Internet shutdowns spike in Q1 2024

In the first quarter of 2024, Pulse has documented 22 deliberate internet shutdowns across 12 countries, with some ongoing since 2023. This figure matches the peak seen in 2021 during Myanmar‘s military coup, highlighting a concerning trend. India has been the most affected, with nine shutdowns, followed by Ethiopia and Senegal, each experiencing two incidents. Over half of these shutdowns have been localised, impacting specific regions within countries including Chad, Comoros, Cuba, Iran, Pakistan, Palestinian Territory and Russia.

Among the recorded events, nine led to nationwide disruptions lasting from hours to months, affecting approximately 297 million internet users and resulting in over 910 days of downtime. These shutdowns have inflicted significant economic losses, amounting to USD 565.4 million in GDP, as reported by Pulse. Such disruptions hinder societal progress, hamper economies, and undermine the stability of the global internet infrastructure.

Why does it matter?

Championing an open and easily accessible internet, advocates stress the significance of prioritising policies that ensure uninterrupted connectivity. Governments and policymakers globally are encouraged to endorse efforts to protect the internet, acknowledging its pivotal role in nurturing economic development and providing opportunities for individuals to exercise fundamental human rights in the digital era.

Co-facilitators of Global Digital Compact process issue assessment from deep dives and consultations

In a letter dated 1 September 2023 and transmitted to all permanent representatives and permanent observers to the UN in New York, Rwanda and Sweden – as co-facilitators of the Global Digital Compact (GDC) process – shared their assessment from the GDC-related deep dives and consultations.

The co-facilitators note that they have identified ‘wide support from diverse perspectives for the establishment of a GDC that rests on the principles of the UN Charter, Agenda 2030, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights’, and that ‘joint efforts should aim to strengthen digital cooperation, close the digital divide and ensure an inclusive, open, safe and secure digital future for all, which is anchored in human rights and that enables the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)’.

The letter then outlines a summary of main points drawn from the deep dives and the consultations, along several key topics:

  • The role of digital technologies in accelerating progress across all SDGs. Highlighted here are the importance of connectivity and digital public infrastructure, as role as the potential role of the GDC to support exchange of best practices among countries on digitalisation.
  • Universal, affordable, and accessible connectivity. The need to connect the unconnected, advance digital literacy and skills, build capacities, and promote greater financial investment in affordable, accessible mobile connectivity are among the key issues.
  • An open, free, and globally accessible internet. The significance of interoperable internet standards and protocols and the need to avoid internet fragmentation are highlighted. The letter also notes that stakeholders expressed support for strengthening the multistakeholder approach to the governance of the internet, and that there is broad consensus that the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) should continue to play a ‘key role in promoting the global and interoperable nature and governance of the internet’.
  • Data protection and governance. Reference is made to the need to have a GDC that outlines principles to guide regional and national approaches to data protection and governance. Such principles would relate, among other issues, to ensuring that people have control over their data and to finding a balanced approach between free flow of data and data protection.
  • Digital trust and security. The GDC could promote digital trust and security, and address disinformation, hate speech, and other types of harmful online content, while also advancing transparent and responsible design and application of digital technologies.
  • Artificial intelligence. Here the focus is placed on the ‘need to further a common understanding of the risks’ associated with AI, with reference being made to potential approaches involving forms of regulations, standards, and guardrails. Also highlighted is the need for human-centric, transparent, and equitable risk-based approaches to the development, use, and governance of AI.
  • Addressing the digital gender divides was underscored as a cross-cutting issue.
  • Sustainability. Emphasised here are the role of green technologies and digitalisation in accelerating climate ambitions and the need to address technology-related drivers of climate risk.

Another point emphasised in the summary is that, while the ‘GDC should not duplicate existing forums and processes’, ‘there is an expressed need to identify and address gaps to make the UN system and international cooperation more efficient and coordinated in responding to new and emerging challenges posed by rapid technological developments’.

India accelerates IBSA digital momentum

In a prediction for 2023, Jovan Kurbalija wrote that India’s G20 presidency would mark the start of IBSA (India, Brazil, South Africa) digital momentum. India’s G20 presidency has been marked by positioning India as the ‘third pole’ in digital geopolitics dominated by China and the USA. In carving this position, India can offer developing countries a successful example of India’s “Digital Public Infrastructure” (DPI) consisting of a triad of identity, payments and data management applications. According to the IMF, DPI saves 1.1% of GDP annually and is a critical system during a pandemic emergency.

Philippines, Morocco, Ethiopia, Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Sri Lanka, among others, started using the Modular Open Source Identity Platform (MOSIP), an export version of the Indian identity system Aadhar. MOSIP is free, modular, and open-source. It does not come with attached strings like many other platforms and applications. Indian companies are likely to benefit from maintenance and development contracts. This way, India wants to foster a ‘third way’ or digital non-alignment.

During the G20 presidency, India hopes to pull through two proposals: an international definition of DPI and a multilateral funding scheme for financing the deployment of DPI in developing countries. It remains to be seen how strong endorsement for DPI India will receive during the G20 summit in September. It will also be the first major test for IBSA digital momentum.

UN Secretary-General issues policy brief for Global Digital Compact

As part of the process towards developing a Global Digital Compact (GDC), the UN Secretary-General has issued a policy brief outlining areas in which ‘the need for multistakeholder digital cooperation is urgent’: closing the digital divide and advancing sustainable development goals (SDGs), making the online space open and safe for everyone, and governing artificial intelligence (AI) for humanity. 

The policy brief also suggests objectives and actions to advance such cooperation and ‘safeguard and advance our digital future’. These are structured around the following topics:

  • Digital connectivity and capacity building. The overarching objectives here are to close the digital divide and empower people to participate fully in the digital economy. Proposed actions range from common targets for universal and meaningful connectivity to putting in place or strengthening public education for digital literacy. 
  • Digital cooperation to accelerate progress on the SDGs. Objectives include making targeted investments in digital public infrastructure and services, making data representative, interoperable, and accessible, and developing globally harmonised digital sustainability standards. Among the proposed actions are the development of definitions of safe, inclusive, and sustainable digital public infrastructures, fostering open and accessible data ecosystems, and developing a common blueprint on digital transformation (something the UN would do). 
  • Upholding human rights. Putting human rights at the centre of the digital future, ending the gender digital divide, and protecting workers are the outlined objectives in this area. One key proposed action is the establishment of a digital human rights advisory mechanism, facilitated by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, to provide guidance on human rights and technology issues. 
  • An inclusive, open, secure, and shared internet. There are two objectives: safeguarding the free and shared nature of the internet, and reinforcing accountable multistakeholder governance. Some of the proposed actions include commitments from governments to avoid blanket internet shutdowns and refrain from actions disrupting critical infrastructures.
  • Digital trust and security. Objectives range from strengthening multistakeholder cooperation to elaborate norms, guidelines, and principles on the responsible use of digital technologies, to building capacity and expanding the global cybersecurity workforce. The proposed overarching action is for stakeholders to commit to developing common standards and industry codes of conduct to address harmful content on digital platforms. 
  • Data protection and empowerment. Ensuring that data are governed for the benefit of all, empowering people to control their personal data, and developing interoperable standards for data quality as envisioned as key objectives. Among the proposed actions are an invitation for countries to consider adopting a declaration on data rights and seeking convergence on principles for data governance through a potential Global Data Compact. 
  • Agile governance of AI and other emerging technologies. The proposed objectives relate to ensuring transparency, reliability, safety, and human control in the design and use of AI; putting transparency, fairness, and accountability at the core of AI governance; and combining existing norms, regulations, and standards into a framework for agile governance of AI. Actions envisioned range from establishing a high-level advisory body for AI to building regulatory capacity in the public sector. 
  • Global digital commons. Objectives include ensuring inclusive digital cooperation, enabling regular and sustained exchanges across states, regions, and industry sectors, and developing and governing technologies in ways that enable sustainable development, empower people, and address harms. 

The document further notes that ‘the success of a GDC will rest on its implementation’. This implementation would be done by different stakeholders at the national, regional, and sectoral level, and be supported by spaces such as the Internet Governance Forum and the World Summit on the Information Society Forum. One suggested way to support multistakeholder participation is through a trust fund that could sponsor a Digital Cooperation Fellowship Programme. 

As a mechanism to follow up on the implementation of the GDC, the policy brief suggests that the Secretary-General could be tasked to convene an annual Digital Cooperation Forum (DCF). The mandate of the forum would also include, among other things, facilitating collaboration across digital multistakeholder frameworks and reducing duplication; promoting cross-border learning in digital governance; and identifying and promoting policy solutions to emerging digital challenges and governance gaps.

Global Digital Compact topics: How were they tackled in previous policy documents?

As part of the process of developing a Global Digital Compact (GDC), thematic deep-dives are held between March and June 2023 to explore a series of digital policy topics.

As these deep-dives unfold, we will look at how their focus topics have been tackled in several key policy documents, since the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in 2003. In selecting these documents, we have tried to build on ongoing discussions about the connections between the GDC processes, WSIS and its review processes, UN General Assembly (UNGA) work on ICT for sustainable development, and the Internet Governance Forum (IGF). We welcome suggestions on other documents you would like to see referenced here.

Digital inclusion and connectivity

UNGA Resolution 77/150 on ICT for sustainable development (2022)

  • Recognizing that information and communications technologies present new opportunities and challenges and that there is a pressing need to address the major impediments that developing countries face in accessing new technologies, stressing the need to close the digital divides, both between and within countries and including the rural-urban, youth-older persons and gender digital divides, and to harness information and communications technologies for development, and recalling the need to emphasize quality of access to bridge digital and knowledge divides, using a multidimensional approach that includes speed, stability, affordability, language, training, capacity-building, local content and accessibility for persons with disabilities,
  • Stressing, however, that recent progress notwithstanding, important and growing digital divides remain between and within developed and developing countries in terms of the availability, affordability and use of information and communications technologies and access to broadband, stressing also the urgent need to close digital divides, including with regard to such issues as the affordability of the Internet, and to ensure that the benefits of information and communications technologies, including new technologies, are available to all, in this regard reaffirming its commitment to significantly increasing access to information and communications technologies and striving to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet in the least developed countries by 2020, and noting the many efforts to help to bridge digital divides and expand access, including the Connect 2030 Agenda for Global Telecommunication/Information and Communication Technology, including Broadband, for Sustainable Development,
  • Recalling the vision of a people-centred, inclusive and development-oriented information society, where everyone can create, access, utilize and share information and knowledge, enabling individuals, communities and peoples to achieve their full potential in promoting their sustainable development and improving their quality of life, premised on the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and respecting fully and upholding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,
  • Recognizing that realizing gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls will make a crucial contribution to progress across all of the Sustainable Development Goals, and emphasizing the need to target science, technology and innovation strategies to address the empowerment of women and girls and to reduce inequalities, including the gender digital divide,
  • Noting with great concern the fact that a gender digital divide persists in women’s access to and use of information and communications technologies, including in education, employment and other areas of economic and social development, and in this regard welcoming the many initiatives that focus on access, skills and leadership to promote the equal participation of women and girls in the digital age, such as the International Girls in ICT Day of the International Telecommunication Union and the Global Partnership for Gender Equality in the Digital Age, known as the Equals Partnership,
  • Recognizing the need to focus on capacity-development policies and sustainable support to further enhance the impact of activities and initiatives at the national and local levels aimed at providing advice, services and support, with a view to building an inclusive, people-centred and development-oriented information society,
  • Recognizing also that harnessing the benefits of digital technologies for inclusive, equitable and quality education and lifelong learning opportunities requires the advancement of connectivity, capacities and content, and acknowledging the need for access to broadband Internet and technology devices, digital inclusion and literacy, and to incorporate digital competencies into the education system for the capacity-building of educators and students,
  • Recognizing the important contributions and full participation of all stakeholders to help bridge, in their roles and responsibilities, the digital divides,
  • Acknowledging that differences in individual stakeholders’ capabilities to both use and create information and communications technologies represent a knowledge divide that perpetuates inequality,
  • Reiterating the pledge that no one will be left behind, reaffirming the recognition that the dignity of the human person is fundamental, and the wish to see the Goals and targets met for all nations and peoples and for all segments of society, and recommitting to endeavour to reach the furthest behind first,
  • Noting with grave concern that almost half of the world’s population, especially women and girls and people in vulnerable situations, as well as more than four in five people in the least developed countries, do not have access to the Internet, and noting that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbates inequalities caused by the digital divides, since the poorest and the most vulnerable who are the hardest hit are also those who lag behind the most in access to information and communications technologies,
  • 4. Reaffirms its commitment to bridging digital and knowledge divides, recognizes that its approach must be multidimensional and include an evolving understanding of what constitutes access, emphasizing the quality of that access, and acknowledges that speed, stability, affordability, language, local content and accessibility for persons with disabilities are now core elements of quality and that high-speed broadband is already an essential enabler of sustainable development;
  • 7. Welcomes the operationalization of the Technology Bank for the Least Developed Countries, invites Member States, as well as international organizations, foundations and the private sector, to provide voluntary financial contributions and technical assistance to ensure its full and effective implementation;
  • 8. Reiterates the call for support for the full operationalization of all components of the Technology Facilitation Mechanism and to explore a voluntary funding model in collaboration with the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the Secretariat and relevant United Nations entities;
  • 16. Welcomes the work of the Information for All Programme of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, which aims to assist Member States in formulating policies to bridge digital divides and ensure equitable knowledge societies, and also welcomes the holding of Global Media and Information Literacy Week from 24 to 31 October 2022;
  • 17. Recognizes that, despite recent progress and significant gains, there is still uneven growth in access to and the use of information and communications technologies, and expresses concern over the substantial continued digital and broadband divides between and within developed and developing countries, including the fact that while 90 per cent of people use the Internet in developed countries, only 57 per cent of the population of developing countries is online, and that the cost of access is higher in developing countries in relation to average household income, resulting in a lack of affordable access to information and communications technologies;
  • 18. Stresses the need to provide universal, meaningful and affordable access to the Internet by 2030, particularly in all developing countries, welcomes efforts by the United Nations to assist countries, upon their request, in achieving this, and calls upon all stakeholders, including the international community, to support further actions, including investment, to improve broadband access and connectivity in developing countries;
  • 19. Recognizes the importance of broadband connectivity to users in rural and remote areas, and in this regard notes that small and non-profit community operators, including community networks and other affordable, scalable and inclusive technology and business models that provide last-mile connectivity solutions, as appropriate and among others, can provide these services through, inter alia, appropriate regulatory measures that allow them to gain access to basic infrastructure;
  • 21. Encourages research and development, and the development of viable strategies that could result in further competitiveness, investment and rapid reductions in the cost of information and communications technologies, and urges all relevant stakeholders to address the growing digital divides between and within countries through, inter alia, strengthened enabling policy environments at all levels, legal and regulatory frameworks conducive to increased investment and innovation, public-private partnerships, universal access strategies and international cooperation to improve affordability, education, capacity-building, multilingualism, cultural preservation, investment and technology transfer on mutually agreed terms;
  • 22. Acknowledges the importance of more inclusive and equitable access to the benefits of the emerging digital economy, and recognizes that collective efforts are needed towards new rule-setting that not only favours large digital enterprises, but also provides for an open, fair and non-discriminatory business environment, including support for the access of micro-, small and medium-sized enterprises, including those owned or operated by women, to finance, information and markets, while protecting and empowering consumers;
  • 23. Recognizes that a gender digital divide persists and that, worldwide, 62 per cent of men use the Internet compared with 57 per cent of women, notes that in the least developed countries only 19 per cent of women use the Internet, compared with 31 per cent of men, and calls upon all stakeholders to close the gender digital divide, ensure the full, equal, effective and meaningful participation of all women in the information society and women’s access to information and communications technologies for development, including women’s and girls’ access to new technologies, in this respect reiterates its request for relevant United Nations system entities, including the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women), to support the implementation and monitoring of the action lines contained in the outcome documents of the World Summit on the Information Society by enhancing the emphasis on gender equality and all women’s empowerment, and reaffirms the commitment to ensuring women’s full participation in decision-making processes related to information and communications technologies, including policies and approaches to promote women’s online safety to facilitate their participation in the digital world, and to address any potential negative impacts of digital technologies on gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, and committing to eliminating, preventing and responding to all forms of violence against women and girls;
  • 35. Recognizes that a lack of access to affordable and reliable technologies and services remains a critical challenge in many developing countries, in particular African countries, the least developed countries, landlocked developing countries, small island developing States, middle-income countries, countries in situations of conflict, post-conflict countries and countries affected by natural disasters, and that all efforts should be deployed to reduce the price of information and communications technologies and broadband access, bearing in mind that deliberate interventions, including through research and development and technology transfer on mutually agreed terms, may be necessary to spur the development of lower-cost connectivity options;
  • 37. Further recognizes the need to harness the potential of information and communications technologies as critical enablers of sustainable development and to overcome digital divides, and stresses that capacity-building for the productive use of such technologies should be given due consideration in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda of the Third International Conference on Financing for Development;
  • 38. Notes that, while a solid foundation for capacity-building in information and communications technologies has been laid in many areas with regard to building the information society, there is still a need for continuing efforts to address the ongoing challenges, especially for developing countries and the least developed countries, and draws attention to the positive impact of broadened capacity development that involves institutions, organizations and entities dealing with information and communications technologies and Internet governance issues;
  • 41. Calls upon all stakeholders to keep the goal of bridging digital divides, in their different forms, an area of priority concern, to put into effect sound strategies that contribute to the development of e-government and to continue to focus on pro-poor information and communications technology policies and applications, including access to broadband at the grass-roots level, with a view to narrowing the digital divides among and within countries and, in turn, building information and knowledge societies;
  • 43. Invites all relevant stakeholders to support more comprehensively those countries that are trailing in the digital economy in order to reduce the digital divides, strengthen the international enabling environment for value creation and build capacities in both the private and public sectors;
  • 44. Recognizes the critical importance of private sector investment in information and communications technology infrastructure, content and services, encourages Governments to create legal and regulatory frameworks conducive to increased investment and innovation, and also recognizes the importance of public-private partnerships, universal access strategies and other approaches to that end;
  • 47. Reaffirms the commitment at the very heart of the 2030 Agenda to leave no one behind and commit to taking more tangible steps to support people in vulnerable situations and the most vulnerable countries and to reach the furthest behind first;
  • 48. Recognizes the important role of information and communications technologies for attaining the Sustainable Development Goals and for a sustainable, inclusive and resilient recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, and calls upon all stakeholders in the information and communications technologies sector, including Governments and the United Nations system, to fully consider the health and socioeconomic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic as they strengthen their efforts to bridge the digital divides within and between developed and developing countries, with particular attention to the poorest and most vulnerable, as well as women and girls, and to ensuring affordable and reliable connectivity, the promotion of digital access and digital inclusion, and the expansion of accessible and inclusive distance- learning solutions and digital health services;

