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IGF 2018 Opening Plenary: French President Emmanuel Macron Urges More Regulation, Digital Cooperation, IGF Outputs

Researchers from the Imagining the Internet Center gathered this report at Day One of the 2018 Global Internet Governance Forum, held at UNESCO headquarters in Paris. This multimedia package includes a print news account and video highlights. Use the video viewer at right to view the clips. Click on the first video to begin to cycle through the video clips, or click directly on any individual videos you wish to view.

The full, official IGF transcript of this speech can be found here.

Monday Nov. 12, 2018 – French President Emmanuel Macron joined more than a dozen other global leaders to officially open the 13th Internet Governance Forum. His keynote talk touched on all of the top issues of the day. This article also contains some brief remarks by United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres.


PARIS, Nov. 12, 2018 – French President Emmanuel Macron forcefully called for the safeguarding of the internet through regulation at the opening plenary session of the 13th Global Internet Governance Forum. He also called for greater digital cooperation through global efforts involving all stakeholders and he urged that the Global IGF begin to “become a body producing tangible proposals” that makes concrete recommendations that can be used to inform public policy.

“The Internet we take for granted is under threat,” Macron said. “The pace of change is accelerating, and over the past few years we have seen this transformation picking up pace. This technological transformation is also a cultural and philosophical transformation that is manifesting itself in all aspects of our lives, and this revolution is ongoing.”

He warned that the world is at a critical juncture. He cited a number of the challenges that have been arising over the past several years as the Internet expands its reach, scope and influence, including criminal, terror and political threats to social, health and financial infrastructure and security services, and the fact that it is a weapon that can be used to undermine democracies. He said many of the online liberties that people enjoy as rights to be protected are contributing to rising problems that may actually endanger human rights, allowing anti-democratic forces to use the Internet as a stepping stone to power.

The Internet “is a threat to democratic societies”

“At the end of 2018 we stand at a crossroads. Not only is the Internet under threat, but the Internet itself is starting to be described by some as a threat to democratic societies. Our own weaknesses are used much better by authoritarian regimes who exploit these opportunities to penetrate our democracies, try to weaken them while they close off those same opportunities at home,” Macron said. “In the name of freedom, we have allowed many enemies of freedom to advance in the open. We have allowed them to enter all our systems.

President Macron Speaking at IGF“And giant platforms risk no longer being simple gateways but gatekeepers, controlling members’ personal data or content for their own profit. In my view, all that leads to growing responsibility of platforms and regulation of the Internet. I am speaking here before you precisely, ladies and gentlemen, because of all these threats of today. I very deeply believe the situation is urgent.”

The mention of regulation as the primary solution to Internet ills incited a rumbling of disagreement that reverberated through the plenary hall and there were physical signs of some disagreement among audience members – the shaking of heads and shrugging of shoulders.

“I already hear disapproving murmurs,” Macron responded. “But the healthy mistrust of governments by businesses and civil society should not be a barrier to pursuing a common interest. If we do not regulate Internet, there is the risk that the foundations of democracy will be shaken.

Macron told the thousands in the IGF audience, “Our shared goal is firmly consolidating trust in the Internet: trust in the protection of privacy, trust in the legality and quality of content and trust in the network itself. I deeply believe regulation is needed. That is the condition for the success of a free, open and safe Internet.”

“Not all governments are born equal. There are democratic governments and undemocratic governments. We need to regulate in order to have the open, free and secure Internet its forefathers intended. This is what we need to do to safeguard the nascent vision. This is why democratically elected governments that respect the rule of law need to regulate in order to protect their citizens.”

The need to invent a “new multilateralism for cyberspace”

Macron warned against what he called a “false-alternatives theory” – the belief that there are only two options when it comes to Internet regulation – industry self-regulation with no direct governmental influence and a regulation model with complete government control. He referred to the two as “Californian Cyberspace” and “Chinese Cyberspace.” He said a middle ground can be found. “What we need to do is learn to regulate together, on the basis that all Internet players – including civil societies, private actors, NGOs, intellectuals, journalists and governments – are co-guarantors or this common interest that should drive us precisely to work in cooperation. And it is no coincidence that the notion of ‘commons’ has seen such success in the digital era.

