Q2/2019 - UN High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation

Helsinki, 2 - 3 April 2019 und New York, 10 June 2019

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[1] and gives five recommendations for future development and digital cooperation:

  1. Build an Inclusive Digital Economy and Society
  2. Develop Human and Institutional Capacity
  3. Protect Human Rights and Human Agency
  4. Promote Digital Trust, Security and Stability
  5. Foster Global Digital Cooperation

The 20 members of the Panel[2] proposed a four-paragraph “Declaration of Digital Interdependence[3]. 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[4]. 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).

  1. 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[5].
  2. 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[6].
  3. 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[7].

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.

  1. 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[8].
  2. 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[9].
  3. 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[10].

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.

Mehr zum Thema
  1. [1] The Age of Digital Interdependence, Report of the UN Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation, New York, 10. Juni 2019, „1. Leaving No One Behind”: a landscape of how digital technology can support achievement the SDGs and how to ensure a more inclusive digital economy; 2. Individuals, Societies and Digital Technologies”: a review of issues related to human rights, human agency and security in the digital realm; 3. Mechanisms for Global Digital Cooperation”: an analysis of current gaps and proposals for how to improve our global digital cooperation architecture“. See: https://digitalcooperation.org/report/
  2. [2] The Age of Digital Interdependence, Report of the UN Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation, New York, 10. Juni 2019, Dem UN-Panel gehörten an als Co-Chairs, Melinda Gates (USA), Co-Chair of The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation und Jack Ma (China), Executive Chairman, Alibaba Group, als Mitglieder Mohammed Al Gergawi (UAE), Minister of Cabinet Affairs and the Future, UAE, Yuichiro Anzai (Japan), Senior Advisor and Director of Center for Science Information Analysis, Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, Nikolai Astrup (Norway), Minister of Digitalisation, Norway, Vinton Cerf (USA), Vice President and Chief Internet Evangelist, Google, Fadi Chehadé (USA), Chairman, Chehadé & Company, Sophie Soowon Eom (Republic of Korea), Founder of Adriel AI and Solidware, Isabel Guerrero Pulgar (Chile), Director, IMAGO Global Grassroots and Lecturer, Harvard Kennedy School, Marina Kaljurand (Estonia), Chair of the Global Commission on the Stability of Cyberspace, Bogolo Kenewendo (Botswana), Minister of Investment, Trade and Industry, Botswana, Marina Kolesnik (Russian Federation), senior executive, entrepreneur and WEF Young Global Leader, Doris Leuthard (Switzerland), former President and Federal Councillor of the Swiss Confederation, Switzerland, Cathy Mulligan (United Kingdom), Visiting Research Fellow Imperial College Centre for Cryptocurrency, Akaliza Keza Ntwari (Rwanda), ICT advocate and entrepreneur, Edson Prestes (Brazil), Professor, Institute of Informatics, Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, Kira Radinsky (Israel), Director of Data Science, eBay, Nanjira Sambuli (Kenya), Digital Equality Advocacy Manager, World Wide Web Foundation, Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah (Australia), Chief Executive, Oxfam GB, Jean Tirole (France), Chairman of the Toulouse School of Economics and the Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse und als Ko-Direktoren Amandeep Singh Gill (India) und Jovan Kurbalja (Serbia), see: https://digitalcooperation.org/report/
  3. [3] The Age of Digital Interdependence, Report of the UN Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation, New York, 10. Juni 2019, „DECLARATION OF DIGITAL INTERDEPENDENCE: Humanity is still in the foothills of the digital age. The peaks are yet uncharted, and their promise still untold. But the risks of losing our foothold are apparent: dangerous adventurism among states, exploitative behaviour by companies, regulation that stifles innovation and trade, and an unforgivable failure to realise vast potential for advancing human development. How we manage the opportunities and risks of rapid technological change will profoundly impact our future and the future of the planet. We believe that our aspirations and vulnerabilities are deeply interconnected and interdependent; that no one individual, institution, corporation or government alone can or should manage digital developments; and that it is essential that we work through our differences in order to shape our common digital future. We declare our commitment to building on our shared values and collaborating in new ways to realise a vision of humanity’s future in which affordable and accessible digital technologies are used to enable economic growth and social opportunity, lessen inequality, enhance peace and security, promote environmental sustainability, preserve human agency, advance human rights and meet human needs“. See: https://digitalcooperation.org/report/
  4. [4] The Age of Digital Interdependence, Report of the UN Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation, New York, 10. Juni 2019, The critical need to improve digital cooperation comes at a time when many of the mechanisms of multilateral cooperation developed since World War II are under unprecedented duress. Although far from perfect, these avenues for cooperation between national governments underpinned one of the most peaceful and productive periods in human history. Their erosion is dangerous: it will make it harder to capitalise on the benefits of digital technologies and mitigate the hazards. Reinvigorating multilateralism alone will not be sufficient. Effective digital cooperation requires that multilateralism be complemented by multistakeholderism – cooperation that involves governments and a diverse spectrum of other stakeholders such as civil society, technologists, academics, and the private sector (ranging from small enterprises to large technology companies). While only governments can make laws, all these stakeholders are needed to contribute to effective governance by cooperating to assess the complex and dynamic impacts of digital technologies and developing shared norms, standards and practices. We need to bring far more diverse voices to the table, particularly from developing countries and traditionally marginalised populations. Important digital issues have often been decided behind closed doors, without the involvement of those who are most affected by the decisions.“ See: https://digitalcooperation.org/report/