Full text of the resolution

Note: The UN General Assembly has been adopting resolutions on ICT for (sustainable) development on an almost yearly basis since 2002.

Our Common Agenda – Report of the UN Secretary-General (2021)
  • 25. […] Consideration could also be given to measures to tax the value of the digital economy, taxation of financial technology innovations, including cryptocurrencies, and a digital development tax, whereby the companies that have benefited for decades from a free and open Internet contribute to the connectivity of the 3.8 billion people who are still offline and to a safer digital world. 
  • 48. Quality education (including early childhood education) is a fundamental human right – one of society’s great equalizers, a prerequisite foryoung people to be equipped to exercise their voice and contribute to the social contract, and a foundation for tolerance, peace, human rights and sustainability. […] Students in developing and developed countries alike tell us that they leave the education system without the tools that they need to adapt and thrive in a rapidly changing world, including digital literacy, global citizenship and sustainable development. This situation is exacerbated by the fact that both early childhood education and lifelong learning, so crucial for individuals and society at large, remain an aspiration in most countries.
  • 49. […] Digital inclusivity will be a vital part of the Summit, building on existing efforts such as the Giga initiative, which aims to ensure that all schools are connected to the Internet by 2030. Broader investments in the education sector could also be explored, including the next generation of teachers and open-source digital education tools. […]
  • 93. [A Global Digital Compact] would outline shared principles for an open, free and secure digital future for all. Complex digital issues that could be addressed may include: reaffirming the fundamental commitment to connecting the unconnected; avoiding fragmentation of the Internet; providing people with options as to how their data is used; application of human rights online; and promoting a trustworthy Internet by introducing accountability criteria for discrimination and misleading content. More broadly, the Compact could also promote regulation of artificial intelligence to ensure that this is aligned with shared global values.

Full text of the report

United Nations Secretary General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation (2020)
  • 7. At the same time, the technological challenge posed by COVID-19 has been tremendous. […] Even as digital technology makes it possible for people in countries with high connectivity to work and learn from home, it is a privilege not enjoyed by all: some people must be physically present for their jobs, while others have lost employment or do not have access to the Internet and technology, in particular the poor and vulnerable. With less access to the Internet, women and girls are disproportionately affected.
  • 8. Digital technology does not exist in a vacuum – it has enormous potential for positive change, but can also reinforce and magnify existing fault lines and worsen economic and other inequalities. In 2019, close to 87 per cent of individuals in developed countries used the Internet, compared with only 19 per cent in the least developed countries.

A. Inclusive digital economy and society

Recommendation 1A (global connectivity)

  • 13. Meaningful participation in today’s digital age requires a high-speed broadband connection to the Internet. Countries report that 93 per cent of the world’s population live within physical reach of mobile broadband or Internet services. However, only 53.6 per cent of the world’s population now use the Internet, leaving an estimated 3.6 billion without access. The least developed countries are the least connected, at only 19 per cent of their populations.
  • 14. Numerous barriers exacerbate the digital divide. First, installing traditional broadband connections is costly, and countries often face difficulties in financing the fibre-optic cables required. Second, market dynamics are often not favourable. Lower purchasing power in the least developed countries is a limiting factor for connectivity providers and, although wireless technology may help to spread broadband coverage further, faster and more cheaply, companies do not have the incentives to pursue this. Finally, the lack of digital skills can also limit the adoption of digital tools.
  • 15. The fundamental issue of affordability of access and equipment has to be addressed. In 19 of the least developed countries, the price of 5 GB of fixed broadband is more than 20 per cent of monthly gross national income per capita. Concerted efforts to promote affordability can therefore have real impact; in low- to middle-income countries, breaking up a broadband monopoly can help users to save as much as $7.33 per GB of mobile data. In Myanmar, for example, the creation of a competitive market slashed the cost of subscriber identity module cards from $150 in 2013 to $1.50 in 2015, allowing 2 million new subscribers within the first month. Special attention should also be given to ensuring connectivity in times of crisis and in humanitarian operations. COVID-19 has already shown how connectivity is a critical need. Inaccessibility to the Internet has posed a direct risk to individuals’ ability to save their own lives and livelihoods, as well as for Governments and front-line workers to respond quickly and effectively. In the present crisis, connectivity needs to be prioritized as a foundation to ensure the continuation of critical services, enable digital literacy and promote social inclusion.
  • 16. A central challenge to building an inclusive digital economy is that there are no baselines regarding the fundamental level of digital connectivity that individuals need to access the online space. Identifying such baselines, with flexibility to update them as necessary in the light of technology changes, would enable the development of targets and metrics. Risk factors that affect the ability of vulnerable and marginalized groups to have access to connectivity should be specifically identified and addressed.
  • 17. Baselines and targets of “affordability” are also necessary, along with universal targets and metrics, such as defining affordable Internet as “pricing 1 GB of mobile broadband data at 2 per cent or less of average monthly income” or ensuring that entry-level broadband services in developing countries cost less than 2 per cent of monthly gross national income. Establishing baselines and targets could form the basis of general cost and investment estimates. For instance, it is estimated that achieving universal, affordable and quality Internet access by 2030 across Africa may cost as much as $100 billion. Achieving connectivity for the 3.6 billion people currently unconnected globally will cost significantly more. In the absence of baselines on fundamental connectivity and affordability, building a financing platform to address these needs will be challenging.
  • 18. At the national level, governments and communities, with the support of multi-stakeholder coalitions, can conduct local and regional assessments of connectivity needs in order to develop comprehensive connectivity plans. Real-time data about connectivity levels and projects can be made available to help to develop appropriate financing models. Ambitious regional infrastructure development initiatives, such as GIGA, a groundbreaking partnership to connect every school in the world to the Internet, can provide inspiration.
  • 19. Some policies have been shown to promote connectivity, including regulations aimed at creating an enabling environment for smaller-scale providers, including broadband cooperatives, municipal networks and local businesses, by putting in place practices such as facilitating licence exemption and tax incentive schemes.
  • 20. As increasingly discussed within the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development, emerging technologies also play a key role in promoting connectivity and the digital economy, as they can help to provide, monitor and finance Internet connectivity.

Recommendations 1C and 1D (digital inclusion)

  • 26. Even when ostensibly available, access to digital technologies remains uneven. As the Panel states in its report, “The people being left behind are typically those who can least afford it”. Digital divides reflect and amplify existing social, cultural and economic inequalities. The gender gap in global Internet use is a stark example – in two out of every three countries, more men use the Internet than women. This gender gap has been growing rather than narrowing, standing at 17 per cent in 2019, and was even larger in the least developed countries, at 43 per cent. Similar challenges affect migrants, refugees, internally displaced persons, older persons, young people, children, persons with disabilities, rural populations and indigenous peoples.
  • 27. The COVID-19 pandemic underscores the urgency in bridging these divides. Digital tools have been a lifeline for millions of people. Without prompt action, there is a risk of layering the current barriers to digital inclusion on top of existing obstacles to development. In looking towards post-COVID-19 economic support for developing countries, digital tools have to be leveraged for these countries, as well as underserved groups, so that recovery efforts build an inclusive digital infrastructure that would accelerate progress for all.
  • 28. The efforts that Member States and stakeholders are already undertaking, including the forthcoming multi-stakeholder action coalition on innovation and technology for gender equality, are much needed.
  • 29. Nevertheless, globally, efforts have to be better coordinated and scaled up. A set of metrics to measure digital inclusion will be essential for evidence-based policymaking. In developing these metrics, the underlying definition of what it means to be digitally literate and have digital access has to be based on the fundamental premise that everyone should have an equal opportunity to become empowered through ICT. It means accessibility through not only physical access and skills development, but also design that respects the needs of all people, including those with disabilities, as well as addressing intersectionality, social norms, language barriers, structural barriers and risks, recognizing the importance of locally relevant content. Public-private cooperation will also be important in collecting disaggregated and anonymized data across demographic groups.
  • 30. Sound measurement and improved coordination and information-sharing are best done together with guidelines on policies and actions that can help to mitigate the multiple digital gaps. The United Nations system has begun to develop guidance in that regard, though it would benefit from wider advocacy.
  • 31. It is also critical to apply a gender lens to all interventions on digital cooperation and technologies. This includes acknowledging gender-differentiated vulnerabilities to digitalization and identifying adequate risk mitigation actions.
  • 32. Moreover, greater attention needs to be given to the situation of people on the move, including migrants, or those facing emergency and conflict-affected situations, given that these most vulnerable communities are often absent from digital cooperation discussions and face additional challenges in achieving connectivity.

B. Human and institutional capacity Recommendation 2 (digital capacity-building)

  • 33. The need for digital capacity-building is substantial. Achieving real and sustained progress in the various dimensions of digitalization requires skills development and effective training, in particular in developing countries. This is necessary to unlock the benefits of technology, including the more effective use of emerging technologies and ensuring that individuals stay safe, protected and productive online. For example, it is estimated that there will be 230 million “digital jobs” in sub-Saharan Africa by 2030 that could generate nearly $120 billion in revenue, but this would require some 650 million training opportunities by 2030.
  • 34. One of the primary challenges to date is that a large part of digital capacity-building has been supply-driven as opposed to needs-based. Insufficient investment also remains a significant limiting factor. Moreover, digital capacity-building has to be tailored to individual and national circumstances. Given variances within and among countries and regions, there is no one-size-fits-all approach, and better evidence is therefore needed of which capacity-building approaches are most effective, considering political, economic and social contexts.
  • 35. To overcome these challenges, two aspects are central: greater coherence and coordination in capacity-building efforts; and a concerted effort at scaling up solutions.
  • 36. Holistic, inclusive approaches that bring together existing initiatives, United Nations entities, regional and subregional bodies and other relevant organizations that promote digital capacity-building are necessary to improve support for Governments and other stakeholders. In its report, the Panel proposed “digital help desks” as one potential solution that could leverage regional institutions and platforms. Since the issuance of the Panel’s report, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) have begun an initial mapping exercise of existing digital capacity-building initiatives to assess gaps and inform forward-looking solutions. The exercise will be expanded to include a detailed needs assessment component to support capacity-building providers in targeting their services more effectively to meet stakeholder needs.
  • 37. The coordination work set out above requires matching efforts at the national level, especially through the United Nations presence on the ground. United Nations country teams, through their resident coordinators, could serve as the system’s in- country focal points on digital cooperation. Country-level support could also be amplified through engagement with local college graduates and other young professionals who could work closely with United Nations actors in launching and managing various rural-centric initiatives to advance broadband access, adoption and meaningful usage.

Global connectivity

  • 77. In order to ensure that every person has safe and affordable access to the Internet by 2030, including meaningful use of digitally enabled services, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals, the United Nations will:
    • (a) Support efforts to establish a baseline of digital connectivity that individuals need to access the online space, as well as a definition of “affordability”, including universal targets and metrics;
    • Convene a global group of investors and financing experts to consider the development of a financing platform and find other new models for investment in connectivity, in particular, in hard-to-reach and rural areas;
    • Promote new and potentially transformative models to accelerate connectivity, such as the GIGA initiative of ITU and the United Nations Children’s Fund;
    • Promote the development of enabling regulatory environments for smaller-scale Internet providers, along with local and regional assessments of connectivity needs;
    • Accelerate discussions on connectivity as part of emergency preparedness, responses and aid, including working through the inter-agency Emergency Telecommunications Cluster.

Digital inclusion

  • 81. To ensure that the voices of those who are not fully benefiting from digital opportunities are heard, I will establish a multi-stakeholder digital inclusion coalition – an informal network of like-minded Member States, civil society groups, the private sector and other stakeholders on digital inclusion. The development of annual scorecards on digital inclusion and the establishment of metrics to measure both digital inclusion and literacy will accelerate the promotion of an inclusive digital ecosystem. In that regard, I call upon donors to consider funding such detailed data collection as part of larger investments in ICT and other infrastructure. Public-private cooperation will also be important in collecting disaggregated and anonymized data across demographic groups, within ethical, privacy protection frameworks and in accordance with data protection laws.
  • 82. In addition, the Secretariat and, where possible, other entities of the United Nations system, will undertake a mapping exercise of digital inclusion initiatives, mechanisms and programmes, which will be provided online. Resident coordinators will be tasked with working with host Governments to develop action plans to improve digital inclusion.

Digital capacity building

  • 83. Building on the mapping of existing digital capacity-building initiatives undertaken by UNDP and ITU, which they intend to expand, I will work with United Nations entities to launch a broad multi-stakeholder network to promote holistic, inclusive approaches to digital capacity-building for sustainable development, including a new joint facility for digital capacity development, which will be led by ITU and UNDP.
  • 84. The network could also provide a clearing-house function to help to direct specific requests for support to potential providers of guidance, funding and advice on digital readiness and needs assessments, digital strategy support and digital literacy and skills training. This function would be embedded within the broader United Nations system to ensure relevance, impact and a focus on the Goals, for instance, by encouraging collaboration with resident coordinators to assess digital capacity-building needs and identify suitable service providers and knowledge products.
  • 85. At the country level, initiatives will be pursued that strengthen capacity-building support, in particular in areas such as increasing Internet connectivity and growing digital economies. For example, opportunities to build on the existing United Nations Volunteers programme will be explored.

