By: Florian Terharen (Schönherr)
On 28 April 2022, more than 60 countries (including the EU Member States and the USA) signed a new code of practice aimed at establishing principles and rules for the use of a trusted, secure and global internet. According to the White House’s press release, the world finds itself in a trend of rising global authoritarianism, with some states interfering with elections, censoring the independent press and repressing freedom of expression. The goals of the “Declaration for the future of the Internet” are quite ambitious, which is probably one of the reasons why this document is not legally binding. The declaration is intended to “promote connectivity, democracy, peace, the rule of law, sustainable development, and the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms”, fair economic competition, freedom of expression and pluralism. In a nutshell, this document reflects how democratic countries should deal with and govern the internet. But what exactly are its goals and will countries that lack democratic standards be compelled to adhere to the principles established?
Genesis and main principles
The main parties in drafting the declaration were the EU and the USA. They worked together on a political statement that, according to them, should be used as a reference point for “public policy makers, as well as citizens, businesses, and civil society organizations”. From a European point of view, the declaration and its main goals fit perfectly in the EU’s plans for Europe’s Digital Decade. Therefore, many principles can already be found (if in parts slightly rephrased) in the European Commission’s digital targets for 2030.
Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine and the ever-present geopolitical tensions with China may have contributed to the publication of this document. According to Reuters and the NY Times, officials of the “Biden administration” explicitly mentioned those two countries when talking about “splinternet” tendencies by authoritarian countries. Official sources, however, do not of course specify the countries against which the declaration is to be directed but emphasise that the document is intended to target the behaviour of the signatories only.
As the declaration is not legally binding but only to be understood as a political letter of intent (such as the Kyoto Protocol), its focus is mainly on stating priorities and general principles. This means that no immediate consequences or necessary courses of action are to be expected or needed from website operators, web shop owners or companies doing businesses on the internet (such as platform operators, etc.). However, the development of this topic should be monitored closely to be able to react quickly to possible legislative changes…