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INTERNET GOVERNANCE FORUM TAKES UP THE FUTURE OF GLOBAL DIGITAL GOVERNANCE IN A HIGH-LEVEL SESSION

Openness, Confidence and Trust, Digital Skills for All, and Human-Centred Internet Values Feature in Leaders’ Visions of Future Digital Governance
18 December 2017

The Internet Governance Forum this afternoon held a high-level session titled “Shaping our future digital global governance”, host-chaired by Doris Leuthard, President of the Swiss Confederation. Participants from governments, civil society, regional and international organizations, the technological community and private sector companies discussed opportunities offered by digitization, where the main challenges were, the opportunities to be seized, and their visions of the digital governance of the future.

Nathalie Ducommun, Talk Master of Swiss Television RTS, moderated the session.

What Global Digital Governance Will Look Like in Coming Years

Outlining her vision, Doris Leuthard, President of the Swiss Confederation, said that confidence and trust in the Internet and information were of utmost importance, especially in this year of fake news. Also important was to democratize the Internet. Millions of objects were being connected, new technologies such as block chain were being deployed, and there must be a governance to create certainty and predictability. That was the target for this Forum, she said. Liu Zhenmin, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, said that Internet governance in the future first and foremost would be a global governance, rules-based governance, inclusive and transparent governance, and structured governance with institutions. After 30 years of the Internet, the governance of it still lagged behind, which must be enhanced for the benefit of each human being on the planet.

Houlin Zhao, Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union, stressed the importance of the four I’s: the infrastructure, which connected everyone and could support newly deployed technology; investments; innovation; and inclusiveness. The International Telecommunication Union was working on new and emerging technologies, focusing on connecting those not yet connected, and capacity and confidence building. Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society of the European Commission, said that the Internet of the future must be open and free; open-minded in the face of new challenges; more resilient and more transparent; and it must build trust. The future would be about human-centred Internet values, digital skills and transparency, while a challenge facing everyone today was how to keep a human face in front of robots and machines.

Kathy Brown, President and Chief Executive Officer at the Internet Society, was of the view that the multi-stakeholder and multi-disciplinary approach to digital governance was not evidenced in the real world. “If the Internet was our life, then governance was the way we lived,” she said, thus its governance should be discussed also at the local level. Everyone should think about where decisions were being made and have a voice in their future. Eric Loeb, Senior Vice President of International External and Regulatory Affairs at AT&T, spoke on behalf of the International Chamber of Commerce, stressing that collegiality and collaboration had to be employed when dealing with the issues of Internet governance. Inclusiveness meant that new technologies could be used in a way that allowed people to have a say in decision-making without travelling far.

Hasanul Haq Inu, Minister of Information of Bangladesh, reminded of some unfinished tasks with respect to the Internet, namely the fact that 3.9 billion of the world’s population were still offline, noting that digital governance needed to adapt itself to the needs of the population. Outlining threats of cybercrime and cyber wars, the lack of digital literacy in developing countries, the lack of digital economy management, and the management of the Internet, Mr. Haq called for a “yes” to human rights and “no” to terrorism and cybercrime. Vint Cerf, Vice President of Google, said that many of the current issues of Internet governance would re-appear in 10 years. There would be at least six billion people online by 2027. If the IGF was successful, there would be an increased multi-stakeholder collaboration about trust in the Internet, more attention to cyber literacy, long-term enhancement of Internet infrastructure, especially for rural populations, more attention to local content and languages, and a successful defence against the fragmentation of the Internet.

Discussion on Digital Governance Opportunities and Challenges

In the ensuing debate, the panellists suggested that governments should invest more in Internet infrastructure, but added that stakeholders should also engage in discussions on whether digitization was contributing to or hindering employment, and whether the future digital world would diminish or widen divides. Great progress in access to the digital world had been made in the past 10 years, but there was a concern about how to govern the borderless world of the Internet, particularly since the rate of change was fast and governments were not equipped to adjust quickly.

Another problem was that there was no agreement on processes of decision-making on Internet governance; governments continued to work in exactly the same way with issues that required different solutions. The Internet affected every part of people’s lives, thus everyone should have a say in digital global governance, speakers stressed. There was a need for a renewed effort and new ways of cooperating and understanding between different parts of the Internet ecosystem, including access providers, manufacturers, content providers, and public and private regulatory authorities. Several issues should be addressed at the United Nations level: regulations, technological development, infrastructure, and international information security.