Full text of the Roadmap

The Age of Digital Interdependence – Report of the UN Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation (2019)

2.1 Creating an inclusive digital economy

With mobile internet and increasingly powerful and lower cost computing, every person can theoretically connect to anyone else, obtain and generate knowledge, or engage in commercial or social activity. For organisations of whatever size, likewise, there are fewer technical barriers to global economic interaction at scale. Digital technology can support economic inclusion by breaking down barriers to information, broadening access, and lowering the level of skills needed to participate in the economy. 

Of course, this does not mean that everyone and everything should be connected or digitised. Nor does it mean that the social and economic consequences of digital technology are necessarily inclusive or beneficial. Digital technology can both provide opportunity and accentuate inequality.

The challenge for policy makers, and other stakeholders seeking to contribute to progress toward the SDGs, is how to cooperate to leverage technology to create a more inclusive society. As we emphasise in this chapter and our recommendations, we believe digital cooperation must steer how digital technologies are developed and deployed to create meaningful economic opportunities for all.

Developing an inclusive digital economy will require sustained and coherent effort from many stakeholders across all walks of life. National policy frameworks and international agreements need to find ways to promote financial inclusion, innovation, investment and growth while protecting people and the environment, keeping competition fair and the tax base sustainable.

Financial inclusion: Mobile money, digital identification and e-commerce

The ability of digital technologies to empower traditionally marginalised people and drive inclusive economic development is illustrated by financial inclusion. Mobile money, digital identification and e-commerce have given many more people the ability to save and transact securely without needing cash, insure against risks, borrow to grow their businesses and reach new markets.

According to the World Bank’s Global Findex 2017 report, 69 percent of adults have an account with a financial institution, up by seven percentage points since 2014. That means over half a billion adults gained access to financial tools in three years. But many are still left behind, and there is scope for further rapid progress: a billion people who still have no access to financial services already have a mobile phone. 

Mobile money – the ability to send, receive and store money using a mobile phone – has brought financial services to people who have long been ignored by traditional banks.16 It reaches remote regions without physical bank branches. It can also help women access financial services – an important aspect of equality, given that in many countries women are less likely than men to have a bank account.

New business models enable people who have no physical collateral to demonstrate to lenders that they are creditworthy – for example, by allowing the lenders to see phone location data and online transaction and payment history. Mobile finance matters in wealthy countries, too, where low-income and historically marginalised groups generally both pay higher interest rates and receive a narrower range of financial services.

Well-known examples of mobile money include Kenya’s M-Pesa and China’s Alipay. Launched in 2007 by Vodafone, M-Pesa received support from diverse stakeholders who all have a role to play in digital cooperation. A private sector innovation with donor funding, it originally addressed microfinance clients in partnership with civil society – then citizens found new uses, including low cost person-to-person transfers. Alipay has made millions of small business loans to online merchants, more than half of whom are aged under 30. 

What works in one country may not work in another. Rather than try to replicate specific successes, digital cooperation should aim to highlight best practices, standards and principles that can create conditions for local innovations to emerge and grow based on local issues, needs and cultural values. India, for example, has added 300 million bank accounts in three years as new business models have been built on the India Stack, a set of government-managed online standards in areas including online payments and digital identity. 

Across many areas of financial inclusion, fragmented systems and lack of cooperation within and across states make it difficult to fully realise the benefits of digital technology. Common standards for cross-border interoperability of mobile money could unleash much more innovation: discussions to develop them should be a priority for digital cooperation.

Digital identification (ID) can support inclusive economic development more broadly. More than a billion people today lack an official way to prove their identity: this means they may not be able to vote, open a bank account, transact online, own land, start a business, connect to utilities or access public services such as health care or education. The consulting firm McKinsey & Company studied seven large countries and concluded that digital ID systems could add between 3 and 13% to their gross domestic product. 

However, digital ID systems require caution. A digital ID can help unlock new opportunities but can also introduce new risks and challenges. They can be used to undermine human rights – for example, by enabling civil society to be targeted, or selected groups to be excluded from social benefits. Data breaches can invade the privacy of millions. To minimise risks, countries should introduce a digital ID system only after a broad national conversation and allow for voluntary enrolment and viable alternatives for those who opt out. They should establish ways to monitor use and redress misuse. Countries could cooperate to share experience and best practices in this regard.

The World Bank Identification for Development (ID4D) initiative has identified ten Principles of Digital Identification covering inclusion, design and governance “to improve development outcomes while maintaining trust and privacy”. This initiative draws on the experiences of countries that have already implemented digital ID systems. Among the most successful is Estonia, where citizens can use their digital ID to access over 2,000 online government services. Building on the positive and cautionary lessons of early adopters, the Modular Open Source Identity Platform (MOSIP) is developing open source code countries can adapt to design their own systems.

Recent years have also seen a dramatic increase in e-commerce, including by individuals and small businesses selling products and services using online platforms. When e-commerce platforms provide technological services to small entrepreneurs, rather than compete with them, they can level the playing field: it is relatively cheap and simple to start a business online, and entrepreneurs can reach markets far beyond their local area.

Inclusive e-commerce, which promotes participation of small firms in the digital economy, is particularly important for the SDGs as it can create new opportunities for traditionally excluded groups. In China, for example, an estimated 10 million small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) sell on the Taobao platform; nearly half of the entrepreneurs on the platform are women, and more than 160,000 are people with disabilities. E-commerce can support rural economic inclusion as clusters of villages can develop market niches in certain types of products: in China, an estimated 3,000 “Taobao villages” have annual online sales of more than one million dollars annually. A growing e-commerce sector also creates demand and employment in related businesses including logistics, software, customised manufacturing and content production.

E-commerce shows how digital technologies with supportive policies can contribute to inclusive economic development – it has done best in countries where it is relatively easy to set up a business, and where traditionally neglected populations are able to get online. As with inclusive mobile finance, as more individuals and small enterprises buy and sell internationally, there is also a need to create more supportive rules for cross-border e-commerce.

As e-commerce grows, there are also concerns about its relation to local and international markets, as discussed below in Section 2.3.

Harnessing data and ‘digital public goods’ for development

[to be covered under an upcoming section on digital public goods]

Expanding access to digital infrastructure

The proportion of people online in the developing world expanded rapidly in the last decade – from 14.5% in 2008 to 45.3% in 2018 – but progress has recently slowed. Internet access in many parts of the world is still too slow and expensive to be effectively used. The cost of mobile data as a percent of income increased in nearly half the countries according to a recent study. Without affordable access, advances in digital technologies disproportionately benefit those already connected, contributing to greater inequality.

The people being left behind are typically those who can least afford it. Growth in new internet connections is slowest in the lowest-income countries. Rural areas continue to lag, as companies prioritise improving access in more densely populated areas which will offer a better return on investment.

The slowing progress in bringing more people online points to the urgent need for new approaches to building digital infrastructure, a complex task that requires better coordination among many stakeholders: governments, international organisations, communications service providers, makers of hardware and software, providers of digital services and content, civil society and the various groups that oversee protocols and standards on which digital networks operate. As these actors cooperate, it also represents an important moment to re-emphasise and address the complex social, cultural and economic factors that continue to marginalise many groups.

It is not an easy task: progress is slowing despite there being an active community of donors, experts and other institutions committed to universal digital connectivity. The Alliance for Affordable Internet, for example, brings together companies, civil society organisations and governments to conduct research and policy advocacy on driving down the cost to connect and achieve universal, affordable internet access. The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) lead the Broadband Commission, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)’s Project Connect maps schools using satellite data and artificial intelligence, and the World Bank provides loans and grants for connectivity projects.

There has also been considerable private sector activity in this arena. Loon, a project of Google’s parent company Alphabet, uses internet-enabled balloons – in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, they provided connectivity to 200,000 in Puerto Rico. Amazon, OneWeb, Telesat, Space Norway and SpaceX are among companies considering connectivity solutions using low-earth orbit satellites.

Some countries, such as Indonesia, have set targets that treat internet connectivity as a national priority.57 While finance alone will not achieve universal internet access, it can help if invested wisely: some countries are generating financing from fees on existing communication network providers to help expand systems to those who are currently uncovered, for example through Universal Service Funds.

Advance market commitments deserve further consideration as a possible way to incentivise investment, as they have in other areas such as vaccine developments. They involve a commitment to pay for a future product or service once it exists; the commitment in this case could come from consortia of governments, international organisations or others interested in enabling specific uses in areas such as health or education.

Many local groups are also working on small-scale community solutions: for example, a rural community of 6,000 people in Mankosi, South Africa, built a solar-powered “mesh network” in collaboration with a university. Such community projects are often not just about getting online but building skills and empowering locals to use technology for development and entrepreneurship.

Digital cooperation should increase coordination among the public and private entities working in this space and help tailor approaches to economic, cultural and geographic contexts. Governments have an important role to play in creating a policy framework to enable private sector enterprise, innovation, and cooperative, bottom-up networks.

Supporting marginalised groups and measuring inclusiveness

Even where getting online is possible and affordable, extra efforts are needed to empower groups that are discriminated against and excluded. For example, digital technologies are often not easily accessible for elderly people or those with disabilities; indigenous people have little digital content in their native languages; and globally an estimated 12 percent more men use the internet than women. 

Responses need to address deep and complex social and cultural factors, such as those contributing to the gender gap in access to and usage of mobile phones, smart phones and digital services – gaps which persist in many cases despite increases in women’s income and education levels. Social marketing could play a role in changing attitudes, as it has in many other areas with backing from donors, governments and civil society organisations. Initiatives to improve access for marginalised populations should start with consultation involving these groups in the design, deployment and evaluation of such efforts.

Efforts to improve digital inclusion would be greatly helped if there were a clear and agreed set of metrics to monitor it. Initial work – notably by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the Group of Twenty (G20), ITU, and the Economist Intelligence Unit – needs to be broadened to reflect the wide variety of global contexts and, importantly, needs greater buy-in and participation from developing countries. The Panel urges international organisations, civil society and governments to develop action plans around reliable and consistent measures of digital inclusion with sex disaggregated data. Discussion about measurements and definitions would also focus attention on the issues underlying inclusion.

Rethinking how we work and learn

Many previous waves of technological change have shifted what skills are demanded in the labour market, making some jobs obsolete while creating new ones. But the current wave of change may be the most rapid and unpredictable in history. How to prepare people to earn a livelihood in the digital age – and how to protect those struggling to do so – is a critical question for digital cooperation for governments and other stakeholders who aim to reduce inequality and achieve the SDGs.

At this stage, there appears to be limited value in attempting to predict whether robots and artificial intelligence will create more jobs than they eliminate, although technology historically has been a net job creator. Many studies attempt to predict the impact on the jobs market but there is far from being a consensus. The only certainty is that workers have entered a period of vast and growing uncertainty – and that this necessitates new mechanisms of cooperation.

Reforming education systems and supporting lifelong learning

Modern schools were developed in response to the industrial revolution, and they may ultimately need fundamental reform to be fit for the digital age – but it is currently difficult to see more than the broad contours of the changes that are likely to be needed.

Countries are still in early stages of learning how to use digital tools in education and how to prepare students for digital economies and societies. These will be ongoing challenges for governments and other stakeholders. Some countries are now exposing even very young children to science and robotics. Alongside such broader digital literacy efforts, it may be even more important to focus from an early age on developing children’s “soft skills”, such as social and emotional intelligence, creativity, collaboration and critical thinking. One widely referenced study concludes that occupations requiring such soft skills are less likely to be automated.

Teaching about specific technologies should always be based on strong foundational knowledge in science and math, as this is less likely to become obsolete. At a degree level, science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) curricula need to borrow from the humanities and social sciences, and vice versa: STEM students need to be encouraged to think about the ethical and social implications of their disciplines, while humanities and social science students need a basic understanding of data science. More informal approaches to learning may be needed to prepare students for working in cross-disciplinary teams, and where such informal approaches already exist in the developing world they should be fully appreciated for their value.

As the boundaries increasingly blur between ‘work’ and ‘learning’, the need to enable and incentivise lifelong learning was emphasised in many of the written contributions the Panel received.

Lifelong learning should be affordable, portable and accessible to all. Responsibility for lifelong learning should be shared between workers themselves, governments, education institutions, the informal sector and industry: digital cooperation mechanisms should bring these groups together for regular debates on what skills are required and how training can be delivered. Workers should have flexibility to explore how best to opt into or design their own approach to lifelong learning.

There are emerging examples of government efforts to use social security systems and public-private partnerships to incentivise and empower workers to learn new skills and plan for a changing labour market. Among those drawn to the Panel’s attention were efforts by the International Trade Union Confederation in Ghana and Rwanda, France’s Compte Personnel de Formation, Scotland’s Individual Training Account, Finland’s transformation of work and the labour market sub-group under its national AI programme, and Singapore’s Skills Framework for Information and Communication Technology (ICT).

However, reskilling cannot be the only answer to inequality in the labour market – especially as the workers most able to learn new skills will be those who start with the advantage of comparatively higher levels of education.

Protecting workers, not jobs

New business models are fuelling the rise of an informal or “gig” economy, in which workers typically have flexibility but not job or income security. In industrialised countries, as more and more people work unpredictable hours as freelancers, independent contractors, agency workers or workers on internet platforms, there is an urgent need to rethink labour codes developed decades ago when factory jobs were the norm.

Promising initiatives include Germany’s Crowdsourcing Code of Conduct, which sets out guidelines on fair payment, reasonable timing and data protection for internet platform workers, and employs an ombudsman to mediate disputes; and Belgium’s Titre-Services and France’s Chèque Emploi Service Universel, which offer tax incentives for people engaging casual workers to participate in a voucher scheme that enables the workers to qualify for formal labour rights. There are also examples of digital technologies enabling new ways for workers to engage in collective bargaining.

While the gig economy tends to make work less formal in industrialised countries, in the developing world the majority of people have long worked in the informal sector. For these workers, gig economy arrangements may be more formal and transparent, and – with appropriate cooperation measures with technology firms – easier for governments to oversee.78 The challenge, as with industrialised countries, is to uphold labour rights while still allowing flexibility and innovation.

In all national contexts, protecting workers and promoting job creation in the digital age will require smart regulations and investments, and policies on taxation and social protection policies which support workers as they seek to transition to new opportunities.

Recommendations

An inclusive digital economy and society

1A. 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.

1B. 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.

1C. 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.

1D. 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. From this, strategies and plans of action could be developed.

In this report we have emphasised that the role of digital technologies in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals goes far beyond simply promoting greater access to the internet. With the right blend of policy, investment in infrastructure and human capacity, and cooperation among stakeholders, they can revolutionise fields as diverse as health and education, governance, economic empowerment and enterprise, agriculture and environmental sustainability.

The specific decisions needed to promote inclusivity and minimise risks will depend on local and national conditions. They should consider four main factors.

First, the broader national policy and regulatory frameworks should make it easy to create, run and grow small businesses. These frameworks should ensure that digital service providers – including e-commerce and inclusive finance platforms – support the growth of local enterprises. This requires enabling policies on investment and innovation, and structural policies to ensure fair competition, privacy rights, consumer protection and a sustainable tax base. Efforts to agree regional or global standards in these areas are welcome.

Second, investments should be made in both human capacity (see Recommendation 2 below) and physical infrastructure. Creating the foundation of universal, affordable access to electricity and the internet will often require innovative approaches, such as community groups operating rural networks, or incentives such as public sector support.

Third, targeted measures should address the barriers faced by women, indigenous people, rural populations and others who are marginalised by factors such as a lack of legal identity, low literacy rates, social norms that prevent them from fully participating in civic and economic life, and discriminatory land ownership, tenure and inheritance practices.

Fourth, respect for human rights – including privacy – is fundamental. Panel members had divergent views on digital ID systems in particular: they have immense potential to improve delivery of social services, especially for people who currently lack legal identity, but they are also vulnerable to abuse. As digital ID becomes more prevalent, we must emphasise principles for its fair and effective use.

Achieving this ambition will require multi-stakeholder alliances involving governments, private sector, international organisations, citizen groups and philanthropy to build new models of collaboration around “digital public goods” and data sets that can be pooled for the common good. SDG-related areas include health, energy, agriculture, clean water, oceans and climate change. These alliances could establish minimum criteria for classifying technologies and content as “digital public goods” and connect with relevant communities of practice that can provide guidance and support for investment, implementation and capacity development.

