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G7 vs. BRICS: One Cyberworld, Two Summits and Three Approaches for the Governance of the Internet?

Cybersecurity and digitalization were not at the center of the recent summit meetings of the presidents and prime ministers of G7 (US, Canada, UK, Germany, Italy, France, Japan) and BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa). But cybersecurity and digitalization are meanwhile too important issues to be ignored if world leaders meet. Insofar it was very natural that both the XIV BRICS Summit Beijing Declaration from June 23, 2022, and the G7 Leaders Communique from Elmau/Germany, June, 28, 2022 included chapters, dealing with today’s and tommorow’s challenges for the global Internet Governance Ecosystem. But while the two documents touch on similar Internet-related public policy issues, they take different approaches.


More than ten paragraphs of the G7 Declaration from Elmau cover issues like cyberwarfare, cybercrime, disinformation and digitalization. The declaration refers to the special threat from “Russia and other authoritarian regimes, particularly in the field of cybersecurity.” The G7 will intensify the fight against organized cybercrime and agree to enhance close cooperation with non-state actors as well as Interpol and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. On digitalization, they “will work together to help shape an inclusive and global digital ecosystem that fosters an open, free and secure Internet, competition and innovation, protects privacy and personal data and promotes respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms”.

The G7 leaders say that “everyone should feel safe online.” They refer to the “Christchurch Call” and the “Paris Call on Trust and Security in Cyberspace” as well as to the “Declaration on the Future of the Internet” (DFI), which was recently signed in Washington, D.C. by 60 governments. They “invite like-minded partners to join us in advancing its vision, thereby opposing the trend of rising digital authoritarianism.”

The G7 reaffirms its commitment to the “framework of responsible state behavior in cyberspace” and signals readiness to “develop and implement robust international cybernorms, ... to strengthen our collective cyber defenses… and to work in close cooperation against malicious use of cyberspace by both state and non-state actors.” They mention controversial issues such as the implementation of cybernorms, attribution of cyberattacks and Internet standardization development processes.

They push for implementing the G20/OECD Framework on digital taxation, adopted by the G20 summit in Rome in November 2021. They welcome the progress toward eCommerce and digital trade arrangements within the World Trade Organisation (WTO). And they support the “Action Plan for Promotion Date Free Flow with Trust.” They call to link the digital transition with the green deal: “Digitalisation can significantly contribute to combating climate chage and protecting the environment. ...The rising demand for energy and resources, resulting from the increasing use of digital technologies and services, must be significantly reduced.” A long agenda. In 2023, Japan will overtake the G7 Presidency.


Also, the BRICS Beijing Declaration refers to issues, touched upon in the G7 Elmau document: Cybersecurity, cybercrime, cybernorms, digital development. The leaders of the BRICS countries call for an “open, secure, stable, accessible and peaceful ICT-environment.” They support the development of a “universal legal framework for global cyberscurity”. They see the United Nations in a “leading role” if it comes to norm-making and “ensuring ICT Security.” Both the “Open Ended Working Group (OEWG),” operating under the 1st UNGA Committee, as well as the “Ad Hoc Committee” (AHC), which is drafting a new UN-Convention against Cybercime under the 3rd UNGA Committee, get the full support of the five BRICS countries. The BRICS leaders want to strengthen intra-BRICS cooperation to promote the digital transformation of their countries. The “BRICS Partnership on New Industrial Revolution (PARTNIR)” is seen as the main vehicle to support BRICS start-ups, innovation centers and incubators. Priority has “the industrial Internet and digital manufacturing.” A special “Digital BRICS Task Force” should help to bring the digital transformation also to countries that share the values of BRICS and are interested in joining a “BRICS Plus” in the near future.

Different Approaches

By reading and comparing the two documents, one can not avoid being perplexed. There is “One World—One Internet,” but the leaders of G7 and BRICS are sitting obviously in different corners of borderless cyberspace and look at the challenges of the digital world through different lenses. They are dealing with the same global problems but moving in opposite directions.

G7 countries prioritize human rights and fundamental freedoms to a free and open Internet, which is safe and free from disinformation. The BRICS countries give cyber sovereignty and national security the highest priority. For them, individual human rights and fundamental freedoms are secondary issues. The G7 refers to the multistakeholder approach for the governance of the Internet. BRICS prefer a state-centered approach to regulate cyberspce. The G7 invited “like-minded countries” to join the “Paris Call” or the “Washington Declaration.” BRICS countries neither signed the Paris Call nor the DFI. They see the UN as the “leading platform.”

