17 November 2016 - 19 November 2016

Will we still have a single global internet in 2025?

Chair: Mr John Higgins CBE

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The ideal of a global unfettered Internet is on a collision course with the values and aspirations of authoritarian states.  The global trend is against the privacy and dignity of users online. An eclectic mix of people from major Internet companies, campaigners, government officials, regulators and academics assembled at Ditchley. 

The Internet is everywhere and will soon touch everyone.  Mobile means constant availability and ever deeper penetration into people’s lives. The digital economy is increasingly the economy.  Governments can no longer afford to ignore the Internet and when governments engage they bring their ideology, policies and goals with them.  Even liberal governments face challenges with even simple domestic crimes requiring access to data overseas.  National security is an even bigger challenge.  Authoritarian governments increasingly want to bring the Internet under control and keep data at home in order to ensure access.  The organised manipulation of standards to this end is increasingly common.  At the other end of the spectrum, initiatives like the German data sovereignty law may also end up fracturing the Internet in intended defence of privacy.  Cyber security will emerge as a critical challenge as the Internet of Things gains pace, becoming a safety issue.  New people coming online risk digital disappointment.  The new fragmented Internet may fail to live up to its early promise in terms of global connectivity and its contribution to innovation and development.

What we should do

  • If we want a global Internet to endure we need to be able to define its qualities for users and work out a plan to deliver it.  A coalition of liberal states, companies and campaigners needs to get its act together to meet the challenge of authoritarian approaches to the Internet.
  • We should argue for digital rights for individuals, linking this to Universal Human Rights.
  • Linking the Internet to the achievement of millennium development goals is important too.
  • The minimum ambition should a decentralised general purpose network that keeps open the possibility of global connectivity.
  • An advocacy strategy and simplified language is needed that engages educated citizens and leaders not just experts.  Terms like “net neutrality” and “multi-stakeholder governance” are not the right rallying cries to win popular support.
  • There are powerful economic levers to help persuade authoritarian governments to remain part of the global Internet.  We should use them.
  • Governments face genuine difficulties in investigating crimes with data and evidence, even on the most domestic of matters, held overseas.  Better arrangements are urgent and failure to provide them will drive demands for data repatriation and sovereignty.
  • Improving cyber security is essential for all and urgent with the advent of the Internet of Things.  Dialogue at the G20 might help.  China and Russia have interests in this too.
  • Machine learning risks the Internet becoming a mirror or echo chamber for preconceptions and prejudice.  We need more transparency from companies on what they do with the data they collect and how they serve up material through algorithms.  The consumer and citizen needs to be encouraged and educated to be more digitally literate to understand what is happening.  The alternative is eventual loss of trust in the Internet as a medium.

Although the Internet has always been a network of networks and fragmented to a degree, it is now on a collision course with the value systems and aspirations of authoritarian states. Cybercrime is becoming a pervasive threat.  If we want the Internet to remain global we will need to define what this means and work for it. 

Ditchley stands for connecting people and ideas to improve the world and the Internet is the most powerful tool yet created to achieve that end.  This was the second in a series of Ditchley conferences, supported by Vodafone, to address the digital economy and its impact on states and society.  

John Higgins of Digital Europe chaired an eclectic team from major Internet and telecoms companies, regulatory bodies, governments, think tanks and academia.  There was continuity from the previous meeting, allowing depth and freedom of discussion across boundaries from day one.

Where we are now
The advent of mobile and the spread of Wi-Fi connectivity and 4G networks means that the Internet will soon reach everyone, everywhere, all the time, if allowed to do so.  All governments now realise that the nature of the Internet in a society is a determining factor of the society, indeed a defining factor of sovereignty.  The digital economy is increasingly simply the economy. 

For liberal governments this means an Internet of freedom of expression and association, as well as an enabler of the market.  For authoritarian governments the Internet is an essential economic space but also a threat to the proper orderly functioning of society and the controlling ideology.  Even for liberal governments, the ease of connectivity and communication on the Internet poses an inherent threat to national security. 

For both liberal and authoritarian governments alike, cyber criminals pose a threat to the effective functioning of markets and the trust of citizens in the system.  Governments’ work on investigating real world crimes has also become more complex with relevant data and evidence often held on servers abroad. 

