to retain its leading role in relation to digital sovereignty.
On matters related to the Domain Name System, its security and standards, the discussion was continued to build on the results from last year. It was reiterated that public policy input into standardisation processes must be based on the multistakeholder principle, ensuring equal participation across stakeholder groups, be it through a new body or through existing standardisation organisations.
How such a new or improved body that would guarantee effective cooperation of all stakeholders might look was the subject of the follow-up process to the UN High Level Panel on Digital Cooperation. The process started last year when the panel submitted its report, “The Age of Digital Interdependence”, just before EuroDIG. This year saw the equally timely presentation of the UN Secretary-General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation.
The EuroDIG community not only accompanied but also contributed to this process with stakeholder consultations, public discussions on the outcome of the report, and ideas on the improvement of digital cooperation.
New to the EuroDIG agenda was a discussion on environmental sustainability and digital transformation. To reduce the environmental impact of the digital world, it is necessary to adopt measures to optimise energy and material efficiency (circularity) of the digital sector. For example, increasing the use of renewables, innovating for low energy consumption, keeping devices longer in use, facilitating re-use, improving reparability and recyclability, and adopting sustainable business models.
There were many proposals on how to incorporate ecological standards into regulation, but also into the design and production of goods. The role and responsibility of the end user was also noted as key to a sustainable digital future for Europe. Digitalisation and environmental sustainability must be looked at together and not as two separate areas.
This topic in particular will have to be discussed further. And since we have built strong ties to our host ICTP and our other partners in Italy, we are looking forward to visiting Trieste in 2021 and continuing the European Internet governance dialogue with the scientific community.
Day 1 / 11 June 2020
PL 2: Digital sovereignty – from users’ empowerment to technological leadership
- The EU is at the frontline when it comes to enabling the digital sovereignty of individuals due to its legal, ethical, and basic values that were in place before the digital era. However, it is crucial that the EU takes more action than before in order to retain its leading role in the topics around digital sovereignty.
- The real foundation of digital sovereignty is digital infrastructure, as shown by the COVID-19 pandemic. It is therefore key for the EU to focus on investments in telecommunication infrastructure, reflect on its regulatory frameworks and its actions, and further raise its voice at international fora.
- To ensure a thorough approach in regard to the digital economy, the EU needs to also have a strong position on software, not only on infrastructure. The assurances that we have the knowledge and competences to build something, to understand what is underlying, and to innovate are key.
- The EU’s large companies need to be much more active in acquiring and using innovation founded by the region’s SMEs and startups and linking that with the extremely important work of universities and research centers.
PL 3: European Digital Economy and COVID-19 pandemic – current state of affairs, risks, and opportunities
- The main question that we as society need to answer: Is COVID-19 ushering in a fundamental digital paradigm shift?
- To bridge the gap of the digital divide, stakeholders need a forward looking approach that promotes investment and co-investment in both the short and long term is needed, in addition to building trust and up-skilling on ICT matters in order to facilitate improvements
- There should be no contradiction between data protection and health. Independent oversight and audits should be applied to technologies such as contact tracing to ensure privacy and data protection.
- In the road ahead, we need to think about the type of sustainable society that we want to create and what role digital technology will play in this society.
- Science has a key role to play in the hybrid and flexible future as it allows for an evidence-based approach to the technological industry.
WS2: Enhancing users’ confidence in cyberspace – risks and solutions
- There is a need for stronger digital literacy, particularly for children, their parents and teachers, and those who are forced to become a part of digital society by the pandemic, such as the elderly. Digital literacy should be approached in an interdisciplinary manner. Users should be more aware of risks and taught to think critically, as well as differentiate between safe and unsafe practices.
- Security needs to be more user-friendly. To that end, ICT providers need to provide greater transparency around their practices, especially regarding the implementation of security by design and security by default.
- Companies should implement policies that will raise user trust in these companies. They should be more transparent on how data management is installed, how they handle user data, how their vulnerability disclosure practices work, and how the mechanisms for reporting inappropriate content on social media platforms function.
WS 3: The Impact of DNS Encryption on the Internet Ecosystem and its Users
- The encryption of DNS queries (DoH, DoT) has different effects on end-users, ISPs, operating systems, browsers, and applications.
- Though DoH can result in stronger privacy and security for an end-user, it can also bring additional problems, such as limited choice of DNS resolvers, as well as specific browser or OS configurations and their upgrades. For ISPs it creates even more problems – the balance of power between browser and operator communities is broken, bringing forth high risks of market and network centralisation.
- We have to work on deployment models that will address these problems, keeping in mind the education of end-users about DNS operations and increasing the level of trust in ISPs and DNS resolvers.
- We also need to think about legal aspects of relationships between end-users and DoH/DoT providers.