We are concerned that women face particular challenges in meaningfully accessing the internet, inclusive mobile financial services and online commerce, and controlling their own digital IDs and health records. Policies should include targeted capacity development for female entrepreneurs and policy makers. We call on the technology sector to make more sustained and serious efforts to address the gap in female technology employees and management, include women’s voices when determining online terms and conditions, and act to prevent online harassment and promotion of domestic abuse, building upon the work of existing initiatives such as the High-level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment.

While some preliminary work is underway, there is currently no agreed set of clear metrics or standards for the inclusiveness of digital technologies and cooperation. While any metrics will evolve over time, we call for research and multi-stakeholder consultation to establish a basis of shared global understanding as promptly as possible. We encourage the UN, international development agencies and multilateral banks such as the Asian Development Bank, the New Development Bank and the World Bank to drive this process by incorporating digital inclusion as a key metric in approving and evaluating projects. Facets of digital inclusion which may be considered include gender, financial services, health, government services, national digital economy policies, use of online e-commerce platforms and mobile device penetration.

Human and institutional capacity

2. We recommend the establishment of regional and global digital help desks to help governments, civil society and the private sector to understand digital issues and develop capacity to steer cooperation related to social and economic impacts of digital technologies.

Many countries urgently need to make critical choices about the complex issues discussed in this report. In what types of infrastructure should they invest? What types of training do their populations require to compete in the global digital economy? How can those whose livelihoods are disrupted by technological change be protected? How can technology be used to deliver social services and improve governance? How can regulation be appropriately balanced to encourage innovation while protecting human rights?

Policy decisions will have profound impact, but many of the decision-makers lack sufficient understanding of digital technologies and their implications. Capacity development for government officials and regulators could help to harness technology for inclusive economic development to achieve the SDGs. Priorities could include diagnostics on digital capacities and how they interact with society and the economy, and identifying skills workers will need. Capacity development initiatives with the private sector would also develop the capacity of officials and regulators to engage with the private sector so they can understand the operations of the digital economy and respond in an agile way to emerging issues (see Recommendation 5B).

For decisions to be well informed and inclusive, all stakeholders and the public need also to better understand the benefits and risks of digital technologies. Decisions around technology should be underpinned by a broad social dialogue on its costs, benefits and norms. We encourage capacity development programs for governments, civil society organisations, the private sector – including small- and medium-sized enterprises and start-ups – consumers, educators, women and youth. Existing capacity development initiatives by civil society, academia and technical and international organisations could benefit from the promotion of best practices.

A regional approach is recommended to develop capacity, to enable differing local contexts to be addressed. Regional help desks could be led by organisations such as the African Union or the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, in collaboration with UN Regional Commissions. The regional help desks would: conduct research and promote best practice in digital cooperation; provide capacity development training and recommend open- source or licensed products and platforms; and support requests for advice from governments, local private sector (particularly small and medium enterprises) and civil society in their regions. Staff would have regional expertise, and coordinate closely with the private sector and civil society.

A global help desk to coordinate the work of regional help desks could form part of the new digital cooperation architecture we recommend exploring in Recommendation 5A.

Full text of the report

WSIS+10 review outcome: Outcome document of the high-level meeting of the General Assembly on the overall review of the implementation of the outcomes of the World Summit on the Information Society (2015)
  • 1. We reaffirm our common desire and commitment to the World Summit on the Information Society vision to build a people-centred, inclusive and development-oriented information society, where everyone can create, access, utilize and share information and knowledge, enabling individuals, communities and peoples to achieve their full potential in promoting their sustainable development and improving their quality of life, premised on the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and respecting fully and upholding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
  • 6. We express concern, however, that there are still significant digital divides, such as between and within countries and between women and men, which need to be addressed through, among other actions, strengthened enabling policy environments and international cooperation to improve affordability, access, education, capacity-building, multilingualism, cultural preservation, investment and appropriate financing. Further, we acknowledge that a gender divide exists as part of the digital divides, and encourage all stakeholders to ensure the full participation of women in the information society and women’s access to new technologies, especially information and communications technologies for development.
  • 7. We acknowledge that particular attention should be paid to address the unique and emerging information and communications technology challenges facing all countries, in particular developing countries, including African countries, least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and small island developing States and middle-income countries, as well as countries and territories under foreign occupation, countries in situations of conflict, post-conflict countries and countries affected by natural disasters. Particular attention should also be paid to addressing the specific information and communications technology challenges facing children, youth, persons with disabilities, older persons, indigenous peoples, refugees and internally displaced persons, migrants and remote and rural communities.

1.1. Bridging digital divides

  • 21. Despite the previous decade’s achievements in information and communications technology connectivity, we express concern that many forms of digital divides remain, both between and within countries and between women and men. We note that divides are often closely linked to education levels and existing inequalities, and we recognize that further divides can emerge in the future, slowing sustainable development. We acknowledge that, as of 2015, only around 43 per cent of people globally had Internet access, only 41 per cent of women had Internet access and an estimated 80 per cent of online content was available in only one of 10 languages. The poor are the most excluded from the benefits of information and communications technology.
  • 22. We further express concern that digital divides remain between developed and developing countries and that many developing countries lack affordable access to information and communications technologies. As of 2015, only 34 per cent of households in developing countries had Internet access, with significant variations by country, as compared with more than 80 per cent in developed countries. This means that two thirds of the households in developing countries do not have Internet access.
  • 23. We affirm our commitment to bridging digital and knowledge divides, and we recognize that our approach must be multidimensional and include an evolving understanding of what constitutes access, emphasizing the quality of that access. We acknowledge that speed, stability, affordability, language, local content and accessibility for persons with disabilities are now core elements of quality, and that high-speed broadband is already an essential enabler of sustainable development. We acknowledge, moreover, that differences in individuals’ capabilities to both use and create information and communications technologies represent a knowledge divide that perpetuates inequality. We note, too, the ambition to move beyond “information societies” to “knowledge societies”, in which information is not only created and disseminated, but put to the benefit of human development. We recognize that such divides may change with technological and service innovation, and we call upon all stakeholders, particularly United Nations entities that are facilitating the World Summit on the Information Society action lines, within their mandate and existing resources, to continue working together to regularly analyse the nature of digital divides, study strategies to bridge them and make their findings available to the international community.
  • 24. We underscore the need for further development of local content and services in a variety of languages and formats that are accessible to all people, who also need the capabilities and capacities, including media, information and digital literacy skills, to make use of and further develop information and communications technologies. Accordingly, we recognize the vital importance of the principles of multilingualism in the information society to ensure the linguistic, cultural and historical diversity of all nations. We further recognize the value of the variety of interoperable and affordable information and communications technology solutions, including such models as proprietary, open-source, and free software.
  • 25. We call, moreover, for a significant increase in access to information and communications technologies, and encourage all stakeholders to strive to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet for all. We welcome the efforts of all stakeholders in pursuit of these goals, including efforts being undertaken in the Connect 2020 Agenda for Global Telecommunication/ICT Development, adopted by the Plenipotentiary Conference of the International Telecommunication Union in 2014.
  • 26. We also recognize digital divides in digital uses and literacy and the need to bridge them.
  • 27. We emphasize our concern that only 41 per cent of women have Internet access, and draw attention to the gender digital divide, which persists in women’s access to and use of information and communications technologies, including in education, employment and other areas of economic and social development. We recognize that ending the gender digital divide and the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 5 on gender are mutually reinforcing efforts, and we commit to mainstreaming gender in the World Summit on the Information Society process, including through a new emphasis on gender in the implementation and monitoring of the action lines, with the support of relevant United Nations entities, including the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women). We call for immediate measures to achieve gender equality in Internet users by 2020, especially by significantly enhancing women’s and girls’ education and participation in information and communications technologies, as users, content creators, employees, entrepreneurs, innovators and leaders. We reaffirm our commitment to ensure women’s full participation in decision-making processes related to information and communications technologies.

1.2. Enabling environment

  • 28. We recognize that certain policies have substantially contributed to bridging digital divides and the value of information and communications technologies for sustainable development, and we commit to continuing to identify and implement best and emerging practices for the establishment and functioning of education, innovation and investment frameworks for information and communications technologies.
  • 29. We recognize the importance of the free flow of information and knowledge, as the amount of information distributed worldwide grows and the role of communication becomes all the more important. We acknowledge that the mainstreaming of information and communications technologies in school curricula, open access to data, the fostering of competition, the creation of transparent, predictable, independent and non-discriminatory regulatory and legal systems, proportionate taxation and licensing fees, access to finance, facilitation of public-private partnerships, multi-stakeholder cooperation, national and regional broadband strategies, efficient allocation of the radio frequency spectrum, infrastructure-sharing models, community-based approaches and public access facilities have in many countries facilitated significant gains in connectivity and sustainable development.
  • 30. We recognize that a lack of access to affordable and reliable technologies and services remains a critical challenge in many developing countries, particularly African countries, least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and small island developing States and middle-income countries, as well as countries in situations of conflict, post-conflict countries and countries affected by natural disasters. All efforts should be deployed to reduce the price of information and communications technologies and broadband access, bearing in mind that deliberate interventions, including through research and development and technology transfer on mutually agreed terms, may be necessary to spur lower-cost connectivity options.
  • 31. In building the information society, States are strongly urged to take steps with a view to the avoidance of, and refrain from, any unilateral measure not in accordance with international law and the Charter of the United Nations that impedes the full achievement of economic and social development and hinders the well-being of the people of the affected countries.
  • 32. We recognize that the radio frequency spectrum should be managed in the public interest and in accordance with legal principles, with full observance of national laws and regulations as well as relevant international agreements.
  • 33. We call for a special focus on actions that improve the enabling environment for information and communications technologies and expand related education and capacity-building opportunities. We also request the Commission on Science and Technology for Development, within its mandate related to the follow-up to the World Summit on the Information Society, and all action line facilitators, within their respective mandates and existing resources, to work with all stakeholders to regularly identify and promote specific, detailed actions to support the enabling environment for information and communications technologies and development and provide the demand-driven policy advice, technical assistance and capacity-building, as appropriate, to realize them.

1.3. Financial mechanisms

  • 34. We welcome the fact that total public and private spending on information and communications technologies has increased substantially in the last decade, now reaching trillions of dollars annually, and that it has been complemented by a proliferation of new financing mechanisms, both results marking progress on paragraphs 23 and 27 of the Tunis Agenda.
  • 35. We recognize, however, that harnessing information and communications technology for development and bridging digital divides will require greater and sustainable investment in infrastructure and services, capacity-building, promotion of joint research and development and transfer of technology on mutually agreed terms. These mechanisms remain a primary focus for all countries and people, particularly developing countries.
  • 36. We commit to efficient public resource allocation to deployment and development of information and communications technology, recognizing the need for budgeting for information and communications technology across all sectors, especially education. We stress that capacity is a major barrier to closing digital divides, and we recommend that capacity development, including for innovation, be emphasized to empower local experts and local communities to benefit fully from and contribute to information and communications technology applications for development. We recognize the potential to improve connectivity, especially in remote and rural areas, through universal service funds and publicly funded network infrastructure, among other tools, particularly in areas where market conditions make investment difficult.
  • 37. We note the commitments made in the Addis Ababa Action Agenda of the Third International Conference on Financing for Development, and recognize that official development assistance and other concessional financial flows for information and communications technology can make significant contributions to development outcomes, in particular where they can reduce the risk of public and private investment, and increase the use of information and communications technology to strengthen good governance and tax collection.
  • 38. We recognize the critical importance of private sector investment in information and communications technology infrastructure, content and services, and we encourage Governments to create legal and regulatory frameworks conducive to increased investment and innovation. We also recognize the importance of public-private partnerships, universal access strategies and other approaches to this end.
  • 39. We encourage a prominent profile for information and communications technologies in the new Technology Facilitation Mechanism established in the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, and consideration of how it can contribute to implementation of the World Summit on the Information Society action lines.
  • 40. We note with concern the challenges in implementing the Digital Solidarity Fund, which was welcomed in the Tunis Agenda as an innovative financial mechanism of a voluntary nature. We call for an ongoing evaluation of innovative financing options in the annual review of the outcomes of the World Summit on the Information Society.

