Q1/2020 - United Nations

Speech of UN Secretary-General António Guterres, 22 January 2020, New York

On 22 January 2020, UN Secretary-General António Guterres delivered a keynote address to the UN General Assembly on the UN’s priorities for 2020 and the preparations of the 75th anniversary of the United Nations. Guterres named four large threats, the United Nations will have to face in the new decade: wars, climate change, global trends and the digital revolution[1].

As regards the “digital revolution”, Guterres went into great detail about the “dark side of the digital world”. On the one hand, he said, the 4th industrial revolution offered tremendous possibilities to solve numerous problems of mankind. On the other hand, abuse of these possibilities was increasing dramatically, with strong negative effects on the peaceful coexistence of people, the future of work and the protection of human rights[2]The World Wide Web must not evolve into a “World Wide West”, he admonished. Guterres estimated the damage that cybercrime will cause in 2021 at six trillion US dollars. The Internet was at risk of being fragmented and this could go hand in hand with a disregard of human rights and a militarisation of cyberspace. Guterres emphatically appealed to the 193 UN member states to base the development and application of artificial intelligence on ethical guidelines. Internet-based weapons systems such as killer robots should be banned. “Ban lethal autonomous weapons now,” Guterres said.

Guterres called the UN a tailor-made platform for discussing Internet-related policy issues, where state and non-state stakeholders could come together to formulate “new protocols and norms, to define red-lines, and to build agile and flexible regulatory frameworks”. He pointed out that some responses to the new issues emerging in relation with the Internet may require new legally binding international instruments, while for others a voluntary commitment or the exchange of best practices may suffice. In this context, António Guterres acknowledged the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), which should be strengthened to serve as a central gathering point to discuss and propose effective digital policies and should be structurally developed. He gave a positive assessment of the initial progress made by the two UN negotiating groups on cyber security (OEWG and UN-GGE). Guterres referred to the recommendations of the "High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation" (HLP) he had established. The Panel, chaired by Melinda Gates (USA) and Jack Ma (China), had proposed, among other things, to develop new instruments and mechanisms to meet the challenges of the "age of digital interdependence” in a networked world. Guterres announced that he would present a “Roadmap for Digital Cooperation” by May 2020.

Meeting of the United Nations Security Council on the cyber attacks against Georgia, 5 March 2020, New York

For the first time ever, cyber attacks were a topic on the agenda of a meeting of the UN Security Council[3]. Following an attack on their ministries’ websites in October 2019, the government of Georgia had addressed the UN Security Council in a letter of February 2020 with a request for help. Georgia is not a member of the UN Security Council. The governments of the United States, the United Kingdom and Estonia in their role as members of the UN Security Council had then raised the issue on 5 March 2020 under the agenda item “Any Other Business” and given a statement that held the Russian military intelligence service GRU responsible for the attack. They pointed out that such behaviour of Russia contradicted Russia’s initiatives to strengthen cyber security, as they are presented in the 1st Committee of the UN General Assembly and the negotiation groups of the OEWG and the UNGGE. There was no further discussion of the agenda item at this point. Neither was a related resolution of the UN Security Council requested.

Implementation of the UN "High Level Panel on Digital Cooperation" (HLP) report, January - March 2020

Fabrizio Hochschild-Drummond, Under-Secretary-General and Special Adviser to the Secretary-General for the preparations for the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the United Nations in 2020 and related celebrations, is in charge of implementing the recommendations given by the High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation (HLP). The HLP had recommended to use the anniversary on 24 October 2020 for the UN General Assembly to adopt a “Global Commitment on Digital Cooperation”. The Panel had also given ten other recommendations, which are planned to be implemented step by step in 2020.

The kick-off event of the HLP follow-up was a plenary session chaired by Fabrizio Hochschild at the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Berlin on 26 November 2019. This initial discussion lead to the establishment of eight working groups, so-called roundtables. In an open and transparent discussion process that will include all stakeholders (key constituencies), they shall draft proposals how to implement the HLP recommendations. Each group is chaired by two or three so-called “champions”.