Jovan Kurbalija, Head of the Geneva Internet Platform and remote moderator of the discussion, drew attention to those who were missing from the discussion: people who were offline and future generations.

Brad Smith, President of Microsoft, in a video message, welcomed the holding of the Internet Governance Forum as the right place to discuss governance issues. Everyone lived in a digital world and everyone was concerned about issues such as protection from hacking attacks and participation in the digital economy. Mr. Smith called for a global fight against attacks on vital digital infrastructure. If the United Nations was to realize the Sustainable Development Goals, everyone had to play their role, he said and reaffirmed the commitment of Microsoft to building a global cloud that empowered all.

International Digital Governance Convention

In the next round of discussions, Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society of the European Commission, noted that such a convention could be a conversation starter on increased cooperation and on shared responsibility. Anriette Esterhuysen, Director of Global Policy and Strategy at the Association for Progressive Communications from South Africa, concurred, saying that the world was probably not ready for a new convention, but it was a good conversation starter.

Liu Zhenmin, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, advocated for global governance as it added elements of safety and security, which in turn promoted and supported technology development. The variety of stakeholders taking part in this Forum should first define areas where agreement was needed, and then develop a plan and strategy for the development of future regulations, he concluded. Houlin Zhao, Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union, noted that there was no general agreement on a new convention, but it was possible to move on some areas of common agreement, such as child online exploitation. For Vint Cerf, Vice President of Google, the discussion was in fact about a society that the people wanted to live in, and this called for societal conventions. It was essential to define what the world held in common – it was a challenge because of cultural or linguistic diversity for example, but it was an issue that had to be pursued.

Citing the interviews conducted with people around the world on what they thought would happen with the Internet, the opportunities, and the concerns, Kathy Brown, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Internet Society, said that the key worry expressed was the control of their lives, and that their ability to use this amazing tool in the place they lived would be taken away or taken control of by other entities. The interviewees said that the Internet could become a tool for empowerment, and listed preconditions for good things to happen and bad things to be avoided. A new global treaty would not solve the problem, and it was not only the governments who had control.

Some of the in-person and online participants commented that it was premature to regulate the Internet and that it was only a matter of time before a global Internet governance treaty was adopted, whereas others were of the view that it was not possible to govern the Internet.

Final Remarks

In 10 years, there would definitely be a need for a global Internet governance treaty, said Hasanul Haq Inu, Minister of Information of Bangladesh, adding that the concentration of the global wealth in the global north was a threat to the tax revenue of the global south. Kathy Brown, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Internet Society, expressed hope that in the future there would be collaboration between governments and various stakeholders. Eric Loeb, Senior Vice President of International External and Regulatory Affairs at At&T, noted that there was a possibility to steadily address issues and build gradual gains, whereas Lakshmi Puri, Deputy Executive Director of UN Women, expressed hope that the Internet would deliver gender equality and women’s empowerment. Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society at the European Commission, called for strengthened cooperation with clear responsibility, with education and inclusion at centre stage.

Liu Zhenmin, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, noted that digital governance should be promoted progressively for the benefit of the whole of human kind. Masahiko Tominaga, Vice Minister for Policy Coordination at the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications of Japan, also stated that Internet governance should benefit everyone. Anriette Esterhuysen, Director of Global Policy and Strategy at the Association for Progress in Communications from South Africa, underlined the importance of privacy, security, human rights and trust, which belonged to all and should be govern by all. Vint Cerf, Vice President of Google, noted that the Internet would indeed be for everyone in 10 years’ time.

The Internet Governance Forum will continue its programme of session and workshops on Tuesday, 19 December, including the special session on Data for sustainable development maps (at 9 a.m. in Room XVI), the high-level thematic session on the Impact of digitization on politics, public trust and democracy (10 a.m. in Room XVII), and the session titled Empowering global cooperation on cybersecurity for sustainable development and peace (3 p.m. in Room XVII). Information about all other sessions, workshops and parallel events that will take place on Tuesday, 19 December is available here.


For use of the information media; not an official record

M17/022E