Both G7 and BRICS recognize the importance of bridging the digital divide and to develop the digital infrastructure as a key enabler to implement the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) until 2030. But there are no real efforts to pool the limited resources and work hand in hand. On the contrary, building digital infrastructure in underdeveloped regions becomes part of a geostrategic power play. China offers the “Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI), which includes the “Digital Silk Road,” to get developing countries into their camp. The G7 enhanced in Elmau its “Build Back Better” initiative (adopted under the British G7 presidency in 2021 in Cabis Bay) by adding now a substantial price tag: 600 billion dollars are put on the table to bring developing countries on the right side of history. Digital infrastructure development is now a battlefield for markets and influence. China offers surveillance technology, the US offers safe investment in 5G networks, and the European Union offers its regulatory packages.

For the leaders of the G7, cyberspace should be “open, free, global, interoperable, trustworthy and secure.” For BRICS, it should be “open, secure, stable, accessible and peaceful.” The used language sounds very similar. Both groups of countries are in favor of an “open and secure” Internet. The G7 wants to have it “global, interoperable and trustworthy,” BRICS “stable and accessible.” G7 pushes for a “free” Internet but avoids the slippery language of “peaceful.” BRICS push for “peaceful” but avoid “free.” If goodwill and trust existed, there would certainly be space for common action and enhanced cooperation across ideological barriers. However, there is no trust anymore between the two camps. There is a growing polarization between the different value systems, both offline and online.

Deja vue?

History never comes back, but from a geo-strategic point of view, something looks like the debates after the end of World War II. In April 1948, the UN organized a “World Conference on Freedom of Information” in Geneva. Four documents, including drafts for binding conventions on the “right to freedom of information” and “the right to reply,” were on the agenda. The debate was soon overshadowed by the conflict between “freedom fighters” and “peace fighters.” The Soviet Union argued that it needs first security guarantees, that a “free flow of information” will serve “peace,” not be misused to “interfere” in its internal affairs and respect “national sovereignty.” The US argued that it is the free flow of information that will contribute to mutual understanding and peace among nations. The conference collapsed, and the cold war started.

Anyhow, there is a very ironic side effect related to this failed world conference. During the time of the Geneva meeting, Eleanore Roosevelt chaired in New York the drafting committee for the declaration on human rights. She asked the Geneva conference, where all the information experts were busy with the draft conventions, to help with some language for a related article. The chair of the Geneva conference formed a small sub-group, which indeed drafted some lines for a document that was designed to become a legally non-binding declaration. In April 1948, governments in Geneva didn’t see this as a big thing. They agreed on the short paragraph. But in December 1948, the 35 words made history. The agreed language, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers,” became the famous Article 19 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. “Regardless of frontiers” was a dream in 1948. The Internet has materialized the dream. And in 2016, the UN recognized that “the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online.”

A “Third Way”

Nevertheless, the writings on today’s walls—both in Elmau and Bejing—are rather disturbing: the bifurcation of cyberspace is moving forward. Is there space for a “Third Way”?

Interestingly, neither BRICS nor the G7 mention in their documents the “UN Roadmap on Digital Cooperation” nor UN Secretary General’s plan to draft a “Global Digital Compact” (GDC). Just recently, Antonio Guterres nominated Amandeep Singh Gill, an experienced diplomat from India, as his “Envoy of Technology.” Amadeep Singh Gill, who chaired inter alia the Group of Governmental Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapon System (LAWS) and was the Co-director of the UN High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation (HLP), will become a high-level key player in implementing the “Roadmap” and drafting the “Compact.” Will he become a bridge builder? Will India take the lead?

India has a long record as a key player in the Internet Governance Ecosystem for more than 20 years. Nitin Desai, another Indian diplomat, was the “right Internet hand” of Kofi Annan, who was the UN Secretary-General during the years of the UN World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS). Desai chaired the UN “Working Group of Internet Governance” (WGIG) and became the first chair of the Multistakeholder Advisory Group (MAG) of the UN-based Internet Governance Forum (IGF). In the early 2010s, the Indian government surprised the Internet community with a joint IBSA proposal (supported by Brazil and South Africa) to establish an intergovernmental body for managing Internet-related public policy issues. The proposal disappeared quickly after it was heavily criticized by the global Internet community for ignoring the multistakeholder nature of the governance of the Internet.

