Digital sovereignty impact on the Internet infrastructure. – FA 01 Sub 02 2022

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21 June 2022 | 11:30 - 12:15 CEST | SISSA Main Auditorium | Video recording | Transcript
Consolidated programme 2022 overview / Day 1

Proposals: #44 #81

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Session teaser

The session will look into some of the consequences of EI Digital Sovereignty on the technical level of the Internet, on the policy making bodies and as well on the larger geopolitical aspects. In particular the impact of legislation and policy initiatives such as DSA, NIS2 and the DNS4EU on the Internet’s technical layer as well as on the policy making of the global and regional technical bodies.

What does digital sovereignty mean when it comes to the technical layer of the Internet? Is there an inherent tension between multistakeholder model and EU digital sovereignty when it comes to the core functioning of the Internet? What are the geopolitical consequences of extending sovereignty concept to the infrastructure layer?

Session description

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  • Riccardo Nanni
  • Vittorio Bertola
  • Irene Signorelli
  • Andrea Beccalli

Key Participants

  • Callum Voge ISOC
  • Lucien Castex, French IGF
  • Innocenzo Genna, Namex

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  • Avri Doria, ICANN Board (moderator)

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>> NADIA TJAHJA: Hello, everyone. Welcome back after this very brief break. The next session is focus area 1, sub topic 2, Digital Sovereignty impact on the Internet infrastructure. I would like to welcome the moderator.

Please, you have the floor. Thank you.

>> AVRI DORIA: Hello to you all. We’ll try to start very quickly so that we have some time at the end for some contributions from the floor and remotely. We’re still trying to define this, perhaps we’ll see why this is compatible to a multistakeholder model. We’re looking specifically at the effect of the DSA and IS2, DNS for E.U. and perhaps some other instruments being created by the European legislators under the rubric of digital sovereignty. Perhaps we could try to understand that. Really going to be trying to get to three points. One, to look at the effect of the legislations on the models working, on the multistakeholder model, on the work being done, on the continuity of the network, a network, especially looking at the technical core. What does digital sovereignty mean in that context how do we understand it, how will it affect the nature of the technical core, will it affect it, a positive effect, a bad, a neutral, something that could happen, but we needn’t worry about it.

How it specifically will affect the country code top level domains, the CCTLDs that are so important in Europe that are doing so well in Europe, will it benefit them. Will it cause them to have to adjust the way they work?

Finally, trying to understand going through this, how compatible this digital sovereignty notion is with the multistakeholder model that has been so successful in giving us a network that got us through the last couple of years of the pandemic. You know, it is impossible to speculate how well it would have worked, had it not been a multistakeholder model, but sovereignty for the last 20 years. It’s a question I wonder about, and that I’ll be asking.

We have three panelists, two of whom are on stage with me, he have ISOC and Luciane, and remotely, we have others.

If I can, since I probably mispronounced your last name, if you could give me your tame, please, you know, 4 minutes, 5 minutes, to sort of address the set of questions and later we’ll come back and try to get to comments from the floor. Please, are you there.

>> INNOCENZO GENNA: Thank you.

>> AVRI DORIA: I hear you, I apologize for messing up your name, first and last.

>> INNOCENZO GENNA: Thank you for inviting me to this wonderful event which actually happened the day of my birthday.

Let’s say that what we believe, it is that the request for digital sovereignty, it is correct, but it is understandable for any governmental organization and there is the intention of the nature of the Internet, especially the global nature of the Internet and multistakeholder system which exists there.

The good news, the European way, it is based on a framework, on a bigger frame working, based on democracy and with respect to Human Rights which makes this discussion respectable with respect to other parts of the world, Russia, China, they don’t have the same frameworks. We have some differences with the U.S., not much, but even there we have some differences.

The bad news, it is that there is a contradiction between the ambition of the general sovereignty and the nature of the Internet, it brings lots of problems when we go to technical implementation.

What this is, basically because a big part of the political class, the government, they think of the Internet like telecoms or when there is the belief that the big tech, big platforms, the Internet, it is the same thing. That’s one of the main problems.

