A conversation on fragmentation, regulation and digital rights | Internet fragmentation | DW | 05.12.2023
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Internet fragmentation

A conversation on fragmentation, regulation and digital rights

Uncover challenges in internet fragmentation, the urgency to protect global interoperability, and the evolving digital rights landscape.🌐✨#DigitalRights #InternetGovernance

The first thing we need to do is protect the current global interoperable technical model that we have, because the baseline for all communication needs to be free and interoperable.” 


We asked Javier Pallero to share is insights on activism and the legal aspects of internet fragmentation.  


Let’s talk about Internet fragmentation. Where do you stand? 

Javier Pallero: First there’s the technical aspect, the global protocols. These are implemented in such a way that some countries can partially or completely isolate themselves from the Internet. The Internet in China is not the same as the Internet in Iran, for instance. Russia and Azerbaijan are experimenting in this area too. And thanks to copyright, the Internet varies in different Western countries.  

Second, in terms of regulation, technical decisions often follow political decisions. In some cases, the rules will be fair, but in others, legislation will enable certain apps but not others. For instance, Meta’s Threads platform did not conform to EU data protection laws and has not yet launched in Europe.  


What do you think of international regulation today? Is it moving fast enough?  

Right now, I see a lot of threats. Illiberal governments and non-western liberal democracies are trying to increase their control over the internet, such as Russia’s proposed cybercrime treaty. Or the International Telecommunication Union has proposed new protocols which will be easier to manipulate for states to isolate parts of the Internet or control content. There is a backlash against these proposals.  

The first thing we need to do is protect the current global interoperable technical model that we have, because the baseline for all communication needs to be free and interoperable. We need something like a constitution of the Internet, a minimum set of rules and agreements, to ensure that anyone should be able to talk to anyone else.  

The battle we are fighting now is about the basic protocol that binds all the systems together. There is a parallel here with basic human rights protocols that hold the system together. It’s no coincidence that the states that propose Internet restrictions are the same states with severe human rights problems.  


What are the options for individuals and journalists regarding freedom of expression online? 

Attempts to break down the Internet either technically or by regulation are a response to a perceived need. Not all proposals against the universal, interoperable free market model of the Internet are authoritarian reactions. Now Brazil is post-Bolsonaro and once again democratic, and considering an Internet bill that is problematic in some respects. It's because they have concerns about, for example, the excessive power of US platforms.  

The Chinese or Russian model claims to offer an alternative to the Western model. In terms of technical interoperability, it is Western companies that own the cables, as well as the platforms, services, and applications. What’s important is to secure the interoperable baseline. And if we don’t address the inequalities built into the system, then the very system will be in danger. The same applies to the crisis of democracy. If people perceive inequality and injustice, they will move against the system.  

If we don't address the dominance of Western platforms on the Internet, then an ‘alternative’ becomes more attractive.   


How do you see the responsibility of platforms here? How does development interact with internet governance?   

We don't have any other choice but to try to make them accountable. Platforms only engage voluntarily in responsibility and accountability, and we cannot count on the goodwill of one powerful individual at the head of a company. Power needs to be addressed through the regulation and distribution of power. So, it's not enough regulation to have things like the DSA (Digital Service Act of the European Union) or an online harms bill make the powerful more accountable for certain things that they do. That's one part.  

The most important part is to distribute power. Practically speaking, this means that the interoperability of the technical aspects of platforms should be mandated by law. We also need antitrust legislation to ensure more than one or two big players, which is what the Internet enables now.  


Javier Pallero, former Director - Policy & International Programs at Access Now and now Advocacy Coordinator at UP Centro de Estudios en Libertad de Expresión y Acceso a la Información CELE. Before joining Access Now, he worked for several years with digital rights organizations in Argentina, conducting policy analysis and promoting human rights activism on the net.

Interview: Bahia Albrecht