Q3/2018 - UN High Level Panel on Digital Cooperation
On 12 July 2018, UN Secretary-General António Guterres announced the establishment of a United Nations High Level Panel on Digital Cooperation in New York. The Panel has a very broad mandate. It is expected to raise awareness of the fundamental political, economic and social transformations that the digital revolution will bring about and to make proposals on how to achieve a safe and inclusive digital future for all, with a special emphasis on human rights and the contribution to the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be achieved by 2030.
The Panel is expected to make recommendations to the UN Secretary-General by May 2019 on how to further develop cooperation in the digital space. It is not expected to make proposals for new institutions or conventions, but it shall build on existing mechanisms and cooperate closely with similar initiatives and commissions. Guterres pointed out that many commissions, conferences and forums, such as the IGF, were dealing with the issue. “This signifies that the timing is ripe for the digital policy ecosystem to evolve to the next level of maturity. The work of all these initiatives can and should be mutually reinforcing. Wherever possible, this Panel will work with other initiatives and seek to identify synergies and complementarities.”
The establishment of the Panel had been preceded by consultations on the role the United Nations should play in the further discussion on Internet governance, cyber security and the digital economy. A number of UN member states want the UN to take a leading role in the future discussion of Internet issues. Other states reject such a role and fear states to take control when intergovernmental organisations assume supervisory functions over the Internet. At the Munich Security Conference in February 2018, Guterres had rejected a “control function” for the UN over the Internet but had offered to use the UN's high authority as a kind of facilitator to bring state and non-state stakeholder groups together for a dialogue. The new UN Panel appointed by Guterres largely meets these criteria. It is composed in line with the multistakeholder principle, has a very broad mandate and is not bound by the rather rigid procedural rules of the United Nations.
The composition of the Panel is considered not to be entirely unproblematic. Even though it is appreciated that the Co-Chairs are no government representatives and that with the appointment of an American woman – Melinda Gates from the Microsoft Foundation – and a Chinese man – Jack Ma from Ali Baba – a gender-neutral solution has been found, the choice is also seen as rather too friendly to big business, especially since both Microsoft and AliBaba are pushing ahead with their own projects in the global Internet governance ecosystem, Microsoft with the Cybersecurity Tech Accord (CTA) and AliBaba with the Electronic World Trade Platform (eWTP).
- The heavyweights on the Panel certainly are Vint Cerf, Chief Internet Evangelist for Google and father of the Internet, Fadi Chehadé, former ICANN CEO and one of the driving forces behind the idea to establish the Panel, Doris Leuthard, former President of the Swiss Confederation and host of the IGF 12 in Geneva (2017), Marina Kaljurand, Chairwoman of the Global Commission on Stability in Cyberspace (GCSC) and former Estonian Foreign Minister, and Jean Tirole, Nobel Prize winner and Director of the Toulouse School of Economics. Government representatives include three current ministers from Norway, the United Arab Emirates and Botswana. Russia is represented by an entrepreneur who belongs to the "Young Business Leaders" network of the Davos World Economic Forum. Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah (Australia), Secretary General of CIVICUS, sits on the panel for civil society.
- The Panel has two Secretariats in New York and Geneva, whose directors are ex-officio members of the Panel. The New York Secretariat is headed by the Indian Ambassador Amandeep Singh Gill, who is also Chair of the Group of Governmental Experts of Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS). Director of the Geneva Secretariat is Jovan Kurbalija, Founding Director of DiploFoundation and Coordinator of the Geneva Internet Platform. One of the persons who support him in this job is Chengetai Masango, who was Executive Director of the IGF Secretariat and was granted leave by the IGF Secretariat until May 2019.
After a telephone conference at the end of August 2018, the first meeting of the Panel took place on 24 and 25 September 2018 in New York. The two-day event focused primarily on the key issues of the future final report, procedural items such as the work plan and attempts to define the key term "digital cooperation" more precisely, especially against the background that the efforts to substantiate the term "enhanced cooperation in Internet Governance" as used in the WSIS Tunis Agenda of 2005 had failed after four years of trying in January 2018. Some of the Panel members were slightly surprised when the two Co-Chairs Melinda Gates and Jack Ma were represented by their staff on the second day of the meeting, after having attended the sessions and convened a private meeting with UN Secretary-General António Guterres on day one.
The main work of the Commission will be carried out through the two Secretariats in Geneva and New York. The Secretariats are planning a series of townhall meetings, consultations and workshops, usually back to back with scheduled Internet conferences, such as the Paris Peace Forum, the IGF 13 in Paris, the Web Summit in Lisbon and other meetings. The UN Panel will hold several telephone conferences and come together for a second and final meeting at the end of January 2019 in Geneva. After the Geneva meeting, the final report with recommendations will be prepared and presented to the public for discussion in May 2019.