Q4/2019 - 14th Internet Governance Forum
The 14th UN Internet Governance Forum (IGF) held from 25 to 29 November was the largest and most successful IGF since the forum was launched in 2006. 7,000 participants from 111 countries – 50 percent of them remote – discussed at more than 200 sessions (plenaries, workshops, round tables, best practice fora, dynamic coalitions etc.) under the slogan “One World. One Net. One Vision”. The discussions focused on three themes: (1) Data Governance; (2) Digital Inclusion and (3) Security, Safety, Stability & Resilience. In the accompanying exhibition, the IGF Village, 50 organisations presented themselves. 55 so-called „remote hubs“ channelled online participation. The number of regional and national IGFs (NRIs) has increased to 120 by now.
Keynotes of UN Secretary-General António Guterres and German Chancellor Angela Merkel
The Berlin IGF gained its political significance also through the two opening speeches by UN Secretary-General António Guterres and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres demanded that the further development of the Internet must be more closely connected to the achievement of the sustainable UN development goals (SDGs). Even 15 years after the UN World Summit on the Information Society, the world was still digitally divided. And since then, new problems had arisen, especially in connection with the emergence of completely innovative technologies, such as artificial intelligence. Guterres complained that the political world was not sufficiently prepared for such new challenges and expressed strong support for close cooperation between politics, the private sector, academia and civil society, i.e. for the multistakeholder principle. The political sector could benefit from procedures used in the private sector and academia. By not doing anything the world put the “universally accessible, free, secure, and open Internet” at risk. The danger of a fragmented Internet was real. The digital revolution had to be used to create maximum opportunity at minimum risk for all. The IGF could and had to take on a constructive role in this. Guterres made three suggestions for the future course of the IGF. He referred to the recommendations of the UN High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation, which he had set up, and to the report “The Age of Digital Interdependence” published in June 2019. .
In her opening speech, German Chancellor Angela Merkel touched on a variety of Internet topics. Her central issue was freedom and sovereignty. She developed a dialectical approach to the internationally controversial problem of “cyber sovereignty”. She said: “This is a very difficult topic. … We have to clarify what we mean when, on the one hand, we want to retain our digital sovereignty but, on the other, we want to act multilaterally, and not shut ourselves off. Of course digital sovereignty is very important. But it may be that we all have come to understand something different by that, even though we are using the same term. As I understand it, digital sovereignty does not mean protectionism, or that state authorities say what information can be disseminated – censorship, in other words; rather, it describes the ability both of individuals and of society to shape the digital transformation in a self-determined way. So, in the digital world as elsewhere, technological innovation has to be in the service of humanity, not the other way around. Having found success with the social market economy system, we in Germany know that technological innovations do not just happen, that companies do not simply evolve automatically, but that they always need parameters and guidelines. That was the case in the industrial revolution, and it will need to be the same in the internet age. In other words, we need sovereignty over what happens. And so, if we are convinced that isolationism is not an expression of sovereignty, but that we have to base our actions on a shared understanding and shared values, then precisely that – a commitment to a shared, free, open and secure global internet – is in fact an expression of sovereignty.” .
Discussion of UN High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation
One of the politically most relevant IGF plenary sessions was the discussion of the report of the “UN High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation” of June 2019. The discussion was chaired by UN Assistant Secretary-General Fabrizio Hochschild. It centered around the proposals of the UN Panel regarding the establishment of mechanisms to promote digital cooperation and the adoption of new documents, such as a “Global Commitment on Digital Cooperation”.
In the discussion on mechanisms, a preference emerged for the UN Panel's proposal to expand the IGF into an IGF+. It referred in particular to the idea of adding a "Cooperation Accelerator" and a "Policy Incubator" to the IGF. With these mechanisms, the IGF could succeed in closing the gap that currently exists between the discussion of Internet problems (within the IGF) and decision-making (within the framework of multilateral negotiations) without fundamentally changing the mandate of the IGF, which had been limited deliberately by the WSIS Summit in Tunis.
As to the Panel’s proposals for developing new instruments, the discussion revealed a preference for adopting a “Global Commitment on Digital Cooperation” on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the United Nations. The proposal for a “Global Commitment on Trust and Security” was not supported in the same way. Some of the discussants referred to the already existing “Paris Call for Trust and Security in Cyberspace” and to the negotiations on cyber security issues just started within the OEWG and the UNGGE6. In their opinion another document could not add much to this. However, basic considerations on strengthening trust and security in cyberspace should be incorporated in the planned “Global Commitment on Digital Cooperation”.
IGF Output & Fringe Events
The IGF in Berlin responded to the years of criticism of the IGF for producing too little tangible output with a rich output mix of both traditional and new formats:
- IGF Messages
- Chair's Summary
- Jimmy Schulz Call: Messages from the Parliamentarians
- Elements of SMEs’ Digital Charter
- Summary of the Intergovernmental High-Level Meeting
- IGF 2019 Session Reports.
For the first time ever, a meeting of parliamentarians was arranged within the framework of the IGF. It was attended by 160 members of the parliaments of 70 countries. The parliamentarians decided to hold such kind of meeting at all future IGFs and to establish a parliamentary IGF Group. The closing document of the meeting was titled “Jimmy Schulz Call” in memory of Jimmy Schulz, member of German parliament, who had deceased on the eve of the Berlin IGF. Schulz had been the first German parliamentarian to take part in an IGF in Nairobi in 2011 and had committed himself to bringing the UN-IGF to Germany. Schulz was chairman of the Bundestag's Committee on Digital Policy until his death.
The IGF in Berlin also gained political relevance through the fringe events, which had been organised in relation with the event by third-party organisations:
- The Munich Security Conference (MSC) held its annual Cybersecurity Summit on the eve of the IGF;
- The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) used the Berlin IGF to launch the final version of the “Contract for the Web”;
- The Global Commission on Stability in Cyberspace (GCSC) presented its final report.
In view of the fact that 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the invention of the Internet and the 30th anniversary of the World Wide Web, the appearances of two fathers of these inventions – Vint Cerf and Sir Tim Berners-Lee – also added significance to the Berlin IGF.
New MAG Chair
In the margins of the IGF it was announced that Anriette Esterhuysen, long-term president of the civil society Internet organisation “Association for Progressive Communications” (APC) had been appointed by the UN Secretary-General new chairperson of the IGF Multistakeholder Advisory Group (MAG-Chair). Esterhuysen was a member of the Global Commission on Internet Governance (2013 – 2015) and of the Global Commission on Stability in Cyberspace (2017 – 2019) and is member of faculty of the European Summer School for Internet Governance (EURO-SSIG). She is going to succeed Lynn St. Amour, who resigns after three years in office.
The 15th UN Internet Governance Forum will be hold in the Polish city of Katowice from 2 to 6 November 2020. The MAG has scheduled the first preparation round for 15 and 16 January in Geneva.