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"Legal arms race" threatening future of cross-border internet

05 December 2019

Major new research on internet jurisdiction trends has found that 79% of surveyed stakeholders consider there is insufficient international co-ordination and coherence to address cross-border legal challenges on the internet.

The Internet & Jurisdiction Global Status Report was released on 27 November at the United Nations Internet Governance Forum in Berlin. It combines detailed desk research with a global data collection from over 150 key stakeholders - states, internet companies, technical operators, civil society, academic and international organisations.

The report says there is a "dangerous spiral of uncoordinated policy making".

"At a time when the world has never been so interconnected, reactive and quick-fix, unilateral regulatory initiatives proliferate to tackle new digital challenges. This legal arms race is threatening the future of the cross-border internet, unless actors actively coordinate."

New Zealand's Domain Name Commissioner Brent Carey and InternetNZ Chief Executive Jordan Carter were participants in the research.

The research also found that 95% of participants see cross-border legal challenges on the internet becoming increasingly acute in the next three years.

Only 15% believe we already have the right institutions to address those challenges.

"Much of what has been done to date sought to solve global problems through a national lens," the report says.

"However, the constant flux of digital innovation and the transnational nature of the internet makes it increasingly challenging to address online abuses with traditional national legal tools. Moreover, as transnational interactions become the new normal, people and entities are often unable to determine their 'contextual legal environment', ie, all the states’ laws and other norms that apply to their activity online at a given moment.

"Due to extraterritorial assertions of jurisdiction, in some regions, individuals, organizations and even states are concerned that they are subjected to online rules developed without them in a country far away."

A high cost of inaction

Stakeholders of the Internet & Jurisdiction Policy Network stressed that, in the end, not addressing jurisdictional challenges would come at a high cost: the question now is not whether to regulate but how, and by whom.

"As pointed out by one surveyed expert, the internet is neither the problem, nor the cause of the problem. Indeed, the internet risks becoming the victim of our lack of appropriate governance mechanisms.

"The task that lies before us all demands governance innovation: it involves developing the standards for legal interoperability and policy coordination, so that we are equipped with methods and tools that are as transnational, distributed, scalable and resilient as the internet itself. What is at stake is nothing less than the future of the digital society that we collectively want – for us and for future generations."

Last updated on the 5th December 2019