The impact of regulatory frameworks on the global digital communications industry

The impact of regulatory frameworks on the global digital communications industry

The impact of regulatory frameworks on the global digital communications industry

By Dr Robert S. Dewar and Ms Ellie Templeton

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:

  1. 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;
  2. The “Cyber Diplomacy Toolbox” and “Toolbox for 5G Security” initiated by the European Union under the aegis of its wider cyber security policy;
  3. 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.

Dr Robert Dewar is Head of Cyber Security at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, leading the Centre’s cyber security activities. He provides executive education courses on cyber security and defence, the European Union and international relations as well as developing innovative pedagogical approaches to the teaching of cyber security. Robert initiates and engages in international dialogue activities on cyber security and defence and conducts research into cyber security and defence policy, security studies, active and blended learning, the European Union and historical institutionalism. He also specialises in designing, developing and staging policy-based cyber security simulations. Robert has a PhD in EU cyber security policy and an MSc in Global Security from the University of Glasgow, and an MA (Hons.) in Modern History from the University of St. Andrews.


Ms Ellie Templeton is a Cyber Security Research Assistant at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy. She has an International Master’s Degree in Security, Intelligence and Strategic Studies awarded by the University of Glasgow, Dublin City University and Charles (Prague) University, and an LLB Law Degree from the University of Birmingham, UK. Ellie has an academic background in national and regional law, policy and regulations analysis. Her research has particularly focused on the Europeanisation of security policy within the European Union, cyber security norms and international frameworks, transatlantic intelligence relations and strategy, and conflict studies.