WS 4: Innovative uses of blockchain for public empowerment
- It is important to develop the knowledge of blockchain technology at the government level. There is the need to further develop the capacity of policymakers in regard to blockchain and new technologies so that they can fully understand the potential of such technology for citizens and for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
- To ensure that blockchain applications benefit wider society, capacity development programmes should also focus on consumers and citizens so as to fight miscommunication and distorted perceptions about the potential of this technology.
- The blockchain environment is still highly fragmented: The lack of interoperability and engagement of stakeholders are among the challenges that prevent a broader application of blockchain technology. As a result, there is the need to develop common standards of application and a common legal framework by looking at existing standards. One of the possible ways forward is represented by the regulatory sandbox approach promoted by the European Commission.
WS 5: Should public policy priorities and requirements be included when designing Internet standards?
- There is general agreement on the inclusion of public policy priorities in the development of Internet standards.
- Civil society and governments should participate in the development of Internet standards, though with important reservations. Policy requirements must meet engineering requirements, keep the Internet safe and resilient, and avoid political manipulation. For this purpose, policymakers should have a long-term vision of the digital future and the impact of technologies on social and economic life.
- We need to keep in mind the serious limitations of such participation: In particular, the lack of specific technical knowledge, time, and the difference between stated and real participation mechanisms within the existing standardisation groups.
- Public policy input into standardisation processes must be based on the multistakeholder principle, ensuring equal participation among stakeholder groups, be it through a new body or through existing standardisation organisations.
- There is a general consensus that direction on public policy priorities should be provided in advance of Internet standards development. However, more discussion is needed on whether proposed standards should be reviewed against public policy requirements before their final release.
WS 6: Social media – opportunities, rights, and responsibilities
- Multistakeholder involvement (i.e. the involvement of those directly concerned and impacted by misinformation) is of utmost importance in fighting misinformation. There is also a need for the infrastructure to organise fact checking and research activities that would be available in all EU languages and would, therefore, benefit all EU countries.
- High-quality trusted news is the best antidote to fake news. To achieve that, there is a need for more reliable funding for public service journalism on one hand, and the protection of the freedom of the press by national authorities on the other. Crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic should not be an excuse for governments to restrict freedom of expression.
- Media literacy is crucial in fighting misinformation. It is very important to educate and empower people to spot misinformation and make informed decisions on whom to trust.
- In order to regulate all platforms in a uniform manner, there is a need for a more comprehensive reflection on how to construct a ‘regulatory backstop’ that creates more uniformity, more instruments with appropriate oversight mechanisms, and in cases of need, sanctions.
WS 7 : Criminal justice in cyberspace – what’s next?
- Finding the right balance between the control of online content and upholding fundamental rights will remain an important challenge. Given that most incidents are occurring across borders and that there is no common definition of crime and terrorism, co-operation between states (and with the private sector) on such matters is crucial.
- The use of artificial intelligence by law enforcement provides a big opportunity but must be explored diligently because it requires vast amounts of resources as well as an advanced understanding of the technology. It should however not be implemented without human oversight.
- The flurry of activity to create new norms that deal with cybercrime bears the risk of increasing legal fragmentation as well as only finding agreements on minimum standards. It is thus important to avoid falling below already existing standards such as the Budapest Convention.
- Due to increasing levels of encryption and anonymisation by cyber criminals, alternatives must be found in terms of upholding privacy protections while allowing law enforcement to protect users online (and offline).
Day 2 / 12 June 2020
PL 1: 5G – The opportunities and obstacles
- 5G reinforces the foundation for digital transformation by offering new ways to innovate and create new business models based on real time availability of data.
- 5G has significant potential to increase sustainability, especially in urban environments, by allowing them to reduce energy consumption and by enabling a new generation of digital services and solutions for cities.
- Collaborating on the elaboration of 5G standards is key to ensure interoperable data/IoT solutions and to promote the security of the 5G ecosystem.
PL 4: Greening Internet governance – Environmental sustainability and digital transformation
- A standardised methodology and indicators are necessary to assess and monitor the environmental and social impact of digital technologies to enable evidence based decision making at the regulatory and political levels.
- Internet governance must include sustainability at its heart.
- To reduce the environmental impact of the digital world, it is necessary to adopt measures to optimise energy and material efficiency (circularity) of the digital sector. For example, increasing the use of renewables, innovating for low energy consumption, keeping devices longer in use, facilitating re-use, improving reparability and recyclability, and adopting sustainable business models.
- We need to make sure that the infrastructure we use runs on green power. We should leverage policy, and in particular the policy on spending public money, to speed along the use of a greener Internet.
- Areas where international co-ordination is needed the most are measures to promote the circular economy, to share environmental data, to reduce environmentally harmful consumption, to promote efficiency and enhance digital applications, and to ensure transparency regarding environmental costs and materials, as well as the improvement of data protection through technical measures.
- Regulations that increase circular production and consumption, ensure corporate accountability, and increase the reuse of devices as well as increasing their longevity are some of the most important policy areas that need to be addressed in order for Europe to have a sustainable digital future.