Built for sharing information, the Internet is hard to secure.  Onto this resilient but porous foundation we are now building the industrial Internet and the Internet of Things, which will make cyber security impossible to secure with perimeter defences and the risks from cyber-attack will evolve from data assurance issues to safety issues.

In most cases, citizens and businesses are ahead of their governments in understanding the implications of the Internet.  One popular quote, thought to originate in Silicon Valley but unattributed, was that in the West, citizens are using 21st-century means to talk to governments, governments are listening in 20th-century ways through opinion polls; and offering essentially 19th-century responses – parliamentary or presidential polls every few years.  This is feeding disaffection from the political process and leading people to demand change without being able to define necessarily what that means.

Whilst the proponents of an unfettered Internet rely on loosely coordinated rhetoric and the power of Internet innovation, there is a sense that authoritarian powers are increasingly well organised to fight a battle for control through the manipulation of standards.  With such ad hoc and widely distributed governance, China has an inherent advantage in having large numbers of people to deploy to meetings who speak from a single, central script. Centralised and more formalised international state-based Internet governance does not look attractive either, however, because of the risk of being outvoted by authoritarian and socially conservative states. 
When this is combined with the demands of security agencies in both liberal and authoritarian governments for data, the trend is decidedly against the privacy and liberty of the individual to exploit the full potential of the Internet with dignity intact.  Increasingly consumers are being presented with a selected slice of the Internet, controlled, filtered and sanitised.   This has some positive aspects – the prevention of the spread of malware, child pornography, extremism and other evils.  But there is a risk that too much could be sacrificed in the process and the 4 billion people about to come online might not be enfranchised and empowered in the way they might be.  This could lead to ‘digital disappointment’ in the shopping and controlled information service on offer and distrust in its security and privacy.  This could in turn undermine human innovation and progress.

Set against the story of a fall from grace, when people were good and the Internet was free, others felt that it was time to rebalance the idealism of the early Internet with some more geopolitical realism.  Authoritarian states were never going to welcome freedom of expression and a digital right to publish.  What matters most is persuading supposedly liberal governments to live up to avowed values in handling the online lives of their citizens and to ensure that people in authoritarian governments at least get online in a form that allows some connectivity with the rest of the Internet and other countries.  Whilst far from perfect this would enable education, development and the global economy. 

What we should do?  
Maintaining a global Internet at least in the basic form described above should be a vision and strategy for 2025, not a question.  A coalition of liberal states, companies and non-governmental organisations needs to get its act together to meet the challenge from increasingly well organised and determined authoritarian actors.  We should work to keep alive the dream of any individual on the planet being able to contact another and to find the information they need, whilst being realistic and remembering that, just because people can connect, does not mean they do not hate each other.

We should argue for digital rights for individuals, linking this to the long established reference point of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  There was argument over whether or not this should include a digital right to publish – a defining feature of the Internet being the medium it gave for one voice to reach many people instantaneously.  There was debate too over an absolute right to anonymity: the human right to privacy is qualified even in European human rights legislation for example.

We should also look at linking the power of a global Internet to achievement of the millennium development goals.

Everyone agreed that the minimum ambition should be a decentralised, general purpose network that kept open the possibility of global connectivity.  This should at least allow technical and economic if not political innovation, without permission from authorities e.g. the ability of anyone on the network to develop a new application and to offer it to others.  This would allow fragmentation at different levels with different groups of stakeholders, for example Apple users rely by choice on Apple to vet and to control apps within the Apple ecosystem.

An advocacy strategy and language is needed that is relevant and intelligible to political leaders and reasonably educated citizens.  Important principles are being lost in technical terms such as “net neutrality” and “multi-stakeholder governance”.

On Internet governance, then, too much is being expected of ICANN and companies are being pulled too much into roles and judgements that should be the responsibility of elected states.  Both governments and companies are at fault on this.  The answer is not an Internet United Nations but innovative and different forms of governance are becoming essential.  The focus should be on establishing processes and methodologies to deal with market failures and to adjudicate on clashes of values and laws.