  • Global Connectivity (Uganda, ITU, UNICEF)
  • Digital Public Goods (Norway, Sierra Leone, iSPIRIT, UNICEF, UN Global Pulse)
  • Digital Inclusion and Data (Mexico, UN Women)
  • Digital Help Desks (ITU, UNDP)
  • Digital Human Rights (Korea, EU, Access Now, OHCHR)
  • Artificial Intelligence (Finland, France, FLI, UN Global Pulse, Office Hochschild)
  • Digital Trust and Security (Estonia, The Netherlands, Microsoft, UNODA, Office Hochschild)
  • Digital Cooperation Architecture (Germany, United Arab Emirates, Office Hochschild)

The proposal to adopt a “Global Commitment on Digital Cooperation” and the proposal to create an enhanced mechanism for digital cooperation (including IGF+) are part of the mandate of the "Digital Cooperation Architecture" working group, which is dealing with recommendations 5A and 5B of the High-Level Panel.

The champions the UN has appointed for this working group are the governments of Germany and of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the office of the UN Special Adviser Fabrizio Hochschild. The inner circle of the working group further comprises 25 other participants (key constituencies), including seven governments and six cross-national organisations, but also ICANN and ISOC[4]. The German government and the VAE have drafted their own “5A/B Roadmap”, which is planned to evolve into the adoption of an “opinion paper” by the end of June 2020.

The discussion was kicked off with a virtual roundtable in December 2019, and a presentation with a well-structured list of questions at the meeting of the EU High Level Group on Internet Governance (HLIG) in Brussels in January 2020. A “Call for Ideas” was published. Special HLP-5A/B roundtables shall be held at Internet conferences already planned, such as FOC and EURODIG. For 20 June 2020, a “Global Citizen Dialogue on the Digital Cooperation Architecture” with citizens and stakeholders in more than 50 countries is scheduled. The project is organised by the French network “Missions Publiques”[5].  Responsibility on behalf of the Federal Government of Germany rests with the Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy and the Federal Foreign Office. By the end of March 2020, some 20 contributions had been received, including statements from six governments[6].

It remains to be seen to what extent the Corona crisis will disrupt this timetable. Another potential problem may arise from the fact that the timetables of the preparation of the opinion papers of the HLP roundtables (by the end of June 2020) and that of the UN Secretary-General's Roadmap for Digital Cooperation (by mid-May 2020) have not been synchronised.