WS 9: Privacy in Europe – GDPR vs. information freedom?
- Privacy regulations such as the GDPR are based on the assumption that the rule of law is respected. However, laws are not applied in the same way across borders and so policies must be harmonised across jurisdictions.
- There are important tensions between freedom of information and privacy protection arising from compliance to the GDPR and other privacy regulations. A fresh look at registration models is needed to enable access to data and information that abides by privacy rules and enables sustainable sharing of information.
- The GDPR is protecting data to varying degrees depending on the area of application. There is a need for additional safeguards for medical data.
WS 10: How to turn challenges into opportunities for education transformation?
- The current pedagogical processes need to be modified if we are going to recognise and be part of the digital transformation in education. The way teachers are taught, the way teachers teach, the tools used, and the relationship between teachers and the industry all need to change.
- This right to education needs to be provided by the state and it must be non-discriminatory. The state needs to take active measures to make sure that the right to education is granted to every youth.
- A multistakeholder approach is necessary to raise awareness of relevant tools and platforms, to optimise the technical infrastructure for Internet access, and to enhance cybersecurity, which is important when connecting classrooms to the wider world.
- A bottom-up approach is necessary to gain awareness of what children need to access digital tools, to become part of social and blended learning, and to become digital citizens. A new standard is needed to provide digital lessons and social learning lessons.
- Access to a computer, tablet, and to the Internet must be observed as a universal right today.
WS 11: Challenges and uptake of modern Internet standards (including, but not limited to IPv6, DNSSEC, HTTPS, RPKI)
- Several agreed upon Internet standards and protocols (HTTPS, IPv6, DNSSEC, RPKI, etc) have been slow in deployment for decades.
- The adoption of these standards and protocols is challenging due to multiple factors such as: market incentives, unwillingness of the tech community to make an effort, and the discrepancy between the efforts spent and the end result regarding the safety and security of protocols.
- We need to create pressure points in society to spur the deployment of standards. First, we need to address the marketing problem by making security gaps in the Internet transport layer visible to users through education. Second, we need to carefully discuss political tools of pressure, including commercial, political, legislative and others, all of which have pros and cons.
WS 12 & 16: Community networks in rural areas – best practice
- Community networks provide Internet access for and by remote communities. When establishing community networks, it is crucial to build digital capacity both in terms of installation and maintenance of technical infrastructure and in terms of developing digital literacy programmes that ensure users’ meaningful participation on the Internet.
- There are many existing challenges in establishing community networks, particularly on the regulatory, funding, and connectivity side, just to name a few. However, technical aspects go hand in hand with a strong network of community support: Both the technology and the sense of community are crucial elements in ensuring the success of community networks.
- On the human side, communities’ trust and participation in the networks are a tangible challenge. Therefore, it is crucial that the network is established through a community-owned process and that once in place, it is used for the benefit of the whole community. When establishing a new network, it is crucial to involve the members of the community in the process so as to develop community-tailored solutions. Showing the benefits of the network to community members and obtaining community participation at every step of the process are some of the solutions.
WS 14 Fighting COVID19 with AI – How to build and deploy solutions we trust?
- Trustworthiness should be regarded as a prerequisite for innovation. When addressing it, we shall look at two sides: One that regards the characteristics product (i.e. its ethically relevant characteristics) and one that is related to how trustworthiness is communicated to the people. One solution could be developing a standardised way of describing an ethically relevant framework of AI systems. As an example, an independent organisation formed by four Danish organisations launched a new company labelling system in 2019 that aims to make it easier for users to identify companies who are treating customer data responsibly.
- Striking the right balance between trustworthiness and innovation represents an important regulatory challenge for AI applications. The European Commission’s White Paper addresses this aspect especially in high-risk scenarios when rapid responses are needed. Trustworthiness can also be a driver for innovation.
- AI and data are interlinked: It is difficult to make sense of large data sets without AI, and AI applications are useless if fed with poor quality data or no data at all. Therefore, AI discussions need to be linked to data governance schemes addressing sharing, protection, and standardisation of data. However, AI also presents important peculiar characteristics (such as ‘black box’ and self-learning elements) that make it necessary to update existing frameworks that regulate other technologies.
WS 15 Universal Acceptance – a technical or a cultural issue?
- Universal Acceptance (UA) is crucial to make the Internet truly for everyone.
- UA is not limited to the deployment of internationalised domain names and e-mail addresses. More importantly, people must be able to use their computers, and create and share content in local languages.
- Thus, we need to work closely with major players like Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, and others to speed up the technical part of the UA and software development, as well as with governments that are interested in UA to preserve cultural identity and enhance online communication with their citizens.
- As a practical step, we can concentrate on increasing the visibility of local languages and encouraging local communities to use them in the creation of content on international platforms.
- Spreading cases of the successful local content projects is useful for a greater UA.