The second problem, linked to that, it is the layer, the economy of data, it has been not understood completely. The evidence is that the discussion of the sovereignty, it started to make when in Italian words we closed the doors after the cows escaped. It is very good at European Union, it is important, an important act like this. Now the debate would be, would the framework be enough to recover, no. Such things, it has been radically done but maybe they came a bit too late. One of the evidence of the situation of the market, when we started to discuss about the situation of the market, of how Europe could have a role there, it was too late. To come back, it is more efficient than the U.S., Chinese company. That’s the scenario.

I would say from technical level, we need – when we want to protect the digital sovereignty, we have to realistically understand how the Internet works, how the Internet is global and the more you apply technological measures, the more other technological measures can be invented.

This must be proportionate, an intervention, it could create damages and we have to consider these challenges. We have also to consider the costs. It is true that the operator must be able to run a business which is safe by design. To say that the governments, the institution, they ask the delegate, the operator to do something which should be in the confidence, it is also a matter of cost. Just to finish, as a practical exemption, or there is now a discussion now in Brussels about encryption, starting from the issue of protecting the manuals, which is something that’s absolutely a scope that we share and then we support that scope and go to proposal, which basically requires operators and platforms with the messaging system especially to see the change with the user. At the same time, the same proposal, says inscription should be protected, a good thing. You can’t do the same, you can’t have the operator to condition whatever is communicated, transmitted and on the other side saying encryption must be defended. When I hear the discussion by people saying this, at the institutional level, yes, encryption is a good thing but we can just reduce it a bit, then I don’t understand what they’re saying at the technical level. It is like saying I advocate for Virginity, not 100%, just 98%,%, we can do whatever we want. That’s the technical levels, it is difficult.

>> AVRI DORIA: Thank you for that introduction to it.

I probably will come back, perhaps others can touch on the theme. You talked about it having been done democratically, I’m assuming that that was a representative notion of democracy, not the participatory notion of democracy that you have in a multistakeholder. You also mentioned the notion that you want to protect this digital sovereignty, that adds an extra component to digital sovereignty that I hadn’t quite caught earlier in the day.

Please, I would like to move on now to Lucien. If you would like to take it, you know, to answer the questions and perhaps, you know, really sticking though to this notion of the narrow topics we have got.

>> LUCIEN CASTEX: Thank you for the floor. Great to be here at EuroDIG.

The digital sovereignty topic is a hard one. Starting with a quick one, from my perspective, it is a support to be able to do something, to decide to implement in the digital era, basically, it is digital sovereignty topic, it is at the score of the discussion and obviously, it has underlying infrastructure of the Internet.

First, let me say that we consider the .fr, it is a public good, first of all. That we are contributing to a secure, stable Internet which is open to innovation which are key parts in establishing digital sovereignty. We could say digital transformation, policies on digitalization, they’re key from I guess building the digital identity, to establishing an online presence. Also that with digital transformation, as we have seen during the COVID-19 pandemic, with the digital transformation comes the recognition that digital inclusion is essential and needs to be addressed at this level and the national level as well. Human Rights, they’re also at the centre of the mere idea of Europe and obviously with reasoning on infrastructures, as you know.

For maybe going back particularly to the DNS, maintaining a level playing field amongst all actors of the DNS industry is key to establishing such sovereignty and having it.

>> AVRI DORIA: Thank you. Callum, will you take on these tasks again looking at the notion of how digital sovereignty effects the technical and is affected by the multistakeholder environment that the IGF is sort of fostering.

>> CALLUM VOGE: Thank you.

Can you hear.

Thank you for the question.

To start, in the previous session we saw there are so many different understandings of digital sovereignty, a loose term that could mean a lot of things.

First, to frame this a little bit, I think we want to ask why does the E.U. want to regulate infrastructure. You know, the thing is, at the E.U. level we don’t often see the term digital sovereignty used in proposals and we see a lot in speeches and high-level strategy documents and there are two narratives we’re seeing with the E.U. with digital sovereignty for infrastructure and that’s about increasing resilience, making infrastructure redundant, controlling the supply chain and reducing dependencies.

This is exacerbated by the war in Ukraine, obviously the calls to disconnect Russia directed at ICANN and other, it may give policymakers a sense that this is a fragile system that they cannot rely on full Y. the second area, competition. Usually we think about competition and the application of social media e-mails, certainly engines, non-E.U., this goes down to infrastructure as well. There may be a belief that running infrastructure could somehow bring about future innovation or prosperity.

