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Last week was the “Key Issues for Digital Transformation in the G20” event, a joint conference between the OECD and the German government setting the stage for the G20 meeting later this year in Hamburg, Germany. As an international forum gathering the world’s twenty major economies this is as much a political event as a thermometer on the major concerns that will drive international ICT policy in the near future.

Resisting a reflex of fear and isolation

The 2017 G20 on “Shaping an Interconnected world” is taking place in a context where the Internet has an ever growing influence on geopolitical affairs. All major international fora, whether the UN Security Council, NATO or G7, are all deliberating the challenges and opportunities that have emerged as technology and connectivity are redefining the world.

However, it is also taking place in a context of political strides towards a “deglobalization” of the Internet, despite the world’s increasing dependency on a global network. Never has the Internet’s contribution to economic growth been so important: nearly 40% of G20 economic growth is driven by the digital economy, and the Internet economy in developing markets is steadily growing by 15%-25% per year – all enabled by the Internet’s global character. Yet, what we are observing today is a reflex of fear, and attempts to address global issues through inward-looking national solutions.

In a context where nationalist and de-globalization movements makes progress in all parts of the world, and where concerns of cyber security is growing, we see a new focus on borders and government control that threatens to splinter the Internet into separate networks based on technology and regulations. At their 2016 summit, Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRICs) called for cyber-borders and the respect of their cyber-sovereignty. Other countries like the US have sent signs they could revert to cyber-protectionisms by pulling out of the global trade agreements in the Pacific region (TTIP). More worrying, the exercise of government control such as Internet shutdowns have also increased in a growing number of countries as shown the last Freedom House Report.

It is important to recognize that the opportunities of information technology are also coupled with challenges. The issues we see today are in many cases legitimate concerns for governments with the responsibility to protect the welfare of their citizens and the stability of their economies. For example, cyber attacks are a growing concern for individual users and businesses alike. As highlighted in the Internet Society’s 2016 Global Internet Report, a recent survey from the U.S. NTIA found that 45% of US people had changed their online behaviour because of their fears. With cyberattacks estimated to cost the global economy $445 billion annually it is not surprising that calls for action are at the top of many agendas.

But there are also other concerns beyond the issues of security. The sharing economy, i.e. the “uberization” of traditional services, is creating challenges to the social compact of many democracies. Many countries are approaching an era of higher automation with concerns for employment and the impact on society. A study performed by Oxford university estimates that 50% of current jobs could be replaced by artificial intelligence in the medium term, revealing the Internet’s full potential of disrupting industries and societies.

From the view of the Internet Society all of these issues amount to one greater concern – trust. It is the key ingredient for a sustainable, evolving, global Internet. Without it, the global network of networks crumbles, leaving behind a fragmented Internet with lost opportunities.

As outlined in ISOC’s policy framework for an open and trusted Internet, one of the key dimensions of sustaining a trusted Internet is to promote a Trustworthy ecosystem for its governance, which is ultimately dependent on a collaborative approach among all stakeholders. Only then can issues such as the impacts of security and privacy incidents on the market place be addressed through effective security and privacy risk management strategies and policies. Without it, there is a risk that unilateral solutions instead create residual damage through blunt and inefficient solutions – possibly creating larger damage than the problem to be solved.

An open and global Internet is the way forward

With the German presidency of the G20 we see that Internet issues rise to the highest level on the agenda. Heads of State of the 20 most powerful countries in the world will be tackling multiple questions – all of which will require the collaboration of all stakeholders:

  • Access: What are the policy frameworks that need to be put in place to accelerate Access development and ensure that the remaining half of the global population gets online? How do we improve networks and services through convergence? How do we promote competition while fostering innovation and investment? Addressing these questions is critical to global commitments such as the 2030 Development Agenda.
  • Openness and Innovation: What does Openness mean and why it is important? What policy priorities are driving different approaches to Internet openness in different countries, and whole-of-government approaches to digital innovation? As highlighted in the Cancun declaration adopted at the 2016 OECD Ministerial Meeting on the Digital Economy, openness is key to realise the Internet's full potential – that must be the guiding light in what seems like a dark time.
  • Trust: How do we develop and implement digital security and privacy risk management strategies? What are the impacts of digital security and privacy incidents on the market place? What is the link between consumer trust and market growth/e-commerce? To solve these issues governments must recognise the importance of a collaborative approach, built on multistakeholder collaboration. This was one of the key outcomes at the G7 meeting in Japan last year, and we hope that it can inspire a similar approach among this greater group of countries.
  • Jobs and skills: How do we foster employment creation in new economic activities while mitigating the social costs of job displacement in mature industries? How do we develop new approaches to education, training and re-skilling to meet the fast-changing demand for new skills in the digital economy? These issues are key to ensure that the Internet’s full potential is harnessed, while recognising its mission to serve humanity.

The G20 will take place at a crossroad in time, where the future development of the Internet can take on several scenarios. We know this through The Internet Society’s project on the Future of the Internet, where many of the topics to be discussed at the G20 has been identified by our community of experts as key drivers that will shape the Internet in the coming years. Governments’ responses to cyber attacks, the issue of market consolidation and artificial intelligence are some of those dominant drivers.

How they play out, and how we as an Internet community respond, will determine what version of the Internet we will see in five years.

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Note: this post was originally published on the Huffington Post.

Disclaimer: Viewpoints expressed in this post are those of the author and may or may not reflect official Internet Society positions.

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