July 7, 2022

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Just announced the US, EU and 32 other countries a “Declaration for the Future of the Internet”

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Declaration for the Future of the Internet

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The Declaration for the Future of the Internet was announced by the United States, 32 non-EU countries, and all EU member states. It outlines priorities for an open, free, global, and interoperable internet. Although it does not provide any specifics on how to achieve them, the Declaration for the Future of the Internet focuses on goals such as affordability and net neutrality.

This three-page declaration is also summarized by The White House as well as European Commission. It offers both a broad view of the net and a mixture of more specific issues to its 61 signatories. The document starts with the statement, “We believe in the potential for digital technologies to promote connectivity and democracy, peace, rule of law and sustainable development and the enjoyment of fundamental freedoms and human rights.” However, “access to the internet is restricted by certain authoritarian governments. Online platforms and digital tools are being increasingly used to repress freedom and deny other fundamental freedoms and human rights.”

The declaration stresses that the internet should not be centralized and should be interconnected globally. It also states that countries must “refrain” from undermining the technical infrastructure that is essential for the availability and integrity of the internet. This implicitly repudiates the “splinternet,” which is an internet that has been fragmented through countries that ban services and close down online access. This is a counterpoint to the visions of countries such as Russia and China, which have severely restricted access to websites and apps from other countries. It also contradicts the unsuccessful Ukrainian requests to block Russia from global domain services.

IT’S IMPLICITLY REPUTED AS A “SPLINTERNET FUTURE

The EU has made significant progress in safety and privacy, as reflected in the General Data Protection Regulation and Digital Services Act (DSA). These will place greater obligations on web services to remove illegal material and prevent users from being hurt. It condemns the use of “algorithmic techniques or tools” to monitor oppression. This is a concept that the EU has considered weighing against.

The signatories agree to adhere to the principles of net neutrality, “refrain from blocking or degrading the access to lawful content and services on the internet”, although it does not discuss laws that would prevent private internet service providers from doing this. It is unclear how this language would fit with the signatory rules such as the UK’s Online Safety Bill which requires companies to minimize the visibility of “legally but harmful” online content.

While most of the principles are well-known, some details are not as closely connected to current regulatory debates. For example, signatories agree that they will cooperate to “reduce as much as possible the environmental footprint of the Internet or digital technologies.” This commitment could be useful as countries explore the regulation and adoption of cryptocurrency, which can be energy-intensive. The declaration, despite its title, isn’t specific enough to tell us much about the future of the internet. It doesn’t, at all, give any insight into how countries will shape it, as they already regulate the subject.

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