There are some strong economic levers to help persuade authoritarian governments to remain part of the global Internet in some shape or form.  Neither China nor Russia can afford to be over isolationist in its approach: an example was Russia’s recent about-turn on Bitcoin.  The Cold War is long over – this was about liberal versus authoritarian approaches to the same global capitalist system.  This gives some hope of compromise.

Governments face genuine difficulties in investigating crimes and the current Mutual legal assistance treaty (MLAT) approach is not sustainable.  Governments and companies need to agree classes of investigations, in which information can be shared by companies more swiftly and agilely, for example in the case of murders and robbery.  This should include independent monitoring mechanisms to prevent abuses e.g. criminal investigations used to pursue political targets. 

Improving the cyber security of the Internet is urgent and something in which both liberal and authoritarian governments have a genuine economic interest, despite the preponderance of Russian coded malware and the many intellectual property theft attacks launched from China.  It might be possible to make progress on these issues in dialogue with Russia and China.  The G20 could be a good vehicle.

These issues will become ever more urgent as the Internet deepens its penetration into our lives, society and environment through the industrial Internet and Internet of Things.  Cyber security will become a synonym for safety.  Much more and urgent work is required on this.

Machine learning will also become deeply embedded in how we absorb the Internet.  There is a risk that the Internet becomes an echo chamber for our own prejudices and preconceptions, rather than a source of objective facts and challenge.  We are already seeing this in the rapid spread of false news.   There needs to be much more work on algorithmic transparency.

Governments, citizens and consumers alike all need to work on their digital literacy in order better to understand the world we live in.  Companies have an obligation to be clear and transparent about how they are using the data they obtain.

This Note reflects the Director’s personal impressions of the conference. No participant is in any way committed to its content or expression.


CHAIR: Mr John Higgins CBE 
Director General, DIGITALEUROPE, Brussels (2011-); Board Member, European Internet Foundation; President, European Commission's Strategic Policy Forum on Digital Entrepreneurship. Formerly: Director General, Intellect (2002-11); Director General, Computing Services and Software Association; CEO, Rocket Networks.

Dr Luca Belli 
Senior Researcher and Head of Internet Governance, Fundação Getulio Vargas Law School, Rio de Janeiro; Founder and co-Chair, Dynamic Coalition on Network Neutrality, United Nations Internet Governance Forum.

Mrs Kelly Gillis 
Associate Deputy Minister, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada.
Dr Gordon Smith 
Distinguished Fellow, Centre for International Governance Innovation (2010-). Formerly: Deputy Chair, Global Commission on Internet Governance; Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs (1994-97); Ambassador to the European Union, Ambassador to NATO (1985-90). A Member of the Advisory Committee of The Canadian Ditchley Foundation.

Mr Jesús Villasante
Head, Next Generation Internet Initiative Unit, Directorate General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology (Connect), European Commission.

Professor Pilar del Castillo MEP
Member of the European Parliament (2004-): Chair, European Internet Foundation. Formerly: Minister of Education, Culture and Sport (2000-04).

Mr Bertrand de La Chapelle 
Executive Director, Internet & Jurisdiction. Formerly: Director, ICANN Board (2010-13); Special Envoy for the Information Society, French Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2006-10).
Dr Julien Nocetti 
Research Fellow, French Institute of International Relations (IFRI) (2009-).

Ms Isabel Skierka 
Researcher for industrial cyber security and digital policy, Digital Society Institute, ESMT Berlin; Co-Chair, Internet Governance Forum Germany.

Mr Ilan Manor 
DPhil Candidate in International Development, St Cross College, University of Oxford; Weidenfeld-Hoffman Leadership Scholarship award (2015-18).

Dr Juan Carlos De Martin 
Co-Director, Nexa Center for Internet and Society, Politecnico di Torino; Faculty Associate, Berkman Center for Internet & Society, Harvard University; Member, Commission on Internet Rights.

Mr Kyung Sin Park 
Co-Founder and Director for Litigation, Open Net Korea (2013-). Formerly: Commissioner, Korea Communications Standards Commission.

Dr Tatiana Indina 
Internet policy analyst and Research Fellow, Center for New Media and Society, Moscow; Researcher, Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society, Harvard University.

Mr Peter Olson 
Vice President and Head of European Affairs, Ericsson, Brussels (2011-); Chair of the Board of Management, European Internet Forum (2014-). Formerly: President DIGITALEUROPE (2012-16).