Full text of the resolution

Tunis Agenda on the Information Society (WSIS 2005)
  • 7. We recognize the existence of the digital divide and the challenges that this poses for many countries, which are forced to choose between many competing objectives in their development planning and in demands for development funds whilst having limited resources.
  • 8. We recognize the scale of the problem in bridging the digital divide, which will require adequate and sustainable investments in ICT infrastructure and services, and capacity building, and transfer of technology over many years to come.
  • 9. We call upon the international community to promote the transfer of technology on mutually agreed terms, including ICTs, to adopt policies and programmes with a view to assisting developing countries to take advantage of technology in their pursuit of development through, inter alia, technical cooperation and the building of scientific and technological capacity in our efforts to bridge the digital and development divide.
  • 13. In the past, financing of ICT infrastructure in most developing countries has been based on public investment. Lately, a significant influx of investment has taken place where private-sector participation has been encouraged, based on a sound regulatory framework, and where public policies aimed at bridging the digital divide have been implemented. 
  • 14. We are greatly encouraged by the fact that advances in communication technology, and high-speed data networks are continuously increasing the possibilities for developing countries, and countries with economies in transition, to participate in the global market for ICT-enabled services on the basis of their comparative advantage. These emerging opportunities provide a powerful commercial basis for ICT infrastructural investment in these countries. Therefore, governments should take action, in the framework of national development policies, in order to support an enabling and competitive environment for the necessary investment in ICT infrastructure and for the development of new services. At the same time, countries should pursue policies and measures that would not discourage, impede or prevent the continued participation of these countries in the global market for ICT-enabled services. 
  • 15. We take note that the challenges for expanding the scope of useful accessible information content in the developing world are numerous; in particular, the issue of financing for various forms of content and applications requires new attention, as this area has often been overlooked by the focus on ICT infrastructure. 
  • 16. We recognize that attracting investment in ICTs has depended crucially upon an enabling environment, including good governance at all levels, and a supportive, transparent and pro-competitive policy and regulatory framework, reflecting national realities. 
  • 17. We endeavour to engage in a proactive dialogue on matters related to corporate social responsibility and good corporate governance of transnational corporations and their contribution to the economic and social development of developing countries in our efforts to bridge the digital divide.
  • 18. We underline that market forces alone cannot guarantee the full participation of developing countries in the global market for ICT-enabled services. Therefore, we encourage the strengthening of international cooperation and solidarity aimed at enabling all countries, especially those referred to in paragraph 16 of the Geneva Declaration of Principles, to develop ICT infrastructure and ICT-enabled services that are viable and competitive at national and international levels.
  • 19. We recognize that, in addition to the public sector, financing of ICT infrastructure by the private sector has come to play an important role in many countries and that domestic financing is being augmented by North-South flows and South-South cooperation.
  • 20. We recognize that, as a result of the growing impact of sustainable private-sector investment in infrastructure, multilateral and bilateral public donors are redirecting public resources to other development objectives, including Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers and related programmes, policy reforms and mainstreaming of ICTs and capacity development. We encourage all governments to give appropriate priority to ICTs, including traditional ICTs such as broadcast radio and television, in their national development strategies. We also encourage multilateral institutions as well as bilateral public donors to consider also providing more financial support for regional and large-scale national ICT infrastructure projects and related capacity development. They should consider aligning their aid and partnership strategies with the priorities set by developing countries and countries with economies in transition in their national development strategies including their poverty reduction strategies.
  • 21. We recognize that public finance plays a crucial role in providing ICT access and services to rural areas and disadvantaged populations including those in Small Island Developing States and Landlocked Developing Countries.
  • 22. We note that ICT-related capacity-building needs represent a high priority in all developing countries and the current financing levels have not been adequate to meet the needs, although there are many different funding mechanisms supporting ICTs for development.
  • 26. We acknowledge the following prerequisites for equitable and universal accessibility to, and better utilization of, financial mechanisms:
    • Creating policy and regulatory incentives aimed at universal access and the attraction of private-sector investment.
    • Identification and acknowledgement of the key role of ICTs in national development strategies, and their elaboration, when appropriate, in conjunction with e-strategies.
    • Developing institutional and implementation capacity to support the use of national universal service/access funds, and further study of these mechanisms and those aiming to mobilize domestic resources.
    • Encouraging the development of locally relevant information, applications and services that will benefit developing countries and countries with economies in transition.
    • Supporting the “scaling-up” of successful ICT-based pilot programmes.
    • Supporting the use of ICTs in government as a priority and crucial target area for ICT-based development interventions.
    • Building human resource and institutional capacity (knowledge) at every level for achieving Information Society objectives, especially in the public sector.
    • Encouraging business-sector entities to help jump-start wider demand for ICT services by supporting creative industries, local producers of cultural content and applications as well as small businesses.
    • Strengthening capacities to enhance the potential of securitized funds and utilizing them effectively.
  • 27. We recommend improvements and innovations in existing financing mechanisms, including:
    • reducing international Internet costs charged by backbone providers, supporting, inter alia, the creation and development of regional ICT backbones and Internet Exchange Points to reduce interconnection cost and broaden network access;
    • encouraging ITU to continue the study of the question of International Internet Connectivity (IIC) as an urgent matter to develop appropriate Recommendations.
    • Coordinating programmes among governments and major financial players to mitigate investment risks and transaction costs for operators entering less attractive rural and low-income market segments.
    • Helping to accelerate the development of domestic financial instruments, including by supporting local microfinance instruments, ICT business incubators, public credit instruments, reverse auction mechanisms, networking initiatives based on local communities, digital solidarity and other innovations. 
    • Improving the ability to access financing facilities with a view to accelerating the pace of financing of ICT infrastructure and services, including the promotion of North-South flows as well as North-South and South-South cooperation.
    • Multilateral, regional and bilateral development organizations should consider the utility of creating a virtual forum for the sharing of information by all stakeholders on potential projects, on sources of financing and on institutional financial mechanisms. 
    • Enabling developing countries to be increasingly able to generate funds for ICTs and to develop financial instruments, including trust funds and seed capital adapted to their economies.
    • Urging all countries to make concrete efforts to fulfil their commitments under the Monterrey Consensus.
    • Multilateral, regional and bilateral development organizations should consider cooperating to enhance their capacity to provide rapid response with a view to supporting developing countries that request assistance with respect to ICT policies;
    • Encouraging increased voluntary contributions. 
    • Making, as appropriate, effective use of debt relief mechanisms as outlined in the Geneva Plan of Action, including inter alia debt cancellation and debt swapping, that may be used for financing ICT for development projects, including those within the framework of Poverty Reduction Strategies.
  • 28. We welcome the Digital Solidarity Fund (DSF) established in Geneva as an innovative financial mechanism of a voluntary nature open to interested stakeholders with the objective of transforming the digital divide into digital opportunities for the developing world by focusing mainly on specific and urgent needs at the local level and seeking new voluntary sources of “solidarity” finance. The DSF will complement existing mechanisms for funding the Information Society, which should continue to be fully utilized to fund the growth of new ICT infrastructure and services.
  • 49. We reaffirm our commitment to turning the digital divide into digital opportunity, and we commit to ensuring harmonious and equitable development for all. We commit to foster and provide guidance on development areas in the broader Internet governance arrangements, and to include, amongst other issues, international interconnection costs, capacity building and technology/know-how transfer. We encourage the realization of multilingualism in the Internet development environment, and we support the development of software that renders itself easily to localization, and enables users to choose appropriate solutions from different software models including open-source, free and proprietary software.
  • 50. We acknowledge that there are concerns, particularly amongst developing countries, that the charges for international Internet connectivity should be better balanced to enhance access. We therefore call for the development of strategies for increasing affordable global connectivity, thereby facilitating improved and equitable access for all, by:
    • Promoting Internet transit and interconnection costs that are commercially negotiated in a competitive environment and that should be oriented towards objective, transparent and non-discriminatory parameters, taking into account ongoing work on this subject.
    • Setting up regional high-speed Internet backbone networks and the creation of national, sub-regional and regional Internet Exchange Points (IXPs).
    • Recommending donor programmes and developmental financing mechanisms to consider the need to provide funding for initiatives that advance connectivity, IXPs and local content for developing countries.
    • Encouraging ITU to continue the study of the question of International Internet Connectivity (IIC) as a matter of urgency, and to periodically provide output for consideration and possible implementation. We also encourage other relevant institutions to address this issue.
    • Promoting the development and growth of low-cost terminal equipment, such as individual and collective user devices, especially for use in developing countries. 
    • Encouraging Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and other parties in the commercial negotiations to adopt practices towards attainment of fair and balanced interconnectivity costs
    • Encouraging relevant parties to commercially negotiate reduced interconnection costs for Least Developed Countries (LDCs), taking into account the special constraints of LDCs.
  • 51. We encourage governments and other stakeholders, through partnerships where appropriate, to promote ICT education and training in developing countries, by establishing national strategies for ICT integration in education and workforce development and dedicating appropriate resources. Furthermore, international cooperation would be extended, on a voluntary basis, for capacity building in areas relevant to Internet governance. This may include, in particular, building centres of expertise and other institutions to facilitate know-how transfer and exchange of best practices, in order to enhance the participation of developing countries and all stakeholders in Internet governance mechanisms.
  • 53. We commit to working earnestly towards multilingualization of the Internet, as part of a multilateral, transparent and democratic process, involving governments and all stakeholders, in their respective roles. In this context, we also support local content development, translation and adaptation, digital archives, and diverse forms of digital and traditional media, and recognize that these activities can also strengthen local and indigenous communities. We would therefore underline the need to:
    • Advance the process for the introduction of multilingualism in a number of areas including domain names, e-mail addresses and keyword look-up.
    • Implement programmes that allow for the presence of multilingual domain names and content on the Internet and the use of various software models in order to fight against the linguistic digital divide and to ensure the participation of all in the emerging new society.
    • Strengthen cooperation between relevant bodies for the further development of technical standards and to foster their global deployment.
  • 54. We recognize that an enabling environment, at national and international levels, supportive of foreign direct investment, transfer of technology, and international cooperation, particularly in the areas of finance, debt and trade, is essential for the development of the Information Society, including for the development and diffusion of the Internet and its optimal use. In particular, the roles of the private sector and civil society as the drivers of innovation and private investment in the development of the Internet are critical. Value is added at the edges of the network in both developed and developing countries when the international and domestic policy environment encourages investment and innovation.
  • 86. We support regional and international integration efforts aimed at building a people-centred, inclusive and development-oriented Information Society, and we reiterate that strong cooperation within and among regions is indispensable to support knowledge-sharing. Regional cooperation should contribute to national capacity building and to the development of regional implementation strategies. 
  • 87. We affirm that the exchange of views and sharing of effective practices and resources is essential to implementing the outcomes of WSIS at the regional and international levels. To this end, efforts should be made to provide and share, among all stakeholders, knowledge and know-how, related to the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of e-strategies and policies, as appropriate. We recognize as fundamental elements to bridge the digital divide in developing countries, in a sustainable way, poverty reduction, enhanced national capacity building and the promotion of national technological development.
  • 90. We reaffirm our commitment to providing equitable access to information and knowledge for all, recognizing the role of ICTs for economic growth and development. We are committed to working towards achieving the indicative targets, set out in the Geneva Plan of Action, that serve as global references for improving connectivity and universal, ubiquitous, equitable, non-discriminatory and affordable access to, and use of, ICTs, considering different national circumstances, to be achieved by 2015, and to using ICTs, as a tool to achieve the internationally agreed development goals and objectives, including the Millennium Development Goals, by:
    • mainstreaming and aligning national e-strategies, across local, national, and regional action plans, as appropriate and in accordance with local and national development priorities, with in-built time-bound measures. 
    • developing and implementing enabling policies that reflect national realities and that promote a supportive international environment, foreign direct investment as well as the mobilization of domestic resources, in order to promote and foster entrepreneurship, particularly Small, Medium and Micro Enterprises (SMMEs), taking into account the relevant market and cultural contexts. These policies should be reflected in a transparent, equitable regulatory framework to create a competitive environment to support these goals and strengthen economic growth. 
    • building ICT capacity for all and confidence in the use of ICTs by all – including youth, older persons, women, indigenous peoples, people with disabilities, and remote and rural communities – through the improvement and delivery of relevant education and training programmes and systems including lifelong and distance learning. 
    • implementing effective training and educationparticularly in ICT science and technology, that motivates and promotes participation and active involvement of girls and women in the decision-making process of building the Information Society. 
    • paying special attention to the formulation of universal design concepts and the use of assistive technologies that promote access for all persons, including those with disabilities. 
    • promoting public policies aimed at providing affordable access at all levels, including community-level, to hardware as well as software and connectivity through an increasingly converging technological environment, capacity building and local content.
    • improving access to the world’s health knowledge and telemedicine services, in particular in areas such as global cooperation in emergency response, access to and networking among health professionals to help improve quality of life and environmental conditions. 
    • building ICT capacities to improve access and use of postal networks and services. 
    • using ICTs to improve access to agricultural knowledge, combat poverty, and support production of and access to locally relevant agriculture-related content. 
    • developing and implementing e-government applications based on open standards in order to enhance the growth and interoperability of e-government systems, at all levels, thereby furthering access to government information and services, and contributing to building ICT networks and developing services that are available anywhere and anytime, to anyone and on any device
    • supporting educational, scientific, and cultural institutions, including libraries, archives and museums, in their role of developing, providing equitable, open and affordable access to, and preserving diverse and varied content, including in digital form, to support informal and formal education, research and innovation; and in particular supporting libraries in their public-service role of providing free and equitable access to information and of improving ICT literacy and community connectivity, particularly in underserved communities. 
    • enhancing the capacity of communities in all regions to develop content in local and/or indigenous languages
    • strengthening the creation of quality e-content, on national, regional and international levels.
    • promoting the use of traditional and new media in order to foster universal access to information, culture and knowledge for all people, especially vulnerable populations and populations in developing countries and using, inter alia, radio and television as educational and learning tools. 
    • reaffirming the independence, pluralism and diversity of media, and freedom of information including through, as appropriate, the development of domestic legislation, we reiterate our call for the responsible use and treatment of information by the media in accordance with the highest ethical and professional standards. We reaffirm the necessity of reducing international imbalances affecting the media, particularly as regards infrastructure, technical resources and the development of human skills. These reaffirmations are made with reference to Geneva Declaration of Principles paragraphs 55 to 59.
    • strongly encouraging ICT enterprises and entrepreneurs to develop and use environment-friendly production processes in order to minimize the negative impacts of the use and manufacture of ICTs and disposal of ICT waste on people and the environment. In this context, it is important to give particular attention to the specific needs of the developing countries.
    • incorporating regulatory, self-regulatory, and other effective policies and frameworks to protect children and young people from abuse and exploitation through ICTs into national plans of action and e-strategies. 
    • promoting the development of advanced research networks, at national, regional and international levels, in order to improve collaboration in science, technology and higher education.
    • promoting voluntary service, at the community level, to help maximize the developmental impact of ICTs. 
    • promoting the use of ICTs to enhance flexible ways of working, including teleworking, leading to greater productivity and job creation.
  • 107. International and regional organizations should assess and report regularly on universal accessibility of nations to ICTs, with the aim of creating equitable opportunities for the growth of ICT sectors of developing countries.
  • 113. Appropriate indicators and benchmarking, including community connectivity indicators, should clarify the magnitude of the digital divide, in both its domestic and international dimensions, and keep it under regular assessment, and track global progress in the use of ICTs to achieve internationally agreed development goals and objectives, including the Millennium Development Goals.
  • 114. The development of ICT indicators is important for measuring the digital divide. We note the launch, in June 2004, of the Partnership on Measuring ICT for Development, and its efforts:
    • to develop a common set of core ICT indicators; to increase the availability of internationally comparable ICT statistics as well as to establish a mutually agreed framework for their elaboration, for further consideration and decision by the UN Statistical Commission. 
    • to promote capacity building in developing countries for monitoring the Information Society. 
    • to assess the current and potential impact of ICTs on development and poverty reduction.
    • to develop specific gender-disaggregated indicators to measure the digital divide in its various dimensions.
  • 115. We also note the launch of the ICT Opportunity Index and the Digital Opportunity Index, which will build upon the common set of core ICT indicators as they were defined within the Partnership on Measuring ICT for Development
  • 116. We stress that all indices and indicators must take into account different levels of development and national circumstances.
  • 117. The further development of these indicators should be undertaken in a collaborative, cost-effective and non-duplicative fashion.
  • 118. We invite the international community to strengthen the statistical capacity of developing countries by giving appropriate support at national and regional levels.
  • 119. We commit ourselves to review and follow up progress in bridging the digital divide, taking into account the different levels of development among nations, so as to achieve the internationally agreed development goals and objectives, including the Millennium Development Goals, assessing the effectiveness of investment and international cooperation efforts in building the Information Society, identifying gaps as well as deficits in investment and devising strategies to address them.

Full text of the Agenda

Tunis Commitment (WSIS 2005)
  • 2. We reaffirm our desire and commitment to build a people-centred, inclusive and development-oriented Information Society, premised on the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, international law and multilateralism, and respecting fully and upholding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, so that people everywhere can create, access, utilize and share information and knowledge, to achieve their full potential and to attain the internationally agreed development goals and objectives, including the Millennium Development Goals.
  • 10. We recognize that access to information and sharing and creation of knowledge contributes significantly to strengthening economic, social and cultural development, thus helping all countries to reach the internationally agreed development goals and objectives, including the Millennium Development Goals. This process can be enhanced by removing barriers to universal, ubiquitous, equitable and affordable access to information. We underline the importance of removing barriers to bridging the digital divide, particularly those that hinder the full achievement of the economic, social and cultural development of countries and the welfare of their people, in particular, in developing countries.
  • 14. We also recognize that in addition to building ICT infrastructure, there should be adequate emphasis on developing human capacity and creating ICT applications and digital content in local language, where appropriate, so as to ensure a comprehensive approach to building a global Information Society.
  • 15. Recognizing the principles of universal and non-discriminatory access to ICTs for all nations, the need to take into account the level of social and economic development of each country, and respecting the development-oriented aspects of the Information Society, we underscore that ICTs are effective tools to promote peace, security and stability, to enhance democracy, social cohesion, good governance and the rule of law, at national, regional and international levels. ICTs can be used to promote economic growth and enterprise development. Infrastructure development, human capacity building, information security and network security are critical to achieve these goals. We further recognize the need to effectively confront challenges and threats resulting from use of ICTs for purposes that are inconsistent with objectives of maintaining international stability and security and may adversely affect the integrity of the infrastructure within States, to the detriment of their security. It is necessary to prevent the abuse of information resources and technologies for criminal and terrorist purposes, while respecting human rights.
  • 16. We further commit ourselves to evaluate and follow up progress in bridging the digital divide, taking into account different levels of development, so as to reach internationally agreed development goals and objectives, including the Millennium Development Goals, and to assess the effectiveness of investment and international cooperation efforts in building the Information Society. 
  • 18. We shall strive unremittingly, therefore, to promote universal, ubiquitous, equitable and affordable access to ICTs, including universal design and assistive technologies, for all people, especially those with disabilities, everywhere, to ensure that the benefits are more evenly distributed between and within societies, and to bridge the digital divide in order to create digital opportunities for all and benefit from the potential offered by ICTs for development.
  • 19. The international community should take necessary measures to ensure that all countries of the world have equitable and affordable access to ICTs, so that their benefits in the fields of socio-economic development and bridging the digital divide are truly inclusive.
  • 20. To that end, we shall pay particular attention to the special needs of marginalized and vulnerable groups of society including migrants, internally displaced persons and refugees, unemployed and underprivileged people, minorities and nomadic people, older persons and persons with disabilities.
  • 21. To that end, we shall pay special attention to the particular needs of people of developing countries, countries with economies in transition, Least Developed Countries, Small Island Developing States, Landlocked Developing Countries, Highly Indebted Poor Countries, countries and territories under occupation, and countries recovering from conflict or natural disasters.
  • 22. In the evolution of the Information Society, particular attention must be given to the special situation of indigenous peoples, as well as to the preservation of their heritage and their cultural legacy.
  • 23. We recognize that a gender divide exists as part of the digital divide in society and we reaffirm our commitment to women’s empowerment and to a gender equality perspective, so that we can overcome this divide. We further acknowledge that the full participation of women in the Information Society is necessary to ensure the inclusiveness and respect for human rights within the Information Society. We encourage all stakeholders to support women’s participation in decision-making processes and to contribute to shaping all spheres of the Information Society at international, regional and national levels.
  • 25. We reaffirm our commitment to empowering young people as key contributors to building an inclusive Information Society. We will actively engage youth in innovative ICT-based development programmes and widen opportunities for youth to be involved in e-strategy processes. 
  • 26. We recognize the importance of creative content and applications to overcome the digital divide and to contribute to the achievement of the internationally agreed development goals and objectives, including the Millennium Development Goals.
  • 27. We recognize that equitable and sustainable access to information requires the implementation of strategies for the long-term preservation of the digital information that is being created.
  • 28. We reaffirm our desire to build ICT networks and develop applications, in partnership with the private sector, based on open or interoperable standards that are affordable and accessible to all, available anywhere and anytime, to anyone and on any device, leading to a ubiquitous network.
  • 31. We commit ourselves to work together towards the implementation of the Digital Solidarity Agenda, as agreed in paragraph 27 of the Geneva Plan of Action. The full and quick implementation of that agenda, observing good governance at all levels, requires in particular a timely, effective, comprehensive and durable solution to the debt problems of developing countries where appropriate, a universal, rule-based, open, non-discriminatory and equitable multilateral trading system, that can also stimulate development worldwide, benefiting countries at all stages of development, as well as, to seek and effectively implement concrete international approaches and mechanisms to increase international cooperation and assistance to bridge the digital divide
  • 32. We further commit ourselves to promote the inclusion of all peoples in the Information Society through the development and use of local and/or indigenous languages in ICTs. We will continue our efforts to protect and promote cultural diversity, as well as cultural identities, within the Information Society.

