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22 August 2018

Digital technology: a new international regulatory framework

France's New Digital Regulations Convention was launched in July 2018. Its aim is to drive forward the European digital strategy and to provide a framework for French and European contributions to international discussions by promoting free, open, interoperable and innovative digital technology in the interests of advancing human progress and empowering men and women through education, work and the full exercise of their fundamental freedoms.

Digital technology has come of age: digital objects and spaces are now all around us, and yesterday's emerging players have become global giants. Establishing enduring regulatory guidelines, tailored to the new status quo, therefore appears necessary. In particular, a general regulatory framework for digital giants now strikes as essential, for their sheer size and the systemic dimension of their activities pose a challenge for democratic oversight and a threat in the event of a technical problem.

Against this backdrop, at VivaTech show in May 2018 the President of the Republic called for a new international digital regulatory framework to be defined.

"Such regulation of digital technology only makes sense if it is global in scale. France intends to launch an international consultation to think about these smart regulations".
Édouard Philippe
Address at Tsinghua University, June 2018

Accordingly, the Minister of State for the Digital Sector, attached to the Prime Minister, proposed launching a New Digital Regulations Convention with a view to planning and laying down an appropriate and adaptable framework over the next decade and to ensuring consistency across the board by calling time on initiatives that are too fragmented or too late in response to specific events or criticism.

An Internet Governance Forum in November

The overarching aim of this work will be to drive forward the European digital strategy. It will also enable a framework to be given to French and European contributions to international discussions, particularly the Internet Governance Forum, due to be held in Paris in November, whilst involving all of the stakeholders, civil society representatives, economic players and MPs.

MPs, government department representatives and regulators will get involved, as will the French Digital Council (CNNum), which is tasked with organising the talks with the stakeholders. The work will entail defining several scenarios, depending on their maturity and the key issues identified.

It will take a four-pronged approach:

  • Economic: what regulations of digital relations between stakeholders and what new competition regulations in this age of the online platform? How can the networking effects of digital technology continue to be best harnessed while promoting an economic model that is not grounded in the domination of near-monopolies?
  • Social: how can the development of the sharing economy and fragmentation of work for the benefit of contractors organised into online platforms be promoted whilst ensuring fair social protection for workers? What appropriate and enduring social model should be set up that protects individuals and is neutral as regards the status of the latter, irrespective of whether the work is low or high-value?
  • Societal: what framework should be laid down for digital stakeholders, over and above personal data protection, so as to ensure protection of data subjects?
  • Regulatory methods and arrangements: what new legal and technical tools should be provided for regulators and the public authorities to be able to find out, exactly and without delay, what online platforms are doing, with due respect for their operational capability and industry and trade secrets?

The Minister of State for the Digital Sector launched the Convention on 26 July 2018 by bringing together all of the stakeholders within work groups. The work is set to last six months, with two report sessions scheduled, so as to set the stage for the Internet Governance Forum and to deliver, at the start of 2019, proposals that could inform the European debate on digital matters.

"France would like to think about smart regulations across several sectors including taxation, data sharing, the status of online platform workers, the role of the sharing economy, the moderation of online content and how regulators should operate amid such new challenges. It will not be possible for us to continue with the global tech giants if we do not have the same set of values everywhere; France is upholding a realistic and fair vision that works, and we need to be championing this before our European and international partners."
Mounir Mahjoubi
Minister of State for the Digital Sector, 25 July 2018

A work cycle will be launched at the end of August in conjunction with the European Commission and other Member States. In January 2019, France will suggest organising a new cycle of talks to the European Commission and Romanian Presidency of the European Union.

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