Mr Fadi Salem 
DPhil in Public Policy Candidate, Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford; Director, Governance and Innovation Program and Research Fellow, Dubai School of Government; Fellow, Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.

Mr Josh Bottomley 
Global Head of Digital, HSBC, London. Formerly: Global Head of Display, Google Inc.
Ms Rachel Coldicutt 
CEO, Doteveryone
Mr Matthew Kirk 
Group External Affairs Director and Executive Committee Board Member, Vodafone Group Services Ltd, London (2006-). Formerly: HM Diplomatic Service (1982-2006).
Mr William Malcolm
Legal Director, Privacy, formerly Senior Privacy Counsel, Google (Europe).
Professor Helen Margetts 
Director (2011-) and Professor of Society and the Internet (2004-), Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford.
Dr Victoria Nash 
Deputy Director (2014-) and Policy and Research Fellow (2002-), Oxford Internet Institute.
Ms Chi Onwurah MP BEng, MBA 
Member of Parliament (Labour) for Newcastle upon Tyne Central, House of Commons (2010-); Shadow Minister for Industrial Strategy, Science & Innovation (2015-).
Mr Nick Pickles 
Head of UK Public Policy, Twitter, London (2014-). Formerly: Director, Big Brother Watch.
Mr Peter Seymour 
HM Diplomatic Service (1984-): Director Cyber, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, London (2015-).
Mr Richard Spearman CMG, OBE 
Group Corporate Security Director, Vodafone (2015-). Formerly: Her Majesty's Diplomatic Service (1989-2015); Save the Children Fund (1984-89).
Ms Emily Taylor 
Associate Fellow, Chatham House; Editor, Journal of Cyber Policy; Director, Oxford Information Labs. Formerly: Member, Global Commission on Internet Governance Research Network.
Miss Claire Thwaites 
Head of Government Affairs for Europe, Middle East, Africa and India, Apple Inc. (2010-). Formerly: Head, Vodafone's Technology Partnership with the United Nations, Washington, DC (2008-10).

Ms Dominique Lazanski
Public Policy Director, GSM Association, London; member, Open Data User Group board, Cabinet Office; Multistakeholder Advisory Group on Internet Governance.
Ms Elizabeth Linder 
Founder & CEO, The Conversational Century, a global advisory movement. Formerly: founder, Politics & Government division for Europe, Middle East & Africa, Facebook (2008-16).

Mr Akram Atallah 
President, Global Domains Division (2010-), and interim President and CEO (Mar-May 2016), Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.
Mr Peter Bass 
Formerly: Managing Director, Promontory Financial Group, LLC, Washington, DC; Executive Assistant to the National Security Adviser, The White House; Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Energy, Sanctions and Commodities; Vice President, Chief of Staff to President and co-COO, Goldman Sachs & Co. Treasurer and Director, The American Ditchley Foundation.
Ms Julie Brill 
Partner & Co-Director, Privacy and Cybersecurity, Hogan Lovells US LLP, Washington, DC (2016-). Formerly: Commissioner, Federal Trade Commission (2010-16).
Mr Larry Clinton 
President and CEO, Internet Security Alliance (2003-).
Ambassador Eileen Donahoe JD, PhD
Distinguished Fellow, Center for International Governance Innovation. Formerly: U.S. Ambassador to UN Human Rights Council.
Ms Susan Hennessey
Fellow in National Security in Governance Studies, Brookings Institution; Managing Editor, Lawfare blog. Formerly: Attorney, Office of General Counsel, National Security Agency.
Mrs Jane Horvath 
Senior Director of Global Privacy, Apple Inc. (2011-). Formerly: Global Privacy Counsel, Google Inc. (2007-11); first Chief Privacy and Civil Liberties Officer, U.S. Department of Justice (2006-07).
Mr Erik Neuenschwander 
User Privacy Manager, Apple Inc. (2015-).
Dr Harjinder S. Obhi 
Senior Director, Litigation, Google (2006-).
Ms Nuala O'Connor 
President and CEO, Center for Democracy and Technology, Washington, DC. Formerly: Vice President of Compliance and Consumer Trust and Associate General Counsel for Data and Privacy Protection, Amazon.com.