Full text of the Commitment

Geneva Plan of Action (WSIS 2003)
C2. Information and communication infrastructure: an essential foundation for the Information Society

9. Infrastructure is central in achieving the goal of digital inclusion, enabling universal, sustainable, ubiquitous and affordable access to ICTs by all, taking into account relevant solutions already in place in developing countries and countries with economies in transition, to provide sustainable connectivity and access to remote and marginalized areas at national and regional levels.

  • Governments should take action, in the framework of national development policies, in order to support an enabling and competitive environment for the necessary investment in ICT infrastructure and for the development of new services.
  • In the context of national e-strategies, devise appropriate universal access policies and strategies, and their means of implementation, in line with the indicative targets, and develop ICT connectivity indicators.
  • In the context of national e-strategies, provide and improve ICT connectivity for all schools, universities, health institutions, libraries, post offices, community centres, museums and other institutions accessible to the public, in line with the indicative targets.
  • Develop and strengthen national, regional and international broadband network infrastructure, including delivery by satellite and other systems, to help in providing the capacity to match the needs of countries and their citizens and for the delivery of new ICT-based services. Support technical, regulatory and operational studies by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and, as appropriate, other relevant international organizations in order to:
    • broaden access to orbital resources, global frequency harmonization and global systems standardization;
    • encourage public/private partnership;
    • promote the provision of global high-speed satellite services for underserved areas such as remote and sparsely populated areas;
    • explore other systems that can provide high-speed connectivity.
  • In the context of national e-strategies, address the special requirements of older people, persons with disabilities, children, especially marginalized children and other disadvantaged and vulnerable groups, including by appropriate educational administrative and legislative measures to ensure their full inclusion in the Information Society.
  • Encourage the design and production of ICT equipment and services so that everyone, has easy and affordable access to them including older people, persons with disabilities, children, especially marginalized children, and other disadvantaged and vulnerable groups, and promote the development of technologies, applications, and content suited to their needs, guided by the Universal Design Principle and further enhanced by the use of assistive technologies.
  • In order to alleviate the challenges of illiteracy, develop affordable technologies and non-text based computer interfaces to facilitate people’s access to ICT, 
  • Undertake international research and development efforts aimed at making available adequate and affordable ICT equipment for end users.
  • Encourage the use of unused wireless capacity, including satellite, in developed countries and in particular in developing countries, to provide access in remote areas, especially in developing countries and countries with economies in transition, and to improve low-cost connectivity in developing countries. Special concern should be given to the Least Developed Countries in their efforts in establishing telecommunication infrastructure.
  • Optimize connectivity among major information networks by encouraging the creation and development of regional ICT backbones and Internet exchange points, to reduce interconnection costs and broaden network access. 
  • Develop strategies for increasing affordable global connectivity, thereby facilitating improved access. Commercially negotiated Internet transit and interconnection costs should be oriented towards objective, transparent and non-discriminatory parameters, taking into account ongoing work on this subject.
  • Encourage and promote joint use of traditional media and new technologies.
C3. Access to information and knowledge

10. ICTs allow people, anywhere in the world, to access information and knowledge almost instantaneously. Individuals, organizations and communities should benefit from access to knowledge and information.

  • Develop policy guidelines for the development and promotion of public domain information as an important international instrument promoting public access to information.
  • Governments are encouraged to provide adequate access through various communication resources, notably the Internet, to public official information. Establishing legislation on access to information and the preservation of public data, notably in the area of the new technologies, is encouraged.
  • Promote research and development to facilitate accessibility of ICTs for all, including disadvantaged, marginalized and vulnerable groups.
  • Governments, and other stakeholders, should establish sustainable multi-purpose community public access points, providing affordable or free-of-charge access for their citizens to the various communication resources, notably the Internet. These access points should, to the extent possible, have sufficient capacity to provide assistance to users, in libraries, educational institutions, public administrations, post offices or other public places, with special emphasis on rural and underserved areas, while respecting intellectual property rights (IPRs) and encouraging the use of information and sharing of knowledge.
  • Encourage research and promote awareness among all stakeholders of the possibilities offered by different software models, and the means of their creation, including proprietary, open-source and free software, in order to increase competition, freedom of choice and affordability, and to enable all stakeholders to evaluate which solution best meets their requirements.
  • Governments should actively promote the use of ICTs as a fundamental working tool by their citizens and local authorities. In this respect, the international community and other stakeholders should support capacity building for local authorities in the widespread use of ICTs as a means of improving local governance.
  • Encourage research on the Information Society, including on innovative forms of networking, adaptation of ICT infrastructure, tools and applications that facilitate accessibility of ICTs for all, and disadvantaged groups in particular.
  • Support the creation and development of a digital public library and archive services, adapted to the Information Society, including reviewing national library strategies and legislation, developing a global understanding of the need for “hybrid libraries”, and fostering worldwide cooperation between libraries.
  • Encourage initiatives to facilitate access, including free and affordable access to open access journals and books, and open archives for scientific information.
  • Support research and development of the design of useful instruments for all stakeholders to foster increased awareness, assessment, and evaluation of different software models and licences, so as to ensure an optimal choice of appropriate software that will best contribute to achieving development goals within local conditions.
C4. Capacity building

11. Everyone should have the necessary skills to benefit fully from the Information Society. Therefore capacity building and ICT literacy are essential. ICTs can contribute to achieving universal education worldwide, through delivery of education and training of teachers, and offering improved conditions for lifelong learning, encompassing people that are outside the formal education process, and improving professional skills.

  • Develop domestic policies to ensure that ICTs are fully integrated in education and training at all levels, including in curriculum development, teacher training, institutional administration and management, and in support of the concept of lifelong learning.
  • Develop and promote programmes to eradicate illiteracy using ICTs at national, regional and international levels.
  • Promote e-literacy skills for all, for example by designing and offering courses for public administration, taking advantage of existing facilities such as libraries, multipurpose community centres, public access points and by establishing local ICT training centres with the cooperation of all stakeholders. Special attention should be paid to disadvantaged and vulnerable groups.
  • In the context of national educational policies, and taking into account the need to eradicate adult illiteracy, ensure that young people are equipped with knowledge and skills to use ICTs, including the capacity to analyse and treat information in creative and innovative ways, share their expertise and participate fully in the Information Society.
  • Governments, in cooperation with other stakeholders, should create programmes for capacity building with an emphasis on creating a critical mass of qualified and skilled ICT professionals and experts.
  • Develop pilot projects to demonstrate the impact of ICT-based alternative educational delivery systems, notably for achieving Education for All targets, including basic literacy targets.
  • Work on removing the gender barriers to ICT education and training and promoting equal training opportunities in ICT-related fields for women and girls. Early intervention programmes in science and technology should target young girls with the aim of increasing the number of women in ICT careers. Promote the exchange of best practices on the integration of gender perspectives in ICT education.
  • Empower local communities, especially those in rural and underserved areas, in ICT use and promote the production of useful and socially meaningful content for the benefit of all.
  • Launch education and training programmes, where possible using information networks of traditional nomadic and indigenous peoples, which provide opportunities to fully participate in the Information Society.
  • Design and implement regional and international cooperation activities to enhance the capacity, notably, of leaders and operational staff in developing countries and LDCs, to apply ICTs effectively in the whole range of educational activities. This should include delivery of education outside the educational structure, such as the workplace and at home.
  • Design specific training programmes in the use of ICTs in order to meet the educational needs of information professionals, such as archivists, librarians, museum professionals, scientists, teachers, journalists, postal workers and other relevant professional groups. Training of information professionals should focus not only on new methods and techniques for the development and provision of information and communication services, but also on relevant management skills to ensure the best use of technologies. Training of teachers should focus on the technical aspects of ICTs, on development of content, and on the potential possibilities and challenges of ICTs.
  • Develop distance learning, training and other forms of education and training as part of capacity building programmes. Give special attention to developing countries and especially LDCs in different levels of human resources development.
  • Promote international and regional cooperation in the field of capacity building, including country programmes developed by the United Nations and its Specialized Agencies.
  • Launch pilot projects to design new forms of ICT-based networking, linking education, training and research institutions between and among developed and developing countries and countries with economies in transition.
  • Volunteering, if conducted in harmony with national policies and local cultures, can be a valuable asset for raising human capacity to make productive use of ICT tools and build a more inclusive Information Society. Activate volunteer programmes to provide capacity building on ICT for development, particularly in developing countries.
  • Design programmes to train users to develop self-learning and self-development capacities.
C6. Enabling environment
  • d. In cooperation with the relevant stakeholders, promote regional root servers and the use of internationalized domain names in order to overcome barriers to access.
  • q. ITU, pursuant to its treaty capacity, coordinates and allocates frequencies with the goal of facilitating ubiquitous and affordable access.
  • r. Additional steps should be taken in ITU and other regional organisations to ensure rational, efficient and economical use of, and equitable access to, the radio-frequency spectrum by all countries, based on relevant international agreements.
C8. Cultural diversity and identity, linguistic diversity and local content

23. Cultural and linguistic diversity, while stimulating respect for cultural identity, traditions and religions, is essential to the development of an Information Society based on the dialogue among cultures and regional and international cooperation. It is an important factor for sustainable development.

  • Create policies that support the respect, preservation, promotion and enhancement of cultural and linguistic diversity and cultural heritage within the Information Society, as reflected in relevant agreed United Nations documents, including UNESCO’s Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity. This includes encouraging governments to design cultural policies to promote the production of cultural, educational and scientific content and the development of local cultural industries suited to the linguistic and cultural context of the users.
  • Develop national policies and laws to ensure that libraries, archives, museums and other cultural institutions can play their full role of content – including traditional knowledge – providers in the Information Society, more particularly by providing continued access to recorded information.
  • Support efforts to develop and use ICTs for the preservation of natural and, cultural heritage, keeping it accessible as a living part of today’s culture. This includes developing systems for ensuring continued access to archived digital information and multimedia content in digital repositories, and support archives, cultural collections and libraries as the memory of humankind.
  • Develop and implement policies that preserve, affirm, respect and promote diversity of cultural expression and indigenous knowledge and traditions through the creation of varied information content and the use of different methods, including the digitization of the educational, scientific and cultural heritage.
  • Support local content development, translation and adaptation, digital archives, and diverse forms of digital and traditional media by local authorities. These activities can also strengthen local and indigenous communities.
  • Provide content that is relevant to the cultures and languages of individuals in the Information Society, through access to traditional and digital media services.
  • Through public/private partnerships, foster the creation of varied local and national content, including that available in the language of users, and give recognition and support to ICT-based work in all artistic fields.
  • Strengthen programmes focused on gender-sensitive curricula in formal and non-formal education for all and enhancing communication and media literacy for women with a view to building the capacity of girls and women to understand and to develop ICT content.
  • Nurture the local capacity for the creation and distribution of software in local languages, as well as content that is relevant to different segments of population, including non-literate, persons with disabilities, disadvantaged and vulnerable groups especially in developing countries and countries with economies in transition.
  • Give support to media based in local communities and support projects combining the use of traditional media and new technologies for their role in facilitating the use of local languages, for documenting and preserving local heritage, including landscape and biological diversity, and as a means to reach rural and isolated and nomadic communities.
  • Enhance the capacity of indigenous peoples to develop content in their own languages.
  • Cooperate with indigenous peoples and traditional communities to enable them to more effectively use and benefit from the use of their traditional knowledge in the Information Society.
  • Exchange knowledge, experiences and best practices on policies and tools designed to promote cultural and linguistic diversity at regional and sub-regional levels. This can be achieved by establishing regional, and sub-regional working groups on specific issues of this Plan of Action to foster integration efforts.
  • Assess at the regional level the contribution of ICT to cultural exchange and interaction, and based on the outcome of this assessment, design relevant programmes.
  • Governments, through public/private partnerships, should promote technologies and R&D programmes in such areas as translation, iconographies, voice-assisted services and the development of necessary hardware and a variety of software models, including proprietary, open source software and free software, such as standard character sets, language codes, electronic dictionaries, terminology and thesauri, multilingual search engines, machine translation tools, internationalized domain names, content referencing as well as general and application software.
D. Digital Solidarity Agenda

27. The Digital Solidarity Agenda aims at putting in place the conditions for mobilizing human, financial and technological resources for inclusion of all men and women in the emerging Information Society. Close national, regional and international cooperation among all stakeholders in the implementation of this Agenda is vital. To overcome the digital divide, we need to use more efficiently existing approaches and mechanisms and fully explore new ones, in order to provide financing for the development of infrastructure, equipment, capacity building and content, which are essential for participation in the Information Society.

D1. Priorities and strategies

  • National e-strategies should be made an integral part of national development plans, including Poverty Reduction Strategies.
  • ICTs should be fully mainstreamed into strategies for Official Development Assistance (ODA) through more effective donor information-sharing and co-ordination, and through analysis and sharing of best practices and lessons learned from experience with ICT-for-development programmes.

