the digest  August 2020

End of summer updates...

One of our core focuses at GPD is promoting inclusive and value-based approaches to cybersecurity policymaking—and, last month, we launched a new Toolkit to support this.

The Toolkit’s central component is a comprehensive guide for policymakers on involving relevant stakeholders in the process of developing, implementing and reviewing a National Cybersecurity Strategy (NCSS). It also includes a repository of good practices in developing inclusive NCSSs, and an interactive map, which tracks the adoption of core cybersecurity capacity building instruments in the 54 countries of the Commonwealth. 

To mark the launch of the Toolkit, we’ve also created “NCSS Unpacked”, a podcast series interviewing stakeholders involved in NCSS processes on the ground. Listen here

Trust and security

For those following the progression of cyber norms at the UN, some updates:

  • The UN Third Committee’s ad-hoc committee on cybercrime’s meeting has been postponed. There aren’t many more details available, but we know that it has to take place before 1 March, and word is that it will be early next year. That’s potentially good news for civil society—it means there’s more time to try and shape the agenda, and make the case for non-governmental engagement. We’ll be following this closely.
  • Over at the First Committee, the GGE held its third meeting from 17-21 August. The next meeting is the final one, and is scheduled for May. This final meeting will be preceded by informal sessions, which will be open to non-GGE member states. We’ll share further details when they become available; see also the GGE website
  • On 26 August, the UN Security Council held a (virtual, live-streamed) Arria formula meeting on cyber attacks against critical infrastructure—with broad participation from a range of states, as well as the International Committee of the Red Cross, UNIDIR and Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Some key takeaways:
    • Participants agreed that cyberattacks are increasing in number and frequency and that medical facilities should be considered part of critical infrastructure (this was frequently referred to in reference to the implementation of the GGE norms). There was also a general condemnation of attacks on critical infrastructure.
    • There was widespread recognition that capacity building is essential for implementing the GGE norms relevant to critical infrastructure—with participants emphasising the importance of building shared understandings of what critical infrastructure means and how to protect it.
    • Several countries (including Belgium, Estonia, France, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Sweden, Norway, Netherlands, and Romania) referred to human rights, and in particular the rights to health, privacy and the impact of cyberattacks on human rights. There were only a few references to the importance of engaging civil society and other stakeholders in critical infrastructure protection (Belgium, Ukraine, Malaysia and Mexico.
Finally, the second informal intersessional of the Open-ended Working Group (OEWG) is fast approaching (29 September—1 October), this time on the controversial topic of international law. Unfortunately, it seems that—once again—NGOs won’t be allowed to participate. We’ll try to find out what we can anyway—keep an eye on our First Committee info hub for updates.

Online content

Last month, US President Donald Trump issued two Executive Orders (EOs) aimed at banning social media platforms TikTok and WeChat from operating in the US. 

The EOs, which draw on Presidential emergency powers, claim that the apps threaten national security and argue that TikTok risks handing over the personal data of US citizens to the Chinese Government. This move raises several concerns from a human rights perspective:
  • The EOs stand to directly affect the freedom of expression of millions of people who use TikTok and WeChat to communicate and express themselves, yet pay little consideration to international human rights law and standards for when freedom of expression can be legitimately curtailed.
  • Undermining international human rights law and standards in this way could incentivise other governments across the world to take similar action.
  • Plurality and diversity of social media platforms is important for protecting freedom of expression, and removing two important players from the market risks further concentrating power in the hands of even fewer companies. 
  • The use of US emergency powers could open the door to wider restrictions on internet freedom in the country, which Access Now sets out in this article.
We explored the broader trajectory of online content regulation in the US and elsewhere in our recent podcast with Jason Pielemeier, of the Global Network Initiative.

Other news
  • In India, the Delhi Assembly’s Committee for Peace and Harmony has started investigating Facebook’s role in facilitating the spread of hate speech targeting Muslims ahead of the Delhi Riots in February.  
  • Tanzania has introduced sweeping new regulations against disinformation, which criminalise “content that misleads or includes rumours, even for the purpose of ridicule”. We analyse these regulations from a human rights perspective in more detail in our disinformation tracker. Both MISA and Article 19 have also issued statements of concern in response to the move. 
  • This month we will be attending the seventh edition of the annual Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa (FIFAfrica), to discuss rights-respecting approaches to disinformation. Registration is now open.
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