IGF 2019 WS #41 Tech Nationalism: 5G, Cybersecurity and Trade

Organizer 1: Farzaneh Badii, Internet Governance Project
Organizer 2: Milton Mueller, Georgia Tech Internet Governance Project
Organizer 3: Andreas Kuehn, EastWest Institute
Organizer 4: William Drake, University of Zurich

Speaker 1: Farzaneh Badii, Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group
Speaker 2: William Hudson, Private Sector, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 3: jinhe liu, Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group
Speaker 4: Jyoti Panday , Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group
Speaker 5: Jan-Peter Kleinhans, Private Sector, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)


Milton Mueller, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

Online Moderator

Farzaneh Badii, Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group


William Drake, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)


Debate - Auditorium - 90 Min

Policy Question(s)

1. What is tech nationalism and how widespread is it in the developed and developing world? 2. What cybersecurity threats, if any, are posed by the national origin of 5G infrastructure suppliers? 3. Many observers have detected a subcategory of tech nationalism called "data nationalism" that views data as a 'national resource' to be 'protected' by the state. What are the arguments for and against this approach? 4. How much of the concern about foreign equipment, software and data use is motivated by economic protectionism and/or national industrial policy rather than cybersecurity? 5. How is it possible to reconcile national cybersecurity with globalized markets for software, services and equipment in the digital economy? 6. Is tech nationalism compatible with multistakeholder governance of the Internet?


GOAL 1: No Poverty
GOAL 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth
GOAL 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
GOAL 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

Description: The session will discuss the securitization of software and telecom equipment, in the context of the industrial policy competition over 5G, artificial intelligence and other “strategic” technologies that are alleged to be critical to national power. The workshop is presented as a “debate” in that there are two distinct sides to tech nationalism (basically pro and con), but the speakers are not polarized on this and will be able to appreciate the claims of either position. The debate will explore how such securitization affects Internet governance and the digital economy. The panel will include perspectives from the USA, Europe, India, Iran and China, and stakeholders from civil society, private sector and government. It will focus in particular on the battle over 5G infrastructure development but include other arenas such as data nationalism.

Expected Outcomes: The workshop expects to illuminate and clarify the actual nature and scope of the threats provided by 5G infrastructure development. The workshop is expected to develop a consensus on the best practices needed to reconcile the advantages of globalization and trade with cybersecurity and the mistrust that exists among national governments. The outcome of the workshop will be summarized and published on the blogs of the organizers, and serve as the building block of additional meetings in the private sector, civil society, and governmental comment periods.

The moderators will be Drs. Milton Mueller and William Drake. They will pose questions and issues to pairs of speakers with contrasting views. They will engage with each other, debating the differences and trying to reach agreement. There will be three rounds of this. Then there will be an opening to the audience to discuss one side or the other. In the final segment the discussion will be steered toward resolution and agreement on best practices.

Relevance to Theme: The past years have been a turbulent for trade and the digital economy. While protectionist agendas are affecting trade generally, the problem is compounded when national cyber security concerns are linked to trade in digital products and services. This has led to the rise of a phenomenon known as “tech nationalism.” Tech nationalism is a turn away from the globalized supply chains and trading system put in place in the 1990s, and a move toward suspicion and the "othering" of globalized supply chains and foreign producers of software, equipment and services. One of the key drivers of tech nationalism is the ongoing cyber conflict between China and the United States over leadership in 5G technologies. That conflict is militarizing the transition to 5G, cloud and other next-generation Internet technologies. The question of supply chain security affects a number of Internet-related industries and tends to encourage what some observers have called “alignment” of Internet products and services with national jurisdictions. Some governments have used national security concerns to ban foreign antivirus products and block market access for foreign telecommunication equipment. Some have used cybersecurity rationales for laws that severely restrict outgoing information flows and market access for foreign cloud providers.

Relevance to Internet Governance: National protectionism based on cybersecurity concerns has direct and indirect effects on Internet governance. The Internet helped to globalize the digital economy. A refusal to trust or accept products and services from foreign producers divides the Internet into national walls and limits global connectivity. It also affects the growth of the digital economy. A digital protectionist agenda is not compatible with the argument that the Internet should be governed through a global, multistakeholder mechanism and that it should remain open and interoperable. Moreover, free trade agreements around digital transactions might facilitate the governance of the Internet and its interconnectedness by preventing data localization.