D2. Mobilising resources

  • All countries and international organizations should act to create conditions conducive to increasing the availability and effective mobilization of resources for financing development as elaborated in the Monterrey Consensus.
  • Developed countries should make concrete efforts to fulfil their international commitments to financing development including the Monterrey Consensus, in which developed countries that have not done so are urged to make concrete efforts towards the target of 0.7 per cent of gross national product (GNP) as ODA to developing countries and 0.15 to 0.20 per cent of GNP of developed countries to least developed countries.
  • For those developing countries facing unsustainable debt burdens, we welcome initiatives that have been undertaken to reduce outstanding indebtedness and invite further national and international measures in that regard, including, as appropriate, debt cancellation and other arrangements. Particular attention should be given to enhancing the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries initiative. These initiatives would release more resources that may be used for financing ICT for development projects.
  • Recognizing the potential of ICT for development we furthermore advocate:
    • developing countries to increase their efforts to attract major private national and foreign investments for ICTs through the creation of a transparent, stable and predictable enabling investment environment;
    • developed countries and international financial organisations to be responsive to the strategies and priorities of ICTs for development, mainstream ICTs in their work programmes, and assist developing countries and countries with economies in transition to prepare and implement their national e-strategies. Based on the priorities of national development plans and implementation of the above commitments, developed countries should increase their efforts to provide more financial resources to developing countries in harnessing ICTs for development;
    • the private sector to contribute to the implementation of this Digital Solidarity Agenda.
  • In our efforts to bridge the digital divide, we should promote, within our development cooperation, technical and financial assistance directed towards national and regional capacity building, technology transfer on mutually agreed terms, cooperation in R&D programmes and exchange of know-how.
  • While all existing financial mechanisms should be fully exploited, a thorough review of their adequacy in meeting the challenges of ICT for development should be completed by the end of December 2004. This review shall be conducted by a Task Force under the auspices of the Secretary-General of the United Nations and submitted for consideration to the second phase of this summit. Based on the conclusion of the review, improvements and innovations of financing mechanisms will be considered including the effectiveness, the feasibility and the creation of a voluntary Digital Solidarity Fund, as mentioned in the Declaration of Principles.
  • Countries should consider establishing national mechanisms to achieve universal access in both underserved rural and urban areas, in order to bridge the digital divide.
E. Follow-up and implementation

28. A realistic international performance evaluation and benchmarking (both qualitative and quantitative), through comparable statistical indicators and research results, should be developed to follow up the implementation of the objectives, goals and targets in the Plan of Action, taking into account different national circumstances.

  • In cooperation with each country concerned, develop and launch a composite ICT Development (Digital Opportunity) Index. It could be published annually, or every two years, in an ICT Development Report. The index could show the statistics while the report would present analytical work on policies and their implementation, depending on national circumstances, including gender analysis.
  • Appropriate indicators and benchmarking, including community connectivity indicators, should clarify the magnitude of the digital divide, in both its domestic and international dimensions, and keep it under regular assessment, and tracking global progress in the use of ICTs to achieve internationally agreed development goals, including those of the Millennium Declaration.
  • International and regional organizations should assess and report regularly on universal accessibility of nations to ICTs, with the aim of creating equitable opportunities for the growth of ICT sectors of developing countries.
  • Gender-specific indicators on ICT use and needs should be developed, and measurable performance indicators should be identified to assess the impact of funded ICT projects on the lives of women and girls.
  • Develop and launch a website on best practices and success stories, based on a compilation of contributions from all stakeholders, in a concise, accessible and compelling format, following the internationally-recognized web accessibility standards. The website could be periodically updated and turned into a permanent experience-sharing exercise.
  • All countries and regions should develop tools so as to provide statistical information on the Information Society, with basic indicators and analysis of its key dimensions. Priority should be given to setting up coherent and internationally comparable indicator systems, taking into account different levels of development.

Full text of the Plan of Action

Geneva Declaration of Principles (WSIS 2003)
A. Our Common Vision of the Information Society
  • 1. We, the representatives of the peoples of the world, assembled in Geneva from 10-12 December 2003 for the first phase of the World Summit on the Information Society, declare our common desire and commitment to build a people-centred, inclusive and development-oriented Information Society, where everyone can create, access, utilize and share information and knowledge, enabling individuals, communities and peoples to achieve their full potential in promoting their sustainable development and improving their quality of life, premised on the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and respecting fully and upholding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
  • 10. We are also fully aware that the benefits of the information technology revolution are today unevenly distributed between the developed and developing countries and within societies. We are fully committed to turning this digital divide into a digital opportunity for all, particularly for those who risk being left behind and being further marginalized.
  • 11. We are committed to realizing our common vision of the Information Society for ourselves and for future generations. We recognize that young people are the future workforce and leading creators and earliest adopters of ICTs. They must therefore be empowered as learners, developers, contributors, entrepreneurs and decision-makers. We must focus especially on young people who have not yet been able to benefit fully from the opportunities provided by ICTs. We are also committed to ensuring that the development of ICT applications and operation of services respects the rights of children as well as their protection and well-being.
  • 12. We affirm that development of ICTs provides enormous opportunities for women, who should be an integral part of, and key actors, in the Information Society. We are committed to ensuring that the Information Society enables women’s empowerment and their full participation on the basis on equality in all spheres of society and in all decision-making processes. To this end, we should mainstream a gender equality perspective and use ICTs as a tool to that end.
  • 13. In building the Information Society, we shall pay particular attention to the special needs of marginalized and vulnerable groups of society, including migrants, internally displaced persons and refugees, unemployed and underprivileged people, minorities and nomadic people. We shall also recognize the special needs of older persons and persons with disabilities.
  • 14. We are resolute to empower the poor, particularly those living in remote, rural and marginalized urban areas, to access information and to use ICTs as a tool to support their efforts to lift themselves out of poverty.
  • 15. In the evolution of the Information Society, particular attention must be given to the special situation of indigenous peoples, as well as to the preservation of their heritage and their cultural legacy.
  • 16. We continue to pay special attention to the particular needs of people of developing countries, countries with economies in transition, Least Developed Countries, Small Island Developing States, Landlocked Developing Countries, Highly Indebted Poor Countries, countries and territories under occupation, countries recovering from conflict and countries and regions with special needs as well as to conditions that pose severe threats to development, such as natural disasters.
  • 17. We recognize that building an inclusive Information Society requires new forms of solidarity, partnership and cooperation among governments and other stakeholders, i.e. the private sector, civil society and international organizations. Realizing that the ambitious goal of this Declaration— bridging the digital divide and ensuring harmonious, fair and equitable development for all—will require strong commitment by all stakeholders, we call for digital solidarity, both at national and international levels.
B. An Information Society for all: Key Principles
  • 19. We are resolute in our quest to ensure that everyone can benefit from the opportunities that ICTs can offer. We agree that to meet these challenges, all stakeholders should work together to: improve access to information and communication infrastructure and technologies as well as to information and knowledge; build capacity; increase confidence and security in the use of ICTs; create an enabling environment at all levels; develop and widen ICT applications; foster and respect cultural diversity; recognize the role of the media; address the ethical dimensions of the Information Society; and encourage international and regional cooperation. We agree that these are the key principles for building an inclusive Information Society.

2) Information and communication infrastructure: an essential foundation for an inclusive information society

  • 21. Connectivity is a central enabling agent in building the Information Society. Universal, ubiquitous, equitable and affordable access to ICT infrastructure and services, constitutes one of the challenges of the Information Society and should be an objective of all stakeholders involved in building it. Connectivity also involves access to energy and postal services, which should be assured in conformity with the domestic legislation of each country.
  • 22. A well-developed information and communication network infrastructure and applications, adapted to regional, national and local conditions, easily-accessible and affordable, and making greater use of broadband and other innovative technologies where possible, can accelerate the social and economic progress of countries, and the well-being of all individuals, communities and peoples.
  • 23. Policies that create a favourable climate for stability, predictability and fair competition at all levels should be developed and implemented in a manner that not only attracts more private investment for ICT infrastructure development but also enables universal service obligations to be met in areas where traditional market conditions fail to work. In disadvantaged areas, the establishment of ICT public access points in places such as post offices, schools, libraries and archives, can provide effective means for ensuring universal access to the infrastructure and services of the Information Society.

3) Access to information and knowledge

  • 24. The ability for all to access and contribute information, ideas and knowledge is essential in an inclusive Information Society.
  • 25. The sharing and strengthening of global knowledge for development can be enhanced by removing barriers to equitable access to information for economic, social, political, health, cultural, educational, and scientific activities and by facilitating access to public domain information, including by universal design and the use of assistive technologies.
  • 26. A rich public domain is an essential element for the growth of the Information Society, creating multiple benefits such as an educated public, new jobs, innovation, business opportunities, and the advancement of sciences. Information in the public domain should be easily accessible to support the Information Society, and protected from misappropriation. Public institutions such as libraries and archives, museums, cultural collections and other community-based access points should be strengthened so as to promote the preservation of documentary records and free and equitable access to information.
  • 27. Access to information and knowledge can be promoted by increasing awareness among all stakeholders of the possibilities offered by different software models, including proprietary, open- source and free software, in order to increase competition, access by users, diversity of choice, and to enable all users to develop solutions which best meet their requirements. Affordable access to software should be considered as an important component of a truly inclusive Information Society.
  • 28. We strive to promote universal access with equal opportunities for all to scientific knowledge and the creation and dissemination of scientific and technical information, including open access initiatives for scientific publishing.

4) Capacity building

  • 29. Each person should have the opportunity to acquire the necessary skills and knowledge in order to understand, participate actively in, and benefit fully from, the Information Society and the knowledge economy. Literacy and universal primary education are key factors for building a fully inclusive information society, paying particular attention to the special needs of girls and women. Given the wide range of ICT and information specialists required at all levels, building institutional capacity deserves special attention.
  • 30. The use of ICTs in all stages of education, training and human resource development should be promoted, taking into account the special needs of persons with disabilities and disadvantaged and vulnerable groups.
  • 31. Continuous and adult education, re-training, life-long learning, distance-learning and other special services, such as telemedicine, can make an essential contribution to employability and help people benefit from the new opportunities offered by ICTs for traditional jobs, self-employment and new professions. Awareness and literacy in ICTs are an essential foundation in this regard.
  • 32. Content creators, publishers, and producers, as well as teachers, trainers, archivists, librarians and learners, should play an active role in promoting the Information Society, particularly in the Least Developed Countries.
  • 33. To achieve a sustainable development of the Information Society, national capability in ICT research and development should be enhanced. Furthermore, partnerships, in particular between and among developed and developing countries, including countries with economies in transition, in research and development, technology transfer, manufacturing and utilization of ICT products and services are crucial for promoting capacity building and global participation in the Information Society. The manufacture of ICTs presents a significant opportunity for creation of wealth.
  • 34. The attainment of our shared aspirations, in particular for developing countries and countries with economies in transition, to become fully-fledged members of the Information Society, and their positive integration into the knowledge economy, depends largely on increased capacity building in the areas of education, technology know-how and access to information, which are major factors in determining development and competitiveness.
[…]

8) Cultural diversity and identity, linguistic diversity and local content

  • 52. Cultural diversity is the common heritage of humankind. The Information Society should be founded on and stimulate respect for cultural identity, cultural and linguistic diversity, traditions and religions, and foster dialogue among cultures and civilizations. The promotion, affirmation and preservation of diverse cultural identities and languages as reflected in relevant agreed United Nations documents including UNESCO’s Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity, will further enrich the Information Society.
  • 53. The creation, dissemination and preservation of content in diverse languages and formats must be accorded high priority in building an inclusive Information Society, paying particular attention to the diversity of supply of creative work and due recognition of the rights of authors and artists. It is essential to promote the production of and accessibility to all content—educational, scientific, cultural or recreational—in diverse languages and formats. The development of local content suited to domestic or regional needs will encourage social and economic development and will stimulate participation of all stakeholders, including people living in rural, remote and marginal areas.
  • 54. The preservation of cultural heritage is a crucial component of identity and self–understanding of individuals that links a community to its past. The Information Society should harness and preserve cultural heritage for the future by all appropriate methods, including digitisation.
[…]

11. International and regional cooperation

  • 61. In order to build an inclusive global Information Society, we will seek and effectively implement concrete international approaches and mechanisms, including financial and technical assistance. Therefore, while appreciating ongoing ICT cooperation through various mechanisms, we invite all stakeholders to commit to the “Digital Solidarity Agenda” set forth in the Plan of Action. We are convinced that the worldwide agreed objective is to contribute to bridge the digital divide, promote access to ICTs, create digital opportunities, and benefit from the potential offered by ICTs for development. We recognize the will expressed by some to create an international voluntary “Digital Solidarity Fund”, and by others to undertake studies concerning existing mechanisms and the efficiency and feasibility of such a Fund.

Full text of the Declaration

IGF Messages (2017–2022)
Addis Ababa IGF Messages (2022)

Digital divides

  • The digital divides between different countries and regions remain powerful factors affecting national and international development, including progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Of particular concern are least developed countries and small island developing states (SIDS). Digital divides are much more than connectivity divides. Meaningful access includes issues of accessibility, affordability, content, services, digital literacy and other capabilities as well as connectivity. Affordability is a particular problem for many people, especially in the Global South.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated the Internet’s role in enabling individual and economic resilience, but also illustrated the extent to which those who lack connectivity or meaningful access are disadvantaged, potentially exacerbating other inequalities. It will take time to understand the full impact and implications of COVID-related interventions concerning access, use and human rights.
  • Some groups within all societies experience deeper digital divides or have less meaningful access than others. Women in many societies are less connected than men and make less use of connectivity. Digital disadvantage is greater among vulnerable and marginalised communities, and many people experience multiple disadvantages through the combination of factors related to age, gender, ethnicity, language, social class and other factors. Targeted initiatives in infrastructure,
  • devices and services can help to improve the access rates for less-connected social groups, but need to be accompanied by measures to address other deficiencies in meaningful access and should be associated with other measures to address disadvantage and discrimination.
  • Resilient and secure digital infrastructure is crucial for digital inclusion. Governments should protect and promote required infrastructure, including grid and off-grid power as well as communications networks. In parts of Africa and other continents, large distances between rural and remote communities, including those in SIDS, make last-mile connectivity commercially unattractive to the private sector. Connectivity, speed and reliability are important aspects of infrastructure provision. It will take time and investment to improve the capacity of infrastructure and address regional imbalances, especially in rural areas.
  • Cooperation amongst stakeholder groups is important in ensuring and enabling access. Governments, and multistakeholder partners, should support the establishment and work of effective regulatory agencies and frameworks, address challenges in commercially unattractive areas, and encourage innovative approaches to connectivity including community networks, appropriate spectrum allocation, access delivered by low earth orbit satellites and the availability of local content, including content in local languages.

The Gender Digital Divide and women’s rights

  • Men are significantly more likely to be online or have mobile connectivity than women. The gender digital gap is particularly wide in Least Developed Countries. SDG target 9c, which seeks to achieve universal, affordable Internet access, cannot be met until this gap is closed.• The threat of violence and harassment is a deterrent to women’s online participation. Online gender-based violence is an important factor driving and reinforcing gender inequality in Internet access and usage, leading to some women leaving online spaces. The role of technology services and platforms in propagating gender-based violence should be acknowledged and addressed.Resources, community guidelines and reporting on platforms should be made available in local languages.
  • Concepts of gender equality, inclusion, and women’s rights and protection should be incorporated into the Global Digital Compact (GDC), as has been proposed by UN Women.

Human rights and digital development

  • Universal access should respect human rights, to ensure the Internet is both accessible and safe for all. These include freedom of expression and association, the right to privacy and other civil and political and economic, social and cultural rights set out in international rights agreements. Internet governance structures and the design of digital technologies should respect these rights. Standards development organisations should consider inviting participation by experts in online human rights, from all stakeholder communities, in their work.
  • […]
  • Access to the Internet provides a crucial opportunity for access to information and expression. Governments should avoid recourse to Internet shutdowns because of their negative impact on both human rights and economic welfare. Social media and technology companies should support citizens in their advocacy efforts concerning shutdowns.
  • […]
  • Digital competencies must be improved, and adaptations in teaching, learning and training methodologies are needed to adapt to new paradigms in both education and employment. It is important to identify and close the gap between the needs of the industry and tertiary education.

