Q2/2019 - UN High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation
After a third working session at the beginning of April 2019 in Helsinki, the High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation convened by the UN Secretary-General António Guterres presented its final report under the title “The Age of Digital Interdependence” on 10 June in New York. The 40-page report was presented jointly by Guterres and his co-chairs on the Panel, Melinda Gates from the Microsoft Foundation and Jack Ma, CEO of Alibaba. In three chapters it describes the contemporary problems of the Internet and gives five recommendations for future development and digital cooperation:
- Build an Inclusive Digital Economy and Society
- Develop Human and Institutional Capacity
- Protect Human Rights and Human Agency
- Promote Digital Trust, Security and Stability
- Foster Global Digital Cooperation
The 20 members of the Panel proposed a four-paragraph “Declaration of Digital Interdependence” . At the end of the report, three potential models are put up for discussion, suggesting measures and mechanisms to implement the envisaged extended digital cooperation in the 2020s.
When presenting the report, Melinda Gates, António Guterres and Jack Ma emphasised that there was general consensus among the Panel members that the currently applied mechanisms were insufficient to tackle the new global challenges of the digital world. The advances of the Internet had disrupted or even eliminated traditional boundaries between sectors, stakeholders and states and brought about an unprecedented interdependence of states, stakeholders and sectors. A new level of extended digital cooperation was now required across national, sectoral and stakeholder borders.
All in all, the five recommendations of the report include little that is new. Within the short period that had been available to prepare the report, the Panel could not be expected to compile more than a summary of the proposals and ideas presented by individual stakeholder groups over the recent years — for instance during the NetMundial Conference in 2014, which the Panel makes reference to. Legitimised by the United Nations and backed by the authority of the Panel members, however, these ideas, now put into a first structure, gain importance. If this will give them more vigour, too, remains to be seen.
Stating that a global and extended cooperation has to be organised multilaterally, multidisciplinary and in accordance with multistakeholderism, the Panel resolves the year-long, primarily ideological conflict between “multilateralism” and “multistakeholderism”. This conflict had put a burden on many Internet conferences since the WSIS Summit 2005. The UN Panel explained that the two concepts complemented and built on each other. Every stakeholder had to play their role, none could be replaced by another, all were forced to work hand in hand if sustainable solutions were to be found for the long list of Internet-related problems. Rejected, however, was the concept of Internet unilateralism. No government and no Internet organisation was able to solve the problems alone that were linked to digitalisation. Unilateralism inevitably went along with the risk of undesired side effects for the global Internet governance ecosystem.
As to the subject matters, the report focuses on three areas: cyber security (Trust, Security and Stability), digital economy (Inclusive Digital Economy and Society) and human rights (Human Rights and Human Agency).
- To enhance cyber security, the Panel suggests the development of a “Global Commitment on Digital Trust and Security”. This suggestion, which is not further specified, is apparently inspired by the “Paris Call on Trust and Security” and by the work of the Global Commission on Stability in Cyberspace, which proposes to work out a global cyber stability framework.
- As to digital economy, the Report urges that by 2030 every adult should have affordable access to the Internet. Referring to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a “broad multistakeholder alliance” shall help to mobilise the necessary resources. “Digital Inclusion” and “Digital Equality” are emphasised as being of particular importance for women and marginalised or disadvantaged groups.
- As regards the field of human rights, the statement of the UN Human Rights Council that all human rights apply both online and offline is not enough for the Panel. It requests a more detailed review of how the existing human rights instruments can be applied and implemented in the digital age in a proactive and transparent process. Concerning autonomous systems and artificial intelligence, the Panel requests that such developments must not become independent and must always remain under the control of humans, who can be held accountable in case of abuse.
Similar to the UN-WGIG in 2005, the Panel did not reach agreement on a specific model for extended digital cooperation. It therefore put three models up for discussion: 1. Internet Governance Forum Plus; 2. Distributed Co-Governance Architecture, and 3. Digital Commons Architecture.
- The IGF Plus model builds on the IGF as it has been in place since 2006 and aims to address the shortcomings that have become obvious in the current organisation, in particular with regard to actionable outcomes, high-level participation of governments and the private sector and of representatives from developing countries. Overall coordination shall rest with an “Advisory Group” in close cooperation with IGF-MAG. A “Policy Incubator“, “Observatory Help Desk” and a “Trust Fund” would be additional instruments to strengthen the structure and the finances of the current IGF.
- At first glance, the idea of a Distributed Co-Governance Architecture (COGOV) is confusing. A COGOV would consist of self-forming horizontally operating specific small networks and form a “Network of Networks”, which would be supported by a “Network Support Platform”. It would follow the example of the I*-organisations, mainly ICANN und IETF.
- The Digital Commons Architecture (DCA) would also be comprised of a multitude of groups with a specific factual focus. As permanent bodies they would work independently on issues of general interest and meet once a year to exchange information and ideas. This model is inspired by the concept of “common (human) heritage” as it was introduced by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea in the 1970s. The Convention requests mankind to make common efforts to protect the common resources of the earth and to maintain and develop them. The DCA would have the function of a clearing house.
The report will not be submitted for assessment to the governments of the UN member states at the 74th Meeting of the UN General Assembly in autumn 2019. According to Un Secretary-General António Guterres it will be discussed informally by all stakeholders over the next weeks and months. One occasion to hold such discussions will be the 14th IGF in Berlin in November 2019. The managers of the discussion process shall include a newly appointed UN Technology Envoy. The aim of the process is to advance the discussion sufficiently to be able to submit a “Global Commitment for Digital Cooperation” by the 75th anniversary of the United Nations. Who is going to be the new UN technology envoy and which process will be applied to appoint this person has not yet been defined. It also remains unclear how the discussion process — and here in particular the process of drafting the envisaged “Global Commitment for Digital Cooperation” — shall be structured. The preparation process of the NETmundial conference in 2014 could be a “source of inspiration” for this. It might also be linked to the preparations of the conference of high-ranking government representatives ITU is planning to hold in April 2020 on the occasion of the 15th anniversary of the adoption of the Tunis Agenda within the framework of the WSIS Forum.