This is all to say, obviously, digital sovereignty, it is a high-level vision, a catch-all term, not really possible to categorically say it is a positive, negative, neutral impact for the Internet across the board. Instead we need to conduct Internet impact assessments on particular policies.

What I want to talk about today, the first, the E.U. cybersecurity directive that we heard about this morning, the goals obviously is to update the cybersecurity rules for the E.U. We see an expanded scope for the Domain Name System, root name server, top level domain name servers and other parts of the DNS. Digital sovereignty is not explicit in the text and we see technology Cal sovereignty in the high-level document.

The core, the Domain Name System, they answer requests for the records in the root zone and they convert the addresses to numerical addresses, websites and contents that we can act she is properly. These are voluntarily provided and they are 12 independent organizations that do this, two of them in the E.U. and they do originate in multiple jurisdictions.

The risk here, with this top-down management, it is that it impacts the community-led governance model we expect. This can create issues of extraterritorial, the E.U. could inspire others to also have similar regulations on the DNS and this could create clashing requirements, maybe creating an environment where the DNS is fragmented and there is a separate one for each jurisdiction movable this global Internet to fragmented Internets and we don’t want that. The E.U. doesn’t want that, they want a single, open, neutral, free, secure unfragmented resource. It goes against their goals.

The conclusion here, definitely it could be harmful to the Internet, the good news, the parliament and Council removed root name servers from the compromised text and there is a lot of work to go. Other parts are in scope and this set a very dangerous precedent. That’s the first policy.

If I have time, I’ll talk about the second one, DNS for EU.

The goal with this, first of all, it is a project, not a regulation. The goal here, it is to protect against cybersecurity threats and increase reliability and there are three ways to do that. They want the DNS data and metadata to be processed in the E.U., they want safeguards for the data and to offer secure and diverse identified DNS resolution offer. How they want to do this, investment, simple enough, they want to build a resolver for Europe and DNS resolver, they convert the domain names to IP addresses and sign post the Internet. Digital sovereignty here, it is not mentioned again, we see it called technological sovereignty in the high-level strategy document that introduced the DNS for E.U. The Internet Society, my organization, we applied the Internet impact assessment toolkit and ran through the checklist looking at what could impact with the Internet, that needs to exist and what impacts what the Internet needs to thrive. We found that the risk to the Internet with DNS for E.U. were manageable if and only if it is implemented well and directly and there are two parts for this.

The first part, this needs to be a voluntary measure, could not be mandated, if mandated, it violates the multistakeholder model and the good news here, the DNS for E.U. claims it is voluntary y as long as that it is followed through that will resolve the issue. The second is having rigorous safeguards, there is a concern that some of the Internet Governance community voice that had this could be abused by Member States to install filters, the filters has to adhere to the E.U. law, if rigorous enough, safeguards are in place. This is all about the implementation. If done well, it could create redundancies which could, you know, increase resilience to a certain degree.

We still have to think about the precedent this sets for the world. You know, maybe the E.U. can do this safely and other countries may not. We have examples of countries doing similar initiatives and they were mandatory and the initiatives would indiscriminately filter content. We have to think about the E.U. actions emboldening others.

This is a high-level vision and we need to analyze the specific policies coming out of the vision and we can’t generalize them as good, bad, neutral until we do so.

Our responsibility here, it is to do advocacy when we find threats, you know, increased resilience could be good and do current policies meet the goals and are these policies in alignment with decentralization of the multistakeholderism? Thank you.

>> AVRI DORIA: Thank you.

What I would like to do, I will come with a second set of follow-up questions or essentially ask them if they want to comment on what’s been said so far.

This is a really good time that if you’re going to want to say something to get to the microphone or put yourself up so that I can ask them to answer your questions.


(Speaking off microphone).

>> Intellectual Property to –I don’t know if it is a question or a comment. We’re following this human-centric approach, it’s much better than the concept of digital sovereignty in China, Russia, any other countries. I want to commend on what was said by Callum about the potentially fragmented global multistakeholder governance model of the network and the network itself, we here are talking about a technical layer. My first comment, it is I do not think doing it in compliance with fundamental rights or in compliance with human-centric approach is actually going to do at the end any better than Russia or China doing it without complying with Human Rights. This is the first comment.

