The web should not be used as a battleground, say G7 ministers
Trent Murray
Reuters/Kacper Pempel/Illustration//File Photo

Reuters/Kacper Pempel/Illustration//File Photo

G7 ministers declare "war is raging not only on the ground, but also online" in Ukraine.

Digital ministers from the G7 countries have wrapped up a two day meeting in Dusseldorf, where key issues around cybersecurity, data protection and competitive digital markets were discussed.

But the war in Ukraine overshadowed much of the talks, with the G7 Ministers releasing a joint statement condemning Russia's actions online.

"We are resolved to counter the use of the digital sphere as a battleground. We denounce Russia's malicious cyber activities, information manipulation, interference, and online disinformation campaigns, which we will continue to address," they said.

"We affirm the right of people in Russia to access unbiased and factual information and we commit to defending freedom of expression online," they added.


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Let the data flow

The talks come as debates over online privacy, data security and content moderation continue to take place between big tech, regulators, government and the online community itself.

The G7 meeting was dominated by discussions around these themes, with ministers pledging to continue to support the free flow of information online, including what they described as 'Data Free Flow with Trust' (DFFT) - a concept first coined in 2019 by Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The World Economic Forum describes it as a "vision in which trust and openness in data flows co-exist and complement each other."

In Dusseldorf, the G7 representatives reaffirmed their commitment to DFFT and said "while recognising our varied approaches to data governance, we will continue to cooperate on leveraging opportunities and addressing challenges raised in particular in relation to security, privacy, data protection,and the protection of intellectual property rights."

Big tech vs Little Tech

As Silicon Valley continues to dominate much of the online space and eat up market share, G7 Ministers said they wanted to help ensure there was a level playing field for all. 

 "Competitive digital markets have demonstrated potential for innovation and strong, sustainable, inclusive growth of the global economy.," they said. "We also recognise the need for effective competition policy instruments."

"This may be particularly important in connection with safeguarding contestability and fairness," they added.


Discussions over illegal and harmful content formed a big part of the two day summit, with Ministers saying more work needs to be done to protect children.

"We should protect our citizens online, especially those most affected and vulnerable, in particular women and children. We call on platform providers and other relevant companies to comply with the existing rules and strengthen their voluntary measures to foster a safe online environment, in addition to their legal obligations."

A special meeting between industry and G7 ministries is expected to take place later this year, where stakeholders will "assess how eSafety technologies work and are already in use, and what action is necessary to make the online environment safer,"

Going green

The talks also focused on how online technology can have a detrimental impact on the planet, with ministers declaring: "We recognise the rising energy and resource demands of the increasing use of digital technologies and services, such as data centres and telecommunications networks, and the environmental impacts of production, use and disposal of digital equipment and devices."

These are difficult issues, but representatives from across the G7 say stakeholders from the private sector, civil society and academia all need to "better harness digital technologies for a net zero, nature positive, and resource-efficient economy"

The leaders of the G7 countries will come together next month for the main summit in Bavaria, Germany. With leaders like US President Joe Biden and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in attendance, G7 digital ministers say they hope the meeting of world leaders will "address these (digital) topics" and "support stronger cooperation among like-minded partners in order to be stronger together in a digitally connected world."

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