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Bertrand de La Chapelle wins Virtuti Interneti Award

The awards ceremony for Virtuti Interneti (for service to the internet industry), established by the Coordination Center for .RU/.РФ in 2010, was held on the second day of the Russian Internet Governance Forum (RIGF 2021). It is a unique prize awarded to representatives of the internet community, businesses, science and government who have made a significant contribution to Runet development and to the global network. Candidates are shortlisted by the RIGF Program Committee. The awards ceremony, followed by the winner’s lecture, is an RIGF tradition. Virtuti Interneti was presented for the 11th time this year. Many RIGF participants were among its past winners, including this year’s speakers, Dr Wolfgang Kleinwaechter, Professor Emeritus for Internet Policy and Regulation at the Department for Media and Information Studies of the University of Aarhus, Sergey Plugotarenko, Director of the Russian Association of Electronic Communications (RAEC), and Dr Jovan Kurbalija, founding director of DiploFoundation, Head of the Geneva Internet Platform (GIP) and author of An Introduction to Internet Governance.

Virtuti Interneti 2021 was presented to Bertrand de La Chapelle, Executive Director and Co-founder of the Internet & Jurisdiction Policy Network. He has been a promoter and implementer of multi-stakeholder governance for 18 years, building on his diversified experience as a diplomat, a civil society activist and a tech entrepreneur. Bertrand de La Chapelle served on the ICANN Board in 2010-2013.Other previous roles include France’s Thematic Ambassador and Special Envoy for the Information Society (2006-2010) and an active participant in the World Summit on the Information Society (2002-2005) where he promoted dialogue between civil society, the private sector and governments.

In his lecture, Bertrand de La Chapelle looked back on the evolution of internet governance over the past 20 years and offered seven main lessons that this evolution had taught us. He proposed using the concept of technical RFCs to develop legal documents of a similar nature. He believes it is extremely important that all internet governance parties manage to overcome mutual mistrust: “In our complex societies that are inter-connected by transnational online services, when cooperation is actually required to organize our common spaces, we need a new governance architecture to deal with transnational issues. Do not fear to trust. Nothing significant can be built in terms of architecture if the starting point is mistrust.”

The second day of RIGF 2021 opened with the session “Regulation: Data sovereignty” moderated by Mikhail Yakushev (Higher School of Economics). Participants discussed the concept of data sovereignty and its relation to data security, cloud computing, technological sovereignty and data management at the macro-level.

Bertrand de la Chapelle (Internet & Jurisdiction Policy Network) noted that a state has both rights and responsibilities when it comes to internet policy. Any internal decision concerning the internet made by a state will also affect external actors, which should always be remembered. “Although we are dependent upon Big Data to conduct our economic life and our private life, we are not familiar with the particular nature of that and we are approaching it from an outdated perspective. Not only governments set the rules but also major platforms have their terms of service for people who are outside the country where they are incorporated. We need to find a new architecture and a new government framework that allows for legal interoperability between different actors.” Thomas Schneider (OFCOM) said that digital transformation raises fears in people of losing control over their lives. “We need to make sure that people trust the solutions proposed. If they don’t, they will either go on the street to protest against governments or against companies and their digital technologies,” he warned. He believes that the concept of digital sovereignty that implies the state’s absolute control over data makes it more difficult to take advantage of the digital technologies that develop thanks to free exchange of data and opinions. "We think it makes little sense to build new digital walls but it makes much more sense to work together with everybody nationally and internationally on rules that earn the trust of people and businesses that create a balance of power and control so that all can profit from digital innovation.”

Milos Vagner of the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media (Roskomnadzor) described the agency’s approach: “We look at data sovereignty through the lens of digital sovereignty and believe that it is both the right and responsibility of the state to determine the rules for data circulation on its territory. These rules can ensure that data work for the benefit of the country and can protect personal data and people’s personal information. It is our current belief and we will continue to proceed from the premise that in Russia, compliance with our laws is more important than observing foreign laws.”

Nikolai Dmitrik (Moscow State University) pointed out that the main asset of the modern economy is focus and having to comply with the legislation of several countries at the same time often stalls the development of international companies. “The principle of sovereignty in cyberspace has been replaced with the principle of legal certainty,” the speaker said.

Aleksandra Orekhovich (Internet Initiatives Development Fund) pointed out that in developing personal data regulation and the concept of digital sovereignty, it was important to understand who the data sovereign was. “The existing concepts fueling the development of the internet in Russia are based on the idea that the state is the sovereign and data proprietor. But I think that if we fit the individual as a data owner into the governance concept where the individual becomes a full-fledged proprietor of their data so that they are able to manage and control it, this will lead to business development and a balance between the interests of the individual and the state,” she added.

Natalia Velikorodnyaya (МТS) agreed with her colleague and added that the state cannot be a sovereign with respect to data. The state must perform a regulatory function and create conditions for individuals to protect their personal data and for businesses to be able to work with data.

In his summary of the session, Mikhail Yakushev (Higher School of Economics) expressed hope that data regulation will be a frequent subject of discussion not only at future internet governance events but in everyday life and work as well.

RIGF2021 continues. Watch the online streaming on the Coordination Center’s YouTube channel or at