Secondly, again, about what Innocenzo said, I understand the harms that the Internet could bring on the societal, economical outer layer, I’m a cybersecurity, cybercrime specialist. I do not believe that this regulatory initiatives that tackle the technical layer could do harm when we close the doors when the cows escape, if we look back at the last two and a half years, and the chance that you’re joining here in line, Internet during the pandemic remained robust, stable, I don’t understand for the life of me the European policy narrative here on trying to regulate DNS, resolver, roots, server, I do not understand what kind of harms they are addressing. It is not a question, a comment, but a very emotional one. Thank you.

>> AVRI DORIA: Thank you for the comment. Since two names were mentioned, I’ll mention them and come to the third.

Innocenzo, did you want to make any response or comment in response?

>> INNOCENZO GENNA: We believe that digital sovereignty is important, agree. There may be some initiative, regulatory initiative that are looking doubtful, and need assessed. In fact, the last one, which has been mentioned, about the DNS, it is something that maybe is not that dangerous but could create a bad precedent for the countries, but it is not easy to understand, it is in the interest to do the DNS resolving and to keep with this activity, if you look at the data in the market, you see that there is not the big traffic which is managed through the global DNS resolve. I would say that this initiative is not clear to me.

With other regulatory initiative, which, in fact, somehow technically could affect how the Internet work, I need the example of encryption, which in my opinion is one of the most important subjects on the table and in other regulatory forums cybersecurity has been mentioned. Similar items arise, maybe because the policies dealing with this, sometimes it is not complete completely ready to deal with the technical issues.

When talking the European level, don’t forget also how the decisions are made, it is a very complete process, to take on board different stakeholders and probably the final – I mean, the better objective achieved is a compromise, not more than that.

This is why that at a technical level we may have some insight.

>> AVRI DORIA: Thank you very much.

>> CALLUM VOGE: Thank you for the comment. I agree with you.

Basically Human Rights are not enough, fundamental rights are not enough. We need to look at the impact to what we call the Internet way of networking. The decentralized Internet, the multistakeholder Internet. My organization, the Internet Society we developed the Internet impact assessment toolkit, my colleague will present on it tomorrow. This is one of the tools we can use to analyze that and find out if there is impact or not. Completely agree with you.

Another thing to add, you know, if the E.U. does take these actions, I think someone in the previous panel said it, it weakens the use of authority and the voice if it criticizes other countries around the world for taking more kind of authoritarian measures let’s say. Just an additional point to make.

>> AVRI DORIA: Thank you. I’m going to go to Lucien now, if it is a good time, if you have a question, get yourself to the microphone. We don’t have that much time.


>> LUCIEN CASTEX: Thank you for the comments.

I would like to go back to the directive and the cybersecurity network in the E.U., there is a number of legislative proposals discussed as we speak. As you know well, France is leading the E.U. Council and for the key priorities, including the DSAs, the Digital Service Act, Digital Market Act, and the other directives.

For the directive, so ID, it was basically in 2020 to have a cybersecurity legislation E.U. wide. In 2020 the Commission wanted to reform it and improve it basically and we have reached a political agreement in May, 12th of May, between the parliament and Member States on the directive.

The important point about the directive, it is, indeed, impacting directly key actors of the technical community and I look through the lens here and try to highlight a couple of issues. For example, obviously, the new directive, it is introducing several new obligations and some might prove difficult to comply with. As we know, registries are official service, so important obligations, we still have the cybersecurity, other entities, and there is a description on data accuracy, it is under Article 23 which does not include a strict verification, but it is still concerning for CTLDs. Maintaining mature and complete databases of the main registration data, the so-called data, I won’t debate the topic, but a main question, it is how precise is it, what is the meaning of precise, to what extent is the obligation that should apply. At AFNIC we have experience with the data, it was mandatory until recently, and it has a direct impact on actually having people registering domain names. It is risking to hamper the competitiveness of the E.U. domain name industry with the risk of actually weakening in the same process digital sovereignty. Clearly what hoops should you hope for an end user to go through to actually register the domain name and not go elsewhere like a register page on social media for example. It is a question of competitiveness and models.

>> AVRI DORIA: Thank you.