Mehr zum Thema
  1. [1] UN-Secretary-General's remarks to the General Assembly on his priorities for 2020, New York, 22 January 2020: „Today I want to speak to you in stark and simple terms about the challenges we face. I see “four horsemen” in our midst — four looming threats that endanger 21st-century progress and imperil 21st-century possibilities. The first horseman comes in the form of the highest global geostrategic tensions we have witnessed in years. Devastating conflicts continue to cause widespread misery. Terrorist attacks take a merciless toll. The nuclear menace is growing. More people have been forced from their homes by war and persecution than at any time since the Second World War. Tensions over trade and technology remain unresolved. The risk of a Great Fracture is real. Second, we face an existential climate crisis. Rising temperatures continue to melt records. The past decade was the hottest on record. Scientists tell us that ocean temperatures are now rising at the equivalent of five Hiroshima bombs a second. One million species are in near-term danger of extinction. Our planet is burning. Meanwhile, as we saw at COP25, too many decision-makers continue to fiddle. Our world is edging closer to the point of no return. The third horseman is deep and growing global mistrust.Disquiet and discontent are churning societies from north to south. Each situation is unique, but everywhere frustration is filling the streets. More and more people are convinced globalization is not working for them. As one of our own reports revealed just yesterday, two of every three people live in countries where inequality has grown. Confidence in political establishments is going down. Young people are rising up. Women are rightly demanding equality and freedom from violence and discrimination. At the same time, fears and anxieties are spreading. Hostility against refugees and migrants is building. Hatred is growing. The fourth threat is the dark side of the digital world. Technological advances are moving faster than our ability to respond to – or even comprehend – them. Despite enormous benefits, new technologies are being abused to commit crimes, incite hate, fake information, oppress and exploit people and invade privacy. We are not prepared for the profound impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution on the labour market and the very structure of society. Artificial intelligence is generating breathtaking capacities and alarming possibilities. Lethal autonomous weapons — machines with the power to kill on their own, without human judgement and accountability — are bringing us into unacceptable moral and political territory. These four horsemen – epic geopolitical tensions, the climate crisis, global mistrust and the downsides of technology – can jeopardize every aspect of our shared future. That is why commemorating the 75th anniversary with nice speeches won’t do. We must address these four 21st-century challenges with four 21st-century solutions., see: https://www.un.org/sg/en/content/sg/statement/2020-01-22/secretary-generals-remarks-the-general-assembly-his-priorities-for-2020-bilingual-delivered-scroll-down-for-all-english-version
  2. [2] Fourth, to address the dark side of digital world, we must steer technology for positive change. I see several areas for action — starting with the global labor market. Automation will displace tens of millions of jobs by 2030. We need to redesign education systems. It’s not just about learning but learning how to learn, across a lifetime. We need more innovative approaches to social safety nets and rethinking the concept of work, and the lifelong balance among work, leisure and other activities. We also must usher in order to the Wild West of cyberspace. Terrorists, white supremacists and others who sow hate are exploiting the internet and social media. Bots are spreading disinformation, fueling polarization and undermining democracies. Next year, cybercrime will cost trillion. Cyberspace itself is at risk of cleaving in two. We must work against digital fragmentation by promoting global digital cooperation. The United Nations is a tailor-made platform for governments, business, civil society and others to come together to formulate new protocols and norms, to define red-lines, and to build agile and flexible regulatory frameworks. Some responses may require legally-binding measures. Others may be based on voluntary cooperation and the exchange of best practices. This includes support for existing processes and institutions like the Open-Ended Working Group on information and telecommunications in the context of security, and the Group of Government Experts on advancing responsible behavior in cyberspace and within the General Assembly. I believe consensus has been built to strengthen the Internet Governance Forum to serve as a central gathering point to discuss and propose effective digital policies. Following up on the Report of the High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation, I will soon present a Roadmap for Digital Cooperation covering internet connectivity, human rights, trust and security in the age of digital interdependence. At the same time, we need a common effort to ensure artificial intelligence is a force for good. Despite last year’s important step within the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, we are still lurching toward a world of killer machines acting outside human judgment or control. I have a simple and direct plea to all Member States: Ban lethal autonomous weapons now. See: https://www.un.org/sg/en/content/sg/statement/2020-01-22/secretary-generals-remarks-the-general-assembly-his-priorities-for-2020-bilingual-delivered-scroll-down-fo
  3. [3] See: U.S. Mission to the United Nations, New York, New York, March 5, 2020, „In February the Georgian Permanent Representative wrote to the Security Council regarding a large-scale cyberattack launched against the Georgian Government and media websites last October. Estonia, the U.S. and the U.K., today raised this issue in Any Other Business. We are clear that Russia’s military intelligence service – the GRU – conducted these cyberattacks in attempt to sow discord and disrupt the lives of ordinary Georgian people. These cyber-attacks are part of Russia’s long-running campaign of hostile and destabilizing activity against Georgia and are part of a wider pattern of malign activity. These actions clearly contradict Russia’s attempts to claim it is a responsible actor in cyberspace and demonstrate a continuing pattern of reckless GRU cyberoperations against a number of countries. Irresponsibility in cyberspace is detrimental to all of us. We, together with the international community, will continue our efforts to uphold an international framework of responsible state behavior in cyberspace.“ See: https://usun.usmission.gov/joint-statement-by-estonia-the-united-kingdom-and-the-united-states-at-a-press-availability-on-russian-cyberattacks-in-georgia/
  4. [4] See: High Level Panel Follow-up Roundtable 5AB Digital Cooperation Architecture: Chair Government of Germany, Government of UAE, Office Fabrizio Hoichschildt, Key Constituencies: Government of Canada, Government of Denmark, Government of France, Government of Japan, Government of Malawi (Least Developed Country Group Representative), Government of Paraguay, (Landlocked Developing Countries Chair), Government of Switzerland, Government of the United Kingdom, European Union (EU), Association for Progressive Communication (APC), Bosch Stiftung, Diplo Foundation, Ford Foundation, Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), International Chamber of Commerce Business Action to Support the Information Society (ICC BASIS), Internet Society (ISOC), International Telecommunication Union (ITU), JSC National ICT Holding Zerde, New America, United States Council for International Business (USCIB), Ushahidi, World Economic Forum, World Bank, United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL), United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), United Nations Office for Information and Communications Technology (OICT), Internet Governance Forum – Multistakeholder Advisory Group, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA), see: https://www.un.org/en/digital-cooperation-panel/
  5. [5] See: Global Citizens Dialogue: We the Internet, in: http://wetheinternet.org/ und Mission Publique, in: https://missionspubliques.org/en/