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Censorship on the Internet: Federal Government adopts international digital strategy

The federal government has decided on a strategy for international digital policy. It should aim to protect human rights on the Internet and ensure access to a free Internet without censorship. To achieve this, Germany should in future be more strongly represented than before in international specialist committees that promote these values. In this way, the federal government hopes to be able to help shape future standards and norms for regulating the Internet, for example in the design of the sixth generation of mobile communications (6G).

With this strategy, the traffic light coalition is reacting to the actions of other countries, especially China , which are using the work on international standardization to implement their own political interests. “The free Internet is in danger,” said Volker Wissing (FDP), who as Federal Transport Minister is also responsible for the digital sector. Authoritarian states are increasingly cutting off access to the Internet in order to censor unpleasant opinions and cut people off from information.

“Network blocks are attacks on human rights that we will not stand idly by,” said Wissing. “The Internet thrives on protected communication and uncensored access to information.” Currently, representatives of China in particular are represented above average in international committees that deal with Internet regulation, said Digital State Secretary Stefan Schnorr ( FDP ).

WTO trade rules as a model for standards on the Internet

To compensate for this, according to the Digital Ministry, the federal government wants to work more closely with other democratic countries in the technology sector. “We promote the exchange of knowledge on key technological fields, regulation and the economic, social and ecological effects of digital technologies,” writes the Digital Ministry. The partnership with the USA and neighboring European countries as well as partner countries in Africa is particularly important.

According to the strategy, the rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO) could serve as a role model for the international standardization of norms and rules: “Transparency, openness, impartiality and consensus” are among them, as are “the inclusion of the development dimension”. The WTO rules are considered central to global trade in protecting the interests of small or poor countries against large trading powers.

In the strategy paper, the ministry cites, among others, the G7, the Freedom Online Coalition (FOC) of the Council of Europe and the so-called Internet Governance Forum (IGF) as examples of international organizations and committees in which the federal government wants to work more closely on internet issues in the future. The Internet is founded on open standards and the seamless collaboration of different systems.

Germany wants more of its own top staff in specialist committees

“As the federal government, we continue to advocate for the central role and future-proof development of established institutions of technical Internet governance,” the ministry writes in the document. For example, at the G20 level, according to the plan, Germany should advocate for innovation-friendly and people-centered rules in the digital space.

So far, filling corresponding positions in international committees has failed. State Secretary Schnorr admitted that Germany did not manage to appoint the director of technology and security in the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) in 2022. “This was also the first time that Germany had ever taken up such a leadership position in an international organization that is responsible for norms and standards in the telecommunications sector.”

The federal government will soon try to “place a person in a leading position” for a position in the area of frequency policy. The ITU is responsible, among other things, for standards for the use of frequencies.

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