However, India always was looking for the “middle of the road,” supporting in principle “Multistakeholderism,” but taking a strong governmental approach by regulating the Internet “at home.” India, as one of the world’s largest democracies, has developed a very strong and top-down domestic Internet regulation, also provoking a lot of criticism from civil society groups for being not sensitive enough with regard to individual freedom of expression and personal privacy. Internationally, the Indian government is very critical both against the big transnational US Internet companies such as Facebook and Google but also against the Chinese Internet companies such as TikTok and Ali Baba. It was the Indian Co-Chair of the Global Commission on Stability in Cyberspace (GCSC), Latha Reddy, a former national security adviser, who wrote a paper in 2021 under the title “Is There Space for a Digital Non-Aligned Movement?” Is this the beginning of another “deja vue”?

In 1955, when West Germany joined NATO and the Soviet Union established the Warsaw Pact, the risk of a third world war among nuclear powers was rising. It was the Indian prime minister Nehru—together with Sukarno from Indonesia, Nkrumah from Ghana, Nasser from Egypt, and Tito from Yugoslavia—who was looking for options not to be pulled into geo-strategic political battles among superpowers. They founded the non-aligned movement (NAM) in Bandung, Indonesia, which soon had more than 100 members.

Today, it is again a prime minister from India, Narendra Modi, who is looking for something different. Modi first signed the BRICS Bejing Declaration and traveled the other week to the G7 meeting in Elmau, together with South African President Ramaphosa, another BRICS member. He was joined by the president of Indonesia, Joko Widodo, who will chair the G20 summit meeting in fall 2022 in Bali, and the presidents of Argentina and Senegal (Senegal chairs the rotating presidency of the African Union in 2022). Together with G7 leaders, they signed a document titled “2022 Democratic Resiliencies Statement”. This statement also includes a section on Internet Governance with commitments to protect “freedom of expression and opinion online and offline”, to increase “cyberesilience of digital infrastructure,” and to counter “hybrid threats, in particular information manipulation and interference, including disinformation.” The document also refers to the “multistakeholder approach” to promote “affordable access to diverse sources of reliable and trustworthy information and data, online and offline.”

There are no references to the Paris Call or the DFI. Argentina and Senegal signed it; Indonesia, South Africa and India didn’t sign. But the wordsmithery of the “7+5 Statement” smuggled language from the DFI into the adopted text. Chapter 2, paragraph 2 says that the 12 signatories want to ensure an Internet that is “open, free, global, interoperable and secure.” Those are five of the six criteria for an “Internet of the future,” as outlined in the DFI. But interestingly, the sixth DFI criteria—“trustworthy” - was changed into “reliable”. No trust anymore in a “trustworthy Internet”?

Obviously, today’s situation is even worse than in 2013, when after Snowden, the Internet was in crisis mode. In October 2013, the Internet Commnunity “warned against Internet fragmentation at a national level. They expressed strong concern over the undermining of the trust and confidence of Internet users globally due to recent revelations of pervasive monitoring and surveillance”. As a consequence of this “Montevideo Statement,” the US government, together with ICANN, started the IANA transition and the Brazilian government invited the world to the “NetMundial” conference which helped a lot to navigate through turbulent times. Regardless of all the tensions and conflicts, the Internet works.

Can trust in the Internet Governance Ecosystem be re-build? A good question, difficult to answer in stormy times. It needs a lot of new engagement from all stakeholders. The risk of rising polarization is high. But there are also opportunities to identify areas for enhanced digital cooperation. The “Global Digital Compact” could become a useful vehicle to take another stumbling step forward by avoiding an escalation into digital disasters. Cybersecurity and digital cooperation are also on the agenda of the forthcoming G20 summit in Bali. And, by the way, in 2023, it is India that overtakes the presidency of the G20.

By Wolfgang Kleinwächter, Professor Emeritus at the University of Aarhus

He is a member of the Global Commission on Stability in Cyberspace, was a member of the ICANN Board (2013 – 2015) and served as Special Ambassador for the Net Mundial Initiative (2014 – 2016).

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Back to our roots Klaus Stoll  –  Jul 25, 2022 5:18 AM

Congratulation to Wolfgang for an extremly well thought out and valuable article.
Wolfgang asks:“Can trust in the Internet Governance Ecosystem be re-build?” Maybe its a question of remebering the foundations of our trust. Our quest for unprecedented digital opportunities is countered by our fear of the unknown and the experience of lawlessness in the new land. We nevertheless continue to press on as we trust in the values common to all stakeholders: our fundamental human rights! Their definition, realization and protection are a prerequisite to sustain the digital technologies. Would it be possible to unite the different approaches, initiatives and stakeholder groups around the joint believe of the fundamental necessity to extent fundamental human right fully into cyberspace?
We need a new start and we need a start from the deepest of our common values.  Naive, simplistic, but nevertheless true.
Klaus Stoll

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