President Macron Podium IGF “We need to invent a new multilateralism suited to the realities of cyberspace.”

Macron proposed that the IGF – for the past 13 years conducted as a discussion-based annual forum at which ideas are shared but no conclusions or formal outcomes drawn – be “reformed” in service of this multilateralism.

“This Forum now needs to produce more than just debate and reflection; it needs to reform, to become a body producing tangible proposals,” he said. “To define the terms of production and make recommendations for public policies.

“I am also very in favor – this is a suggestion – of the Internet Governance Forum being directly attached to the United Nations Secretary-General. I propose that we begin asking ourselves immediately what a common road map could look like.”

He went into great detail and spent a lot of time outlining many ideas tied to each of the following top four priorities he says are crucial targets for global cooperation:

1. Protecting citizens in regard to data protection and regulation of content
2. Confidence, stability and security in cyberspace
3. Preserving the Web’s potential in terms of creativity, invention and economic development
4. Invest and cooperate in future development of artificial intelligence

Regarding point 2, trust in cyberspace, Macron proudly pointed out France’s “Paris Call for Trust and Security in Cyberspace,” a high-level declaration on developing common principles for securing cyberspace. This proposal was introduced at two concurrent Paris Digital Week events Nov. 12-14, the Paris Peace Forum and the GovTech summit.

The agreement was approved by representatives of 57 countries and 218 companies and as of December 2018 it had more than 450 signatories, but the U.S., China, Israel, Iran and Russia did not endorse it. Major U.S. technology companies, including Google, Facebook, HP, IBM and Microsoft and many leading civil society organizations such as the Internet Society have agreed to support it.

Analysts say signatories of the call are not making any real commitment; signers of the document are joining in a symbolic gesture of acknowledgement of the need for more cooperation and better diplomacy in cyberspace.

“This is my wish for us today,” Macron said in concluding his plenary keynote talk at IGF. “We need creativity in the technological field, but we also need it in the fields of ethics, diplomacy, politics and society. It is not by chance that we are meeting today in Paris on November 12, one day after the centenary of the 1918 Armistice. In 1918, the Armistice was followed by the Paris Peace Conference, which lasted several years. The unprecedented work completed at this conference by our predecessors resulted in real innovations.

“They innovated because new forms of international cooperation between states were needed; because they had just discovered that the First World War was the consequence of nations failing to cooperate. We need to invent – innovate – new forms of multilateral cooperation.”

Guterres urges efforts to better serve “the fundamental values of humanity”

IGF Opening Speech by Guterres PhotoAnother leading speaker at the Nov. 12 IGF 2019 opening plenary event was United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres.

“It is only if we know history that we can project ourselves into the future,” Guterres said. “The time has come to think over the ways and means of putting technologies and their fantastic emancipatory power to the service of the fundamental values of humanity.”

Guterres appointed a new High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation (HLPDC) in July 2018 with the goal of addressing this question. At that time the UN reported, “The scale, spread and speed of change brought about by digital technology is unprecedented, and the current means and levels of international cooperation are unequal to the challenge. Digital technologies make a significant contribution to the realisation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and cut uniquely across international boundaries, policy silos and professional domains. Cooperation across domains and across borders is therefore critical to realizing the full social and economic potential of digital technologies, mitigating the risks they pose, and curtailing any unintended consequences.”

Guterres said, “As a global community, we face questions about security, equity and human rights in a digital age. We need greater cooperation to tackle these challenges and mitigate risks.” He has asked the HLPDC to compile a written report by May 2019 to raise awareness about the transformative impact of digital technologies across society and the economy and contribute to the broader public debate on how to ensure a safe and inclusive digital future for all.

– By Anton L. Delgado

Click here to return to the home page for Imagining the Internet’s Global IGF 2018 content.

– Coverage of this event at the Global Internet Governance Forum 2018 and a separate, related video survey were produced by Jared Mayerson, Alexandra Roat, Grace Morris, Cammie Behnke, Anton Delgado, Sophia Ortiz, Jack Norcross and Samantha Casamento of Elon University’s School of Communications, under the supervision of Professor Janna Anderson, Dr. Alex Luchsinger and Dr. David Bockino of the Imagining the Internet Center.