I never thought I would long to see a red light blink before. I stare at this thing, it doesn’t shine at me.


>> Thank you very much.

I would like to thank you for three things.

First, we finally get to talk about multistakeholderism. I hadn’t felt this way before with all of the politicians talking to us. That’s a pity.

Second, it is that you allow us to talk to the mic and that you are not just talking about business, business, business. That’s very important.

What I would like to stress, it is that we heard this morning a lot about law, law, law, regulation, regulation, regulation, nothing about how end user, Civil Society citizen can be involved in the regulation of the Internet. When you look at the – not so new now – the new French government, there is no Minister in charge of digital, it is one in charge amongst other things about digital sovereignty. At the moment France is also sharing the Europe, it seems to me that they want the sovereignty in the country, in Europe, and I get the impression this morning that everybody, before you were speaking about if we do that in Europe we need to do that for the world. It is exactly what we fight against U.S., when, for example, the transition, it was so important, it was to decrease the level of engagement and responsibility of the U.S. government to give it to the community.

Here Europe seems to not have got this element, that it is not good to just add one deciding for everybody. When we talk about sovereignty, just the same way that sovereignty in France, we had a king, now we elect the king and we want the king of the world, maybe we need to check who is the President of Internet – no, who is the king of Internet.

Thank you.

>> AVRI DORIA: Thank you.

Who would like to take a crack at that one first? No? You want me to pick?


>> INNOCENZO GENNA: There is no king for the Internet. That’s what we hope should remain as it is.

I would like to remind, I mean, we cannot blame government or organization, they want to pursue digital sovereignty, that’s something that’s understandable. The problem is that sometimes they do it too late. That’s the issue. They don’t understand sometimes the implication of the implementation, the implementation is not proportional and sometimes they just put some cost that should be by the authority on the operator. That’s all the issues we’re facing with.

Besides, I think the democratic framework which is relevant to the European, maybe it is not sufficient but, okay, it is a good guarantee that this kind of thing would not go in the real wrong direction as what may happen in other areas of the world. I think, it is not sufficient, but at least we have it.

>> AVRI DORIA: Thank you.

>> CALLUM VOGE: I like the comment about king of the Internet, it made me think about a thing we should discuss also, the sense that, you know, these ideas of digital sovereignty exists on a regional, national level but they could loop to the multilateral level, not talking about multistakeholders but talking about places like the OECD, you know, we have examples of this decade, an algorithm that there were attempts to regulate regional Internet registries through the competition lens. The same lens we’re seeing nowadays after advocacy, you know, the explanation was that some core technical functions should be monopolistic because they’re global and that was abandoned a decade ago. I would urge everyone and flag that the ITU Plenipotentiary is upcoming quite soon. There will likely be some countries that will call for the UN agency to take a stronger role in governing this infrastructure. I want to mention this, say we should continue to monitor this.

>> AVRI DORIA: Thank you. We’re getting further and further from this multistakeholder model.

Did you want to add anything, should I go to a question?

>> LUCIEN CASTEX: Digital sovereignty, first of all, what is it, it is a multilayer principle between national sovereignty, European sovereignty and what else? The key question I guess, it is asking what strategic dependence of the E.U., when it comes to digital technologies from chips to digital services. That’s a key point.

So who is the king of the Internet really?

>> AVRI DORIA: You know, before we get a king of the Internet, we really need a queen of the Internet.


>> I’m a long time participant and for transparency, I represent one of the have you SMEs from Europe, so we are also involved with DNS and other things. Before coming to the question, I would like to point out, there is a different part of private sector. We had a first panel, the only private sector voice basically was a well-known person from the big tech industry. There are bigger views and I would like to have the opportunity to have a discussion with him.

Anyway, my question is, maybe we’re lumping too many things together. Where do we draw the line between governance of the infrastructure of the Internet and policy issues that come up that also effect the infrastructure and other policy issues. To make this clear, for example, the part of the discussion on the regulation of the system, we do not want Europe or any other country to make rules about how to create these or govern, but it should be governed at the global level and the multistakeholder way. Part of the regulation, for example, the directive, it is about the resilience of the existing servers and in Europe, that’s a broader regulation that’s about the availability of services and it affects the electricity and utilities and then it also affects the DNS because it is a key part of our society. In that sense, is it really a problem if Europe says you want to run a DNS, a root server, you must meet this service level, whatever, and I don’t think it affects the rest of the world in anyway.

