A range of regulatory frameworks have been imposed by national governments and intergovernmental actors to control the operations of the digital communications sector. Whilst exercising their rights to manage entities operating within their jurisdictions, the imposition of economic restrictions has a significant impact beyond limiting commercial operations.
This policy brief will analyse the impact of regulatory frameworks on the digital communications industry by exploring three high-profile programmes of restrictions imposed by three very different international actors:
- The package of measures instituted by the United States (US) from 2018, including the National Defence Authorisation Act, the Cyberspace Solarium Commission Report and the Clean Network Program;
- The “Cyber Diplomacy Toolbox” and “Toolbox for 5G Security” initiated by the European Union under the aegis of its wider cyber security policy;
- The operational restrictions placed on global digital technology platforms and regulatory security frameworks for network operators within China, including the Multi-Level Protection Scheme 2.0.
It is important to acknowledge that, at the time of writing, several of these measures – for example certain parts of the US Clean Network Program – are either newly deployed or not yet in place. As a result, data on these measures is limited and evaluation of their effects is problematic. Nevertheless, it is possible to posit two important impacts for the digital industry and cyber security by examining the nature and targets of the restrictions.
The first impact is socio-political. Trust, already limited between international entities in 2020, will be further diminished by a vicious cycle of rivalry and economic restrictions. Due to the high number of malicious cyber operations currently being observed – and a widening of targets to include healthcare providers and health organisations2 – trust and trustworthiness are at a premium. The Internet and the World Wide Web were created to share information, promote communication and enable a better understanding between communities, and so enhance trust. However, tools put in place to restrict access to commercial markets and measure entities’ trustworthiness can be counter-productive because they reinforce deterrence-based approaches and perpetuate a culture of mistrust.