  5. [5] The Age of Digital Interdependence, Report of the UN Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation, New York, 10. Juni 2019, We recommend the development of a Global Commitment on Digital Trust and Security to shape a shared vision, identify attributes of digital stability, elucidate and strengthen the implementation of norms for responsible uses of technology, and propose priorities for action.“ See: https://digitalcooperation.org/report/
  6. [6] The Age of Digital Interdependence, Report of the UN Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation, New York, 10. Juni 2019, „We recommend that by 2030, every adult should have affordable access to digital networks, as well as digitally-enabled financial and health services, as a means to make a substantial contribution to achieving the SDGs. Provision of these services should guard against abuse by building on emerging principles and best practices, one example of which is providing the ability to opt in and opt out, and by encouraging informed public discourse. We recommend that a broad, multi-stakeholder alliance, involving the UN, create a platform for sharing digital public goods, engaging talent and pooling data sets, in a manner that respects privacy, in areas related to attaining the SDGs. We call on the private sector, civil society, national governments, multilateral banks and the UN to adopt specific policies to support full digital inclusion and digital equality for women and traditionally marginalised groups. International organisations such as the World Bank and the UN should strengthen research and promote action on barriers women and marginalised groups face to digital inclusion and digital equality. We believe that a set of metrics for digital inclusiveness should be urgently agreed, measured worldwide and detailed with sex disaggregated data in the annual reports of institutions such as the UN, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, other multilateral development banks and the OECD.“ See: https://digitalcooperation.org/report/
  7. [7] The Age of Digital Interdependence, Report of the UN Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation, New York, 10. Juni 2019, „Given that human rights apply fully in the digital world, we urge the UN Secretary-General to institute an agencies-wide review of how existing international human rights accords and standards apply to new and emerging digital technologies. Civil society, governments, the private sector and the public should be invited to submit their views on how to apply existing human rights instruments in the digital age in a proactive and transparent process. In the face of growing threats to human rights and safety, including those of children, we call on social media enterprises to work with governments, international and local civil society organisations and human rights experts around the world to fully understand and respond to concerns about existing or potential human rights violations. We believe that autonomous intelligent systems should be designed in ways that enable their decisions to be explained and humans to be accountable for their use. Audits and certification schemes should monitor compliance of artificial intelligence (AI) systems with engineering and ethical standards, which should be developed using multi-stakeholder and multilateral approaches. Life and death decisions should not be delegated to machines. We call for enhanced digital cooperation with multiple stakeholders to think through the design and application of these standards and principles such as transparency and non-bias in autonomous intelligent systems in different social settings.“ See: https://digitalcooperation.org/report/
  8. [8] The Age of Digital Interdependence, Report of the UN Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation, New York, 10. Juni 2019, „The proposed Internet Governance Forum Plus, or IGF Plus, would build on the existing IGF which was established by the World Summit on Information Society (Tunis, 2005). The IGF is currently the main global space convened by the UN for addressing internet governance and digital policy issues. The IGF Plus concept would provide additional multi-stakeholder and multilateral legitimacy by being open to all stakeholders and by being institutionally anchored in the UN system. The IGF Plus would aim to build on the IGF’s strengths, including well-developed infrastructure and procedures, acceptance in stakeholder communities, gender balance in IGF bodies and activities, and a network of 114 national, regional and youth IGFs206. It would add important capacity strengthening and other support activities. See: https://digitalcooperation.org/report/
  9. [9] The Age of Digital Interdependence, Report of the UN Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation, New York, 10. Juni 2019, „The proposed distributed co-governance architecture (COGOV) would build on existing mechanisms while filling gaps with new mechanisms to achieve a distributed, yet cohesive digital cooperation architecture covering all stages from norm design to implementation and potential enforcement of such norms by the appropriate authorities. COGOV relies on the self-forming ‘horizontal’ network approach used by the Internet Engineering Task Force, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the World Wide Web Consortium, the Regional Internet Registries, the IEEE and others to host networks to design norms and policies. This proposal would extend this agile network approach to issues affecting the broader digital economy and society. See: https://digitalcooperation.org/report/
  10. [10] The Age of Digital Interdependence, Report of the UN Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation, New York, 10. Juni 2019, „In areas such as space, climate change and the sea, the international community has entered into treaties and developed principles, norms and functional cooperation to designate certain spaces as international ‘commons’ and then govern ongoing practice and dialogue.208 For instance, the “common heritage” principle, introduced by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, imposes a duty to protect resources for the good of future generations. While norm-making and guidance in digital technologies will pose different challenges, some aspects of the digital realm, such as common internet protocols, already share characteristics with ‘commons’ requiring responsible and global stewardship. ‘Digital commons’ have also been mentioned recently in the context of data and AI developments. The proposed “Digital Commons Architecture” would aim to synergise efforts by governments, civil society and businesses to ensure that digital technologies promote the SDGs and to address risks of social harm. It would comprise multi-stakeholder tracks to create dialogue around emerging issues and communicate use cases and problems to be solved to stakeholders, and an annual meeting to act as a clearing house. See: https://digitalcooperation.org/report/