Conclusion of the Expert Group Meeting on Dangerous Substance Trafficking through Social Media and other Internet-related Services

Vienna, 21 July - On 14 and 16 July 2020, the third and final sessions of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) online expert group meeting on the trafficking of dangerous substances through social media and other Internet-related services took place. These last sessions focused on policy and legal issues related to public-private partnerships as well as the adoption of technical recommendations. The aim of the expert group meeting was to promote cooperation with industry and to strengthen practitioners' networks.

Mr. Fumio Ito and Mr. Matthew Nice from the INCB secretariat drew attention to two significant challenges from a regulatory point of view. The Board has noted that legislative procedures to bring dangerous substances under international control were quickly outpaced by the continuing emergence of new psychoactive substances (NPS). This, in addition to the fact that these non-regulated substances were openly sold on legitimate online marketplaces, created legal dilemmas for many Governments. To address these challenges, INCB has, for example in its annual reports, encouraged voluntary partnerships between the public and private sector.

The various policy measures available - from self-regulation to liability-based approaches - to address online trafficking as well as the responsibility of Internet intermediaries were outlined by Ms. Riikka Puttonen from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). In this context, the implications for human rights such as freedom of expression, of privacy and of remedy were reflected upon. The question of which parties (law enforcement, lawyers, threat researchers, etc.) should be granted access to non-public data was raised by Mr. Carlos Alvarez from the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

The need to protect personal data and at the same time enable criminal investigations was further discussed from a prosecution perspective. Ms. Adrienne Rose from the United States Department of Justice and Mr. Steve McGlynn from the Australian Department of Home Affairs agreed that court orders were imperative and that software 'back doors' should be avoided. Mr. McGlynn also observed that burgeoning Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) norms were playing an increasingly important role. Overall, policy to counter online drug trafficking had over the course of the years evolved "from the Internet wild west, through the valley of self-regulation to the peaks of cyber diplomacy", as Mr. Cormac Callanan from Aconite Internet Solutions noted.

The six-day expert group meeting resulted in the adoption of a set of technical recommendations with the aim of promoting concrete action, including public-private collaboration. The recommendations are non-binding. All experts present reviewed and unanimously agreed to the technical recommendations.

The day ended with a round of applause for the INCB secretariat's organisation of the meeting - described by many as an "interesting and valuable initiative" - as well as for the Board's endeavour to step up collective efforts to counter the trafficking of dangerous substances through Internet-related services.

The Government of Canada and the Government of Japan contributed project funding to promote public-private partnerships.

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