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Wednesday, November 27 • 15:00 - 16:30
WS 59 Digital Sovereignty and Internet Fragmentation

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The tension between national sovereignty and the global Internet is probably the single most fundamental Internet governance issue today.

The Internet protocols create a globally connected virtual space; in the technical structure of cyberspace distance and territory do not matter. Governmental authority, on the other hand, is bounded by geographic territory and each government is supposed to have supreme authority in its territory. Ever since the World Summit on the Information Society, governments have been trying to insert the concept of sovereignty into Internet governance discussions. On the other hand, many Internet users, platforms and service providers have been promoting the benefits of seamless global interconnection. There is a clash between the two distinct models of Internet governance. 

The purpose of this workshop is to explore the new discourse and practice of national sovereignty over cyberspace and to consider its implications for Internet openness vs. fragmentation. But in cybersecurity traditional security and stability practices have had to be modified, often relying on multistakeholder cooperation and cross-border operations in which the power of states is shared with many other actors. Today, in a context of cyber-attacks by state actors and a globalized digital economy, efforts to assert territorial control into cyberspace and project it onto all things digital are gathering momentum. 

The session is an interactive roundtable. It includes a diverse and expert set of prominent personalities:

  • Lise Fuhr, European Telecommunications Network Operators Association.
  • Vinton Cerf, Google
  • Ilona Stadnik, St. Petersburg University, Russia.
  • Alexander Isavnin, Internet Protection Society of Russia
  • Ambassador Achilles Zaluar, Foreign Ministry of Brazil
  • Xu Peixi, Communications University of China
  • Mona Badran, Cairo University Egypt

  • Dr. Milton Mueller, Professor, Georgia Institute of Technology and Director, Internet Governance Project 
  • Dr. William J Drake, International Fellow and Lecturer in the Media Change & Innovation Division of the Department of Communication and Media Research at the University of Zurich

Policy questions to be addressed:

1. The nature of national sovereignty and its extension to 'digital sovereignty' or ‘cyberspace sovereignty’
  • Is digital sovereignty compatible with the globalized access provided by the Internet protocols?
  • What is gained and what is lost by trying to make cyberspace conform to principles of territorial sovereignty?
  • How does sovereignty in cyberspace relate to/differ from traditional notions of sovereignty that shaped international communications policy since the 1850s?

2. National effects of digital sovereignty:
  • How do attempts by some countries to create a "sovereign Internet" affect the human rights of Internet users?
  • How do national boundaries on data flows affect economic development, competition and efficiency in the global digital economy?
  • How does sovereignty in cyberspace affect the security and privacy of Internet users?

3. Global effects of digital sovereignty:
  • Is digital sovereignty compatible with a global internet or will it lead to fragmentation of the infrastructure or the services and processes that it supports? 
  • How do national boundaries impact foreign firms seeking to operate locally? Are they consistent with international trade and other multilateral obligations?
  • Why and how are countries trying to create "national Internets?" 
4. Governance responses: 
  • Would it be better to conceive of cyberspace as a global commons similar to the high seas or outer space? What are the policy and governance implications? 
  • What blend of institutional settings would be useful in addressing the conflicts engendered by by strongly statist digital sovereignty practices? What would be the role of e.g. security arrangements, international trade agreements, international privacy agreements, MLATs and other efforts to deal with access issues of concern to law enforcement and others?
  • Is there any role in this discussion for multistakeholder cooperation, or is sovereignty a matter on which only states should engage? If there is a role, how could this be structured?

Session Organizers
avatar for Milton Mueller

Milton Mueller

Professor, School of Public Policy, Georgia Institute of Technology
Milton Mueller is the O.G. of I.G. He directs the Internet Governance Project, a center for research and engagement on global Internet governance. Mueller's books Will the Internet Fragment? (Polity, 2017), Networks and States: The global politics of Internet governance (MIT Press... Read More →

Wednesday November 27, 2019 15:00 - 16:30 CET
Saal Europa