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INTERNET GOVERNANCE FORUM OPENS ITS TWELFTH ANNUAL MEETING

Hears Addresses by Swiss President Doris Leuthard and Other Dignitaries
18 December 2017

The twelfth annual meeting of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) opened this afternoon at the Palais des Nations in Geneva. With more than 2,000 participants, including high-level government officials, civil society leaders, private sector representatives and academic and technical experts, the Forum will discuss the impact and influence of digitization on the economy, the media landscape and the political system, taking up issues such as artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, block chain technologies, big data, virtual reality and fake news, and their impact on public trust, democracy, human rights, and freedom of expression.

Welcoming remarks were delivered by Doris Leuthard, President of the Swiss Confederation and President of the meeting; António Guterres, United Nations Secretary-General, in a video message; Liu Zhenmin, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs; Michael Møller, Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva; Houlin Zhao, Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union; Frank La Rue, Assistant Director-General of Communication and Information at the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization; Pierre Maudet, Geneva State Councilor; and Rémy Pagani, Mayor of Geneva.

Opening the meeting, Doris Leuthard, President of the Swiss Confederation and President of the meeting, recalled that only a short distance away, at CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research), Sir Timothy John Berners-Lee had invented the “world wide web” in 1989. It was also in Geneva, at the 2003 World Summit on the Information Society, that a new and innovative political concept of multi-stakeholder governance had been launched, in which Member States had invited private sector companies and civil society to participate on an equal footing. The Forum was a platform which allowed for the participation of all stakeholders and it addressed new issues relevant to Internet governance, such as access of everyone to the Internet, the impact of digitalization on the Sustainable Development Goals, or cybersecurity. The values and principles of cooperation and multi-stakeholder commitment required investments by all parties, including through an exchange of information, a joint dialogue, and strong partnership bringing everyone together, stressed Ms. Leuthard. Switzerland was firmly convicted of a need to invest in a multicultural and multi-stakeholder system, to demonstrate open-mindedness, and to find new ways to connect stakeholders to tackle the challenges they faced.

António Guterres, the United Nations Secretary-General, in a video message, said that the Internet played an immense role in addressing development challenges. However, it could also create divisions and inequalities. The international community had to ensure that the Internet was used to bridge divides. The United Nations looked forward to working with everyone to use the Internet to create a better world for all.

Liu Zhenmin, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, reminded that the foundations of the Internet Governance Forum had been set in Geneva to identify concrete actions for Internet governance, which remained critical for developing Internet policy in an inclusive and equal manner. The Forum was a timely opportunity to start a global Internet governance process, said Mr. Liu, noting that everyone should be aware of the past in order to understand the present. The Forum had made crucial contributions to the public policy of the Internet. The Internet and digital technologies had become part of people’s everyday life and the question was how to maximize their positive and minimize their negative impact on life, and to decrease divides among societies and generations. The Forum served as an open and inclusive space for relevant discussions. Mr. Liu reminded of the Sustainable Development Goals and the achievement of affordable and universal access to the Internet by 2020.

Michael Møller, Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva, noted that Geneva’s diverse ecosystem and pioneering mind set made it the place where digital innovation was fostered, where digital policies were debated, and where global implementation was agreed. For all its wonders, the Internet and technological progress had also produced serious challenges. Technology had equipped some Governments with the means for surveillance of almost everyone, anywhere and at any time. It had given some private companies so much power that they could even influence election outcomes. Technology had increased the risk of conflict as a new arms race was gaining speed in weaponized robotics and artificial intelligence. To safeguard the good and tame the bad of tomorrow’s technologies, the international community was faced with an urgent governance challenge. The only way to establish mechanisms of regulation fit for the brave new world would have to be people-centred and inclusive, combining all stakeholders.

Houlin Zhao, Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union, noted the important progress made over the past two decades in information and communication technologies, which had a critical role to play in helping achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. While looking to the future, it was important to remember that 3.9 billion people were still not connected to the Internet. The core mission of the International Telecommunication Union, of 193 Member States and over 800 private sector entities, international and regional organizations, academia and civil society, was to connect all the world’s people, including through emerging technologies from cloud computing and big data to artificial intelligence to the Internet of Things and 5G. Cooperation was what brought everyone together today, to face the challenges and opportunities of the digital revolution.

Frank La Rue, Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, noted that currently, progress was lacking in making the Internet a better peacebuilder, through an exchange and the facilitation of the free flow of ideas and knowledge among all people in the world. Today, the debate on Internet governance was moving into a new and more complex phase, he said, with issues such as the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence and its impact on jobs, extremism and violence online, and there was a crucial role for the 2017 Forum. The bottom line in the Sustainable Development Goals was access to information, including through a free, open and accessible Internet; the challenge for everyone today was how to make the Internet an instrument of development and an instrument of peace.

Pierre Maudet, Geneva State Councilor, reminded of the World Summit on the Information Society in Geneva in 2003, noting that Geneva hosted a unique number of organizations dealing with the Internet, which worked to make the Internet more beneficial, open and equitable. It was more necessary than ever to bring together experts around the idea of the Internet as an ongoing revolution which had to be based on solidarity. There had to be confidence in tools and partners in building our future. Security and the Internet were highly interrelated. The Geneva Digital Talks had been launched in order to involve various stakeholders in discussions about a safer Internet at all levels and for all users. The Internet was a powerful tool to shape future, but our digital future should be as inclusive and respectful for all.

Rémy Pagani, Mayor of Geneva, noted that it was undeniable that the growth of the Internet and its presence in all spheres of life made it an undisputable focus for economic, political and social issues. The digital divide between developed and developing countries needed to be addressed because the Internet was a common good. Referring to the recent decision of the Trump administration to end the neutrality of the Internet, Mr. Pagani described it as worrying. The principle of neutrality was a central one, Mr. Pagani underlined, adding that other important principles included equality, transparency and accessibility rather than marketization. Some lamented the end of warm and friendly relations with the dawn of artificial intelligence, as well as the fundamental change in relationships between human beings. The trap that needed to be avoided was the belief that new technologies would resolve all our problems. Human beings and organizations should take ownership of the digital revolution.

Liu Zhenmin, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, invited Doris Leuthard, President of the Swiss Confederation, to assume the presidency of the Internet Governance Forum on behalf of the Government of Switzerland. Ms. Leuthard proceeded to officially open the twelfth annual meeting of the Forum by shaking a cow bell. The opening ceremony included a Swiss cultural performance.

The Forum will next hold a high-level session entitled “Shaping our future digital global governance.”


For use of information media; not an official record

M17/021E