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Fragmentation may end the internet we all know

A section titled New Digital World: The State and an Individual, hosted by Vadim Vinogradov (Higher School of Economics), continued RIGF 2023. Section participants Lenar Faizutdinov (Autonomous non- profit organization Dialog), Anton Kukanov (Russian Quality System, or Roskachestvo), Alexander Yukhno (Institute of Public Administration and Civil Service, Russian Academy of National Economy and Public Administration), Boris Yedidin (Internet Development Institute), Sergei Grebennikov (Russian Association of Electronic Communications) and Yiqian Qin (Peking University) discussed the role of the state in internet governance, changes in the digital environment and protection of users’ rights. They also covered the principles and approaches that should be included in the Global Digital Compact.

As Lenar Faizutdinov noted, in 2022, Russian users had to face discrimination when global digital services became subjects of digital policy and started practicing country-based blocking. Being more than an attempt to cut off Russia, it is a trend leading to the fragmentation of the global internet, making it important to create an international standard for digital environment development and regulation.

Yiqian Qin added that to develop shared approaches for regulating the digital environment, it is necessary to create common non-discriminate and fully transparent procedures: “A mechanism is needed that will take into account and satisfy different interests.”

Boris Yedidin stressed that, when developing proposals for the Global Digital Compact, it is important to not be generals preparing for a past war. He also noted that anonymity has always been one of the main drivers of internet development. “Anonymity online has always been an illusion, but it has prompted the progress and evolution of the internet. At the current level of technological development, anonymity is out of the question as we all leave a digital trace. And when we speak about network regulation and privacy, we should understand that personal protection data is a very sensitive issue, being the exact reason why it is important to minimize the amount of collected data down to the essential minimum.”

During the second section, Global Internet and Digital Sovereignty, participants and moderator Roman Chukov (Autonomous non-profit organization Center of Global IT Cooperation) discussed how the internet can co-exist with digital sovereignty and how the current global trends may be aligned with the attempts to regulate network development. The section was attended by Vyacheslav Yerokhin (Research Institute of Radio), Alexei Yefremov (Moscow State Academy of Law), Boris Vasilyev (Russian Foreign Ministry), Andrey Vorobyev (Coordination Center for TLD.RU/.РФ), Vadim Glushchenko (Autonomous non-profit organization Center of Global IT Cooperation) and Olga Makarova (MTS).

Andrey Vorobyev noted that fragmentation may become the end of the internet as we know it. “If the network breaks down into isolated parts, it will be something other than the internet. It very well may exist, but today, all stakeholders, including government representatives, adhere to the stance that fragmentation is not the path we should follow, and will do everything to prevent it.”

The Global Digital Compact is one way to address the problem of network fragmentation. Vadim Glushchenko, who extensively covered the topic, noted that the objective of the Global Digital Compact is to create the shared principles of an open, free and safe digital future. The document primarily focuses on including everybody into the global network, overcoming internet fragmentation, providing users with an opportunity to use their data as they see fit, observing human rights online and introducing criteria of responsibility for misinformation and discreditation online. Vadim Glushchenko also added that the agreement has been in the pipeline for quite some time and April 30 is the deadline for the global expert community to submit their proposals. Around 270 proposals on a variety of issues, almost evenly distributed in numbers, have been submitted to date. The Russian expert community is actively involved in the process as many Russian organizations responded to the call for participation. “For example, our experts are highly interested in language diversity online, which is in line with the global trend. One of the serious challenges for the global network is to provide internet access to the entire population of the planet regardless of their native language,” the speaker noted.

Olga Makarova presented her vision of what internet fragmentation may look like. “Fragmentation is a complicated term to define because essentially, the internet is a compilation of fragmented networks with overlaying services that can form the seamless, open, integrated and interconnected public environment that is the WEB.” She also described the approaches to internet fragmentation practiced in the EU, the United States, China and other regions.  

Boris Vasilyev (the Russian Foreign Ministry) stressed that the internet today has become global commons and we must not let it stay in the domain of corporate regulation. Therefore, it is important to concentrate on forming an independent and transparent governance model for the global network under the auspices of the UN with equal participation of countries in the decision-making process.

The forum continues. Stay tuned for the online streams and updates.