Same for DNS for you. I think that when we talk about DNS, you have the emotional reaction by the technical Internet community and even the government community around ICANN, you have why do countries make the regulations about DNS or initiatives. When you talk about the Commission that came up with the idea, they wanted to make sure there was another option. Maybe I have reservations, I don’t think maybe the way they frame this this will ever work or is the best possible way or possibly the best possible way in the legal frameworks that they had in the legal constraints.

Apart from this, what they want to do, is to make sure that this is at least European, in Europe, available, other jurisdictions where we have currently big problems in terms of privacy regulations. I really was maybe not surprised, but I think that the reaction by the technical community on DNS has been really too much. Not really justified. Maybe it is my view. I would like to hear other opinions.

>> AVRI DORIA: Before going to an answer, it is the last things you say, because we’re running low on time. I prayed for a red light, I have a red light. Please, can the red light speak?

>> NADIA TJAHJA: There was a hand raised. I wondered if you would be interested to unmute your mic and to raise your question.

>> I have an impression that the digital sovereignty is progressing not only here in EuroDIG but on various fora, some of the conversation is with the 195 sovereigns on what should remain one Internet. It is very difficult for the world to come to an agreement on having one sovereign. It will be different sovereign, it is to impose traditional ideas of sovereign on the Internet space which could end up leading to a situation where one Internet is divided into – becomes something like the Tower of Babel, it is not the language that will divide the Internet, but it is multiple government policies. If not 195 directions, policy splits will be five way, ten ways. We need to have a new notion of sovereignty and new definition of sovereignty and what could the panel think of, could it be something like spatial sovereignty or some of the forms of sovereignty, some form of sovereignty.

Thank you.

>> AVRI DORIA: Thank you very much.

I think you make a good point, with all of the difficulty we’re having to define what we mean about sovereignty here, perhaps we’re defining.

In terms of last words that we have, pretty much no time, but we started a little late. I’m going to sort of go in reverse order and so I’m going to ask Callum and then Lucien and then Innocenzo to have the last word.

>> CALLUM VOGE: Thank you for the questions. They’re very interesting.

I think we don’t have much time, I’ll just comment one last thing, we talk about the resilience of the DNS and if there is – if we’re lumping it the idea of governing the DNS with regulating some part of this. I think it is about semantics, it wills maybe a slippery slope and where do you draw the line, what’s governing, what’s not governing. It is difficult to make that distinction. Here we have to remember the regulatory approaches, they’re less agile and can’t respond to new cybersecurity threats as easily whereas the multistakeholder model can be much more kind of agile in those approaches.

Again, I would say maybe we can talk more but I think drawing this line, it is quite difficult to do.

>> AVRI DORIA: Thank you.

>> LUCIEN CASTEX: I think we need to get back to the users. When you register the domain name, you want to be present online, you want to develop the digital identity. That’s the call of the Internet, being present online, be able to discuss and create your page, your website.

Also in regulation, just a word, we need to keep in mind what legal instruments are used by obviously the Commission. Is it objective, regulation? If it is a directive, there is a lot of direction for the Member States.

>> AVRI DORIA: Thank you.

>> AVRI DORIA: The last substantive word.

>> INNOCENZO GENNA: I tend to agree with the idea that there is too much agitation about this project of DNS for you although I confirm again it is something that’s strange when you see the E.U. investing E.U. money in something which is not that useful, then you can put some questions. I would be more concerned, more panicked, with other regulatory interventions, they are really regulatory. There’s the example of inscription for example, we keep busy for a couple of years and it is something that will expand because it is starting from the area of minor protection, when it is tested, then you go to other areas like intellectual protection, more, it will be a harder discussion to make.

>> AVRI DORIA: Thank you.

I think we have hit our time limit and gone a little bit past.

Thank you to the participants, the panelists, the online moderator and all of you and people especially that came to the microphone. Thank you.

This session is done.

>> NADIA TJAHJA: Thank you very much, Avri, of course, our speaker, coming up next is the focus area Digital Sovereignty - is Europe going in the right direction to keep internet infrastructure secure and open. We’ll be back at 12:30. (Break).