June 30, 2022

IGP’s Annual Conference

We’ve extended the deadline for submitting proposals to our annual workshop: From Internet Governance to Digital Political Economy. The event will be held in The Hague, October 17-18 and will feature presentations on redefining the field, the political economy of data, export controls on digital goods and services, platform regulation and more. Email ideas to info@internetgovernance.org by July 15.

APEC subdivides around data flows

Is it fragmentation or a step toward harmonized cross-border data flows? Maybe both. In April, Japan, the United States, South Korea, Taiwan and three other Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) member states established a Global Cross Border Privacy Rules Forum (CBPR Forum) to promote interoperability and help bridge different regulatory approaches to data protection and privacy. APEC has been working on Cross Border Privacy Rules (CBPR) and Privacy Recognition for Processors (PRP) Systems for many years. The new CBPR Forum “intends to establish an international certification system based on the APEC CBPR and PRP Systems, but the system will be independently administered and separate from the APEC Systems.” Why did 7 countries create a new Forum? The answer is that the new Forum will not include China and Russia, who are APEC members. The U.S. and its partners apparently do not trust those two countries to implement the privacy rules and have created an international data/privacy governance regime that excludes them. It is another example of why “fragmentation” is not quite the right word. What’s really happening is the alignment of data flow agreements with national jurisdictions and international alliances.

G7 imitates Belt and Road

In  yet another sign of competition with China in the digital economy, the G7 has called on G7 leaders to raise $600bn over five years to fund the launch of infrastructure projects in middle and low-income countries. The plan renames and evolves last year’s Build Back Better World (B3W) and is widely interpreted as a response to China’s Belt and Road initiative.

India intensifies censorship

Prime Minister Modi of India is attending the summit for the Group of 7 leaders, a group that has committed to “open public debate, independent and pluralistic media and the free flow of information online and offline” amongst other things. However at home his government is assaulting free speech and weaponizing social media to jail critics. Last week, Twitter was forced to restrict access to Freedom House’s tweets highlighting declining internet freedom in India. The tweets in question were part of Freedom House’s promotional campaign for the launch of its Freedom in the World 2021 report which had downgraded India’s status from “free” to “partly free”. Entrackr, an Indian technology and business news portal that first reported the takedown and has access to Twitter’s disclosure report, notes that Freedom House’s tweets referenced restrictions in Kashmir and used a world map with borders disputed by India, possible reasons why Twitter had to comply with the takedown request. The tweets are no longer available in India, but can be accessed in other countries.

Twitter has also restricted tweets from journalist Rana Ayyub, writer Farid Qureshi, political handles claiming to represent the Indian National Congress, official government and diplomatic accounts belonging to Pakistan and multiple accounts that were vocal about the farmer protests last year. Entrackr reports that “Twitter received these takedown notices in 24 batches, but only disclosed (and apparently enforced) these requests last week”. The report accessed by Entrackr covers only tweets or accounts that have been withheld in India, and  we do not know the full scale of government content removal requests being fielded by Twitter in India.

On Monday, June 27 the Delhi police arrested Mohammed Zubair, Alt News co-founder and one of  India’s most well-known fact checkers. He was arrested for a 4 year old tweet that used a trope about a hotel from an old Hindi film. Zubair has been under attack from Hindutva groups for documenting and drawing international attention to hate speech and crimes against Muslims in India. He was summoned by Delhi Police for questioning in connection with a case in which the Supreme Court had granted him protection from arrest but was arrested in a fresh case without giving him an opportunity to seek court protection. He has been charged with outraging religious feelings and beliefs, promoting enmity among religious groups, and wantonly giving provocation with intent to cause riot.

A Rush to Digital Currencies

Central Bank Digital Currencies are achieving a new momentum with several new countries considering the idea of providing a digital alternative to their respective fiat currencies. The central banks of Oman, Qatar and several countries in Africa have all declared interest in launching their own Central Bank Digital Currencies. Nigeria and Bahamas have already rolled out their CBDCs last year. This increased interest appears to be mostly geared towards curbing the adoption of crypto and other virtual currencies and providing a controlled digital alternative. China has begun expanding the e-CNY beyond the purchase of consumer goods into bank loans and other financial services with future plans of expanding it for education and healthcare services. According to Atlantic Council’s CBDC tracker, a total of 10 countries have launched their CBDCs and 78% are either in pilot, development or research phase. BIS in its recent Annual Economic Report of 2022, emphasizes a vision for the future monetary system and considers CBDCs to be a reliable alternative to cryptocurrencies, fostering innovation while ensuring security and stability. If more and more countries launch their digital currency, the question of interoperability and common standards for international settlement will eventually arise. Whether new alliances will emerge or if the older ones would be reinforced remains to be seen.