Online Participation

Monitor the WebEX chat room and read out the comments Before the meeting, publicize the link to the room and inform the public that they can attend remotely Remind various stakeholders and networks that RP is possible and encourage Work closely with the moderator in person to integrate remote participants in the process

Proposed Additional Tools: Twitter.

1. Key Policy Questions and Expectations

1. What is tech nationalism and how widespread is it in the developed and developing world?

2. How much of the concern about foreign equipment, software and data use is motivated by economic protectionism and/or great power military rivalry rather than end user cybersecurity?

3. How is it possible to reconcile national cybersecurity with globalized markets for software, services and equipment in the digital economy? Is tech nationalism compatible with multistakeholder governance of the Internet?

We expect discussion and debate on these questions to clarify the nature of the growing conflict over global 5G buildout and allow policy makers to reach consensus on a better path forward.


2. Summary of Issues Discussed

There was agreement on a general definition of tech nationalism. It is the belief that technology is an instrument for national power competition and that globalized tech markets need to be restricted in order to weaken rival states and/or strengthen domestic states. Tech nationalism springs from the same well as anti-immigration and trade protectionism. There was also recognition that in India private interests promote and benefit from tech nationalism. While no panelist defended tech nationalism per se, there was a lot of disagreement about whether Huawei is just another vendor or an exceptional case because of its origin in a large, powerful authoritarian state. China’s restrictions on foreign entry into its own market exacerbates that problem.  

3. Policy Recommendations or Suggestions for the Way Forward

There was no agreement on policy prescriptions. The Australian ambassador defended his country’s decision to exclude Huawei from their infrastructure and Europe’s JP Kleinhans insisted that the national origin of a vendor affects its trustworthiness. Morrissey of Huawei countered that robust cybersecurity certifications and protections, not national origin per se, are what matter, while Mueller noted that refusal by American authorities to trust Chinese market actors would eventually lead to similar forms of treatment of American companies by China and other countries. There was agreement that a breakdown of reciprocity and trust was undesirable, but no agreement on what specific policies would best counter it. 

4. Other Initiatives Addressing the Session Issues

IGP has published critical analyses of tech nationalist policies in the US.



Jyoti Panday’s has written several papers on The Political Economy of Data Localization and frameworks for data governance in India, including an analysis of RBI’s Quest to Have All Payment Data Stored Within India's National Boundaries.



Panday also mentioned India’s Report of the High Level Committee for 5G (5GHLF) prepared by Departments of Electronics and IT, Science and Technology, and Telecommunications.

A week after the panel, Jan Peter Kleinhans's Institute released a new 5G security policy paper that elaborates on a some of the points he mentioned during the panel. The paper is available here: https://www.stiftung-nv.de/sites/default/files/whom_to_trust_in_a_5g_world.pdf 


5. Making Progress for Tackled Issues

Due to the lack of consensus on some of the basic facts and normative evaluations, and the time spent debating those, there were no specific ideas agreed on how progress might be made. 

6. Estimated Participation

There was at least 125 people in attendance. The room was full and about 20 people had to stand and many others were not allowed into the room. A rough estimate is that about 40% of the attendees were women. 

7. Reflection to Gender Issues

The session did not discuss gender issues. 

8. Session Outputs

A complete report on the Workshop, unrestricted by arbitrary IGF Secretariat word limits, can be found on the IGP blog: https://www.internetgovernance.org/2019/12/29/the-tech-nationalism-workshop-at-igf-berlin/

The panelists have remained in communication after the IGF and are exchanging papers and comments. As noted in #7, IGP at Georgia Tech, JP Kleinhans at Stiftung Neue Verantwortung, and Jyoti Panday at India Instite of Management are all writing on this topic. Also, Huawei has released a report they commissioned from Oxford Economics on the economic costs of excluding a major competitor from 5G markets. https://www.oxfordeconomics.com/recent-releases/Economic-Impact-of-Restricting-Competition-in-5G-Network-Equipment