Full set of messages

Katowice IGF Messages (2021)

Economic and social inclusion and human rights

  • Adequate enabling environments (e.g. policies, legislation, institutions) need to be put in place at the national, regional and global levels to foster inclusive, just, safe, resilient and sustainable digital societies and economies.
  • […]
  • Digital IDs and financial inclusion solutions could contribute to fostering meaningful participation in the digital economy and society. Public actors are encouraged to create or upgrade digital ID ecosystems and put in place normative frameworks to ensure that these ecosystems are inclusive, human rights respecting, and interoperable. Regulators and the private sector are invited to support a more extensive use of technologies as a way to achieve sustainable development and drive digital inclusion.
  • […]

Universal access and meaningful connectivity

  • Ensuring that all people everywhere have meaningful and sustainable access to the Internet must be a priority. Access to the open Internet is key for bridging the digital divide, as well as fostering democracy and human rights.
  • The open Internet can be considered a multistakeholder domain, fostering dialogue. There are three main elements that structure the concept of meaningful access: (a) affordable access (e.g. to connectivity, devices); (b) social environment (skills, education, content, multilingualism); (c) meaningful, permanent, and quality connectivity (including the technical foundation that allows meaningful access to become a reality).
  • Public access through institutions such as libraries can help deliver on all of the components of access that help drive development – equitable and inclusive connectivity, content and competences. The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that countries had to prioritise the massive development of connectivity infrastructure to connect the unconnected to an increasingly digital world.
  • Regarding online education and learning, many countries are faced with a lack of devices, weak infrastructure and low levels of digital literacy and digital skills. Increased support and international collaboration and partnerships to tackle these issues are key. Individual actors at local and regional levels should also take responsibility in finding solutions together.
  • For all stakeholders working on connectivity and access in community contexts, it is vital to map out their community networks. Data from these exercises can feed into building participatory training curriculums or refining existing curriculums. Community networks are also struggling to have a financial sustainability model. Some countries are reviewing their Universal Access Funds requirements to allow small cooperatives or community networks to access those programmes and increase rural and remote connectivity. In addition, regulatory measures and public policies should consider the sustainability of private sector investments, in order to help strengthen infrastructure coverage globally.
  • Multiple different actions are needed to fight against illiteracy, in particular in the Global South. There is insufficient common language between stakeholders, inadequate participation and lack of critical assessment of whether engagement is meaningful. There is a need to improve coherent use of terminology which can impact the effectiveness of Internet policy debates. For example, having better translation between languages, but also exchange within and between regions.
  • Multilingualism is a foundational component of Internet inclusivity. The development of local language content, the widespread adoption of Universal Acceptance (UA), and the promotion of Internationalized Domain Names (IDNs) are key to creating a truly multilingual Internet – a driver of peace. All stakeholders should promote policies that support the development of local language content and the adoption of UA; governments in particular can drive multilingualism on the Internet by incorporating these policies in their procurement contracts.
  • While access to the Internet must be supported, it also must be ensured that the open Internet access goes hand in hand with infrastructure deployment – especially needed in the least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and small island developing states.
  • Competition was identified as a highly desirable characteristic of the Internet across the various participants representing diverse stakeholders. Competition was welcomed in every aspect from connectivity, creation of inclusion, accessibility, small-players, geographically (Global South) etc.
  • There is an urgent need to understand why policy solutions already known and proven to be effective are not being more widely implemented.

Full set of Messages

IGF 2020 Messages

What do stakeholders need to do to develop and implement sustainable initiatives and policies that foster meaningful digital inclusion for all and eliminate all forms of digital divide?

  • Meaningful and inclusive Internet access should be a guiding principle for all policies and initiatives dedicated to eliminating the digital divide. Meaningful access means that users have access to the Internet constantly, with enough data, a fast connection, and an appropriate device. It also means that users are able to access content and services (especially local) that are relevant for their needs and realities. Policies focused on enabling such access need to be anchored into local contexts and respond to real needs.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted digital inequalities and the need for more action to ensure universal access and leave no one behind. Accelerating infrastructure roll-out is therefore urgent and must be encouraged by governments through more flexible, innovative and agile regulatory frameworks that benefit both telecom companies and alternative solutions such as community networks and rural operators. Revising universal service funds approaches, facilitating access to spectrum, and simplifying the issuance of authorisations needed for deploying infrastructures are examples of what could be done in this regard.
  • Community networks are enablers of affordable and meaningful connectivity. Technical capacity building for local communities is needed to ensure that they have the skills and knowledge to build and run safe and sustainable infrastructures. Traditional operators should enable interconnection with these networks.
  • Financial resources are key in achieving universal connectivity; beyond government funds and telecom sector investments, identifying innovative funding models deserves more attention. Lowering taxes and prices for infrastructure equipment and devices could also make the Internet access more affordable.
  • More sustainable policies are needed to eliminate the digital divide that affects women, girls, and gender-diverse people. Beyond connectivity, empowering them to create digital content is essential for building a more inclusive Internet. Countering online gender-based violence should also be a priority; stronger legal frameworks and enhanced enforcement capacities, as well as sustained action by the online platforms are essential building blocks.
  • Tech companies, public institutions and other organisations have a responsibility to ensure that digital products, services and content respond to the needs of persons with disabilities. A stricter enforcement of accessibility-related regulations and embedding the concept of universal accessible design in the development of digital technologies are essential. Proper legal frameworks are also needed to address intellectual property barriers and market failures related to the production and distribution of accessible digital content.
  • Promoting multilingualism online requires the mobilisation of more institutional and financial resources. Governments, the private sector and nonprofit entities should empower local communities and indigenous people to produce digital content in their languages, and manage the associated intellectual property rights. The tech community can also help by developing technologies that enable the digital inclusion of low resource languages (oral languages, endangered languages, etc.). In addition, governments and tech companies should be more active in enabling the universal acceptance (UA) of internationalised domain names (IDNs) and email addresses within their services and technologies. More awareness raising and capacity development are needed – on both the demand and supply side – to enable stakeholders to better understand the social benefits and long-term business benefits of supporting UA- readiness.
  • More investments are needed (from the public and private sector) to develop digital skills among citizens. Beyond acquiring technical skills, people need to be empowered to exercise critical thinking and use technology in a safe and meaningful way to advance their rights.
  • Collaborative efforts are needed to ensure equitable access to digital content for education, research, culture, work etc. Solutions to be further explored include open access models, digital-ready sets of limitations and exceptions to copyright (including across borders), and addressing the challenges around e-book pricing, access and delivery models.
  • Online education needs to be fair, inclusive and qualitative. Governments, educational institutions and the private sector must cooperate to ensure meaningful access to the Internet, but also to online learning environments that consider the needs of all children and learners, including the most vulnerable ones. Simply transposing face-to- face learning to an online setting is not enough; schools and universities need to design innovative approaches for learning and teaching, and rethink curricula and pedagogical models. Creating frameworks to develop the digital capacities of teachers is key. And so is ensuring the safety, security, privacy and wellbeing of children and students.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated digital transformation worldwide; governments and other stakeholders need to build on this and further leverage the potential of digital technologies as enablers of social and economic development. The international community has a duty to support developing countries in these efforts; this could be done through capacity development instruments that (1) help countries build regulations and institutions to govern the development, deployment and use of digital technologies that benefit society at large, and (2) empower other stakeholders to contribute to such governance processes.

What policies, regulations and support structures are needed to build the enabling environments for inclusive digital economies that allow everyone to have access to their benefits in both developed and developing countries?

  • More needs to be done to empower individuals, especially in developing countries, to benefit from the digital economy and be prepared for the future of work. Policy makers need to develop and implement agile and enabling policies and regulations that focus on ensuring meaningful access to infrastructure and technology; reforming educational systems to put more focus on both digital skills and soft skills; and supporting innovation and entrepreneurship. Regulatory sandboxes could also help in the development and testing of adequate regulations to support inclusive digital economies.
  • Small businesses will benefit from support (from governments and bigger players) in their efforts to join the digital market. Capacity development initiatives, mentorship programmes, and easy access to e-commerce platforms are examples of such support.
  • Governments and the private sector need to address inequalities related to the participation of women, people with disabilities, and other vulnerable groups in the digital economy. Eliminating barriers to accessing the platform economy or other digital businesses, and ensuring equitable treatment for workers are examples of required actions.
  • The transborder harmonisation of policies could help accelerate the development of more inclusive and sustainable digital economies. Policies focused on eliminating barriers to cross-border digital trade are one example in this regard.
  • Accelerating financial inclusion and ensuring that everyone has access to fast, reliable and secure digital payments can support inclusive economic development, boost entrepreneurship, reduce the informal economy, and improve citizens’ life. Governments need to work together with other stakeholders to build adequate infrastructures for digital payments and encourage their use by merchants (e.g. via tax incentives) and consumers (e.g. via capacity development, reduced VAT for digital payments).
  • Legal frameworks are required to uphold labour rights in the digital economy and promote fair work principles (fair pay, fair contracts, fair wages, ability to collectivise). Such frameworks should focus on protecting people, not jobs, and should be properly implemented. Private-sector-driven codes of good practices for fair work could be a complementary solution.

How can we ensure that policy spaces and processes that address digital inclusion issues are inclusive and foster the active and meaningful participation of those people and communities whose digital inclusion issues they hope to overcome?

  • If digital inclusion policies are to be effective, efficient and sustainable, they need to be developed and implemented with the active participation of the targeted communities (youth, women, rural communities, etc.). Digital inequalities are different, so it is important to contextualise such policies and adapt them to the needs of the targeted communities.
  • Inclusion should not be only about policy spaces, but also about technology spaces. These too need to integrate the views and interests of various communities such as women and persons with disabilities. For instance, the private sector needs to look at disability inclusion at all levels of the organisations, truly understand the challenges and needs of persons with disabilities, and involve them in the design of digital tech and products.
  • […]

Full set of Messages

Berlin IGF Messages (2019)

Inclusive access to the Internet and its infrastructure

  • For developing and least developed countries to truly benefit from the potential of the Internet for development, it is important to build a culture of trust and knowledge exchange among governments and other stakeholders at national level.
  • Digital infrastructure development should not come at the expense of the development of other physical infrastructure.
  • Internet user growth has slowed down and connecting the unconnected remains a huge challenge. At the same time, attacks against Internet connectivity have become a dangerous instrument of politics. Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target 9.c on access is unlikely to be reached, with only 60-70% of the world’s population projected to be connected by 2025.
  • Mobile phone penetration is not a good way to measure progress towards achieving digital inclusion. Instead, assessment of digital inclusion is more usefully framed as assessing how many people are connected to a safe and secure Internet, and how many of people have “meaningful connectivity” – that is, connectivity to do what people find useful online, delivered at the right speed with sufficient data.
  • Community networks, where infrastructure is locally owned and managed, not only help connect the unconnected, but also create social bonds, strengthen local economies, increase access to knowledge and help achieve the SDGs, such as empowering women in getting online.
  • To be open to and supportive of community networks, regulators and policy makers should consider simplifying licensing regimes, providing dynamic spectrum access, and sometimes recognizing that the regulatory rules that apply in an urban environment might not necessarily work for remote and rural communities.
  • To achieve digital inclusion, there is a need to understand the differences between access and accessibility and to recognize and cater for their different requirements when engaging in policy dialogues. Access comes first, then comes the harder work of accessibility.
  • To improve the experience of persons with disabilities – the world’s largest minority, making up around 15% of the world’spopulation or one billion people – there is a need to agree upon and use universal design principles for accessibility across countries and regions. ICTs, including specially- developed technologies for persons with disabilities, to help break through communication and access barriers, enhance mobility and foster independent living and societal integration.

Capacity and skills for digital inclusion and innovation

  • Digital skills and literacy are as integral to digital inclusion as the ability to read and write are to social inclusion. Access to education and training are essential for people to gain employment. Schools and tertiary education institutions are well positioned to deliver on digital literacy needs, but educators may need help to better prepare for their increasingly important role in transferring digital skills to those who need them. Internet governance schools have also emerged as a targeted and effective platform for building knowledge and leadership across the diverse and growing field of Internet development, policy and regulation.
  • More resources are needed for capacity building across stakeholder groups. People must be empowered to articulate their own capacity building needs and be actively involved in efforts to respond to these needs. Effective governance is crucial to anticipating and meeting these needs, as building skills and social welfare systems requires time and creativity.
  • […]

Social and economic inclusion, gender equality and human rights

  • […]
  • Digital technologies have transformed the economy, creating extraordinary opportunities for economic development and commercial success across all sectors. As connectivity increases in low- and middle-income countries, remote and platform-mediated work provides an opportunity to overcome pervasive unemployment and provide new sources of income for qualified populations.
  • Technical innovations are there to serve people and not the other way around. We need to better understand the relationship between digital advances and inequality: inequality and exclusion drive social unrest and conflict; digital technologies can either widen digital, social and economic divides, or be a force to help reduce them.
  • Least developed and developing countries should be able to benefit from an equitable share of the digital wealth that the Internet enables. To achieve this, regulators and policy makers can support conducive environments that can incubates, develop, and grow local technology companies that can grow into large domestic, regional, and continental tech giants – the so‐called “new Silicon Valleys of the Global South”.
  • Bias and exclusion continue to be deeply embedded in digital spaces. Discussion about inclusion of marginalized people should be at the centre of Internet governance and public policy conversations and not in the margins.
  • Securing work remains challenging for many, particularly for women, and working conditions are often dire. Everywhere, women, gender-diverse people, people from the global South and people of colour do not have the same opportunities, presence or influence in digital spaces as men, and people from the global North. Solutions have to be value based and practical. Infrastructure and connectivity issues must, therefore, be viewed from a gender perspective to understand and respond to the specific inclusion of women and gender-diverse people.

Local content and language diversity

  • Unconnected citizens of the Global South should be viewed as more than potential digital consumers of the tech giants of the north. Instead, it is important that as more people have access to the Internet from least developed and developing countries, that they are active contributors to the digital environment and not just consumers.
  • The adoption of Internationalised Domain Names (IDNs) needs further encouragement and support by all stakeholders to increase the benefits made possible by having Internet domains in local languages and scripts but.
  • Universal acceptance of IDNs and internationalized email addresses is not just a technical issue, it is also a policy issue. Governments and public entities should promote universal acceptance and lead by example through using IDNs themselves.
  • Copyright can be both an enabler of local content production as well a barrier to content creation and distribution. Creative Commons licences give content creators control over how their content is shared and re-used.
  • Digitization of local content and cultural heritage that does not take place with the active involvement of local communities generates a form of “extractivism” and exploitation.
  • Preserving heritage and promoting local content needs sustainable local production infrastructures and markets so that people can make a living out of creating content.

Full set of Messages

Paris IGF Messages (2018)

Infrastructure and financing connectivity

  • Public connectivity through free and accessible Internet points, such as those available in public libraries, can deliver meaningful and equitable access to information for underserved communities. These points are a low‐cost, high‐impact resource that is often overlooked. Nevertheless, not all libraries or community centres are online and they are often subject to low or inconsistent public funding. Better awareness-building on how to overcome the barriers to achieving access in public spaces, and on the related financial and legal frameworks, is essential.
  • Successful connectivity, in particular connectivity investment, relies on coordinated efforts from multiple stakeholders. While much of the current investment comes from private network operators, blended financing models are beginning to show promise. Policies should be aimed at promoting new investments for connectivity.
  • Submarine cables are one of the key connectivity infrastructures. Policymaking should be conducive to investments in their deployment, whether the investment models are public, private or public-private, and encourage transparent and participatory management of those infrastructures.

Digital inclusion & accessibility – overarching messages

  • The Internet is really a powerful tool for inclusion — probably the most useful tool. On the other hand, the Internet itself, if not utilised in the right direction, will easily lead to digital exclusion. Even with availability of access, a lack of trust in the Internet will deepen the existing digital divides in various forms.
  • It has taken more than 20 years to connect close to 50% of the world’s population — can we afford another 20 years to ensure digital inclusion for the remaining 50%? The UN Secretary- General has emphasized that “the imperative to leave no one behind is just as relevant in the digital world” — so what is the role of IGF community as a whole, and respective stakeholder group roles, as we edge toward target implementation and deliveries of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and to ensure human rights are respected for all?
  • Global statistics tell us that the average cost of Internet access continues to fall and over 70% of the world’s population are now living within range of mobile networks. However, despite increased awareness and development efforts, multiple forms of digital divides remain – from access and connectivity, to capacity divides and gender divides. But there is a growing consensus on the need for more diverse policy perspectives on the root causes and consequences of digital inclusion. A cross-sectoral, interdisciplinary and integrated approach is essential to the fabric of the multistakeholder process — to consider digital inclusion root causes and the inclusive design and deployment of new technologies, and to identify, understand, and address new and cross-generational issues.

Access & connectivity

  • Internet access is a key component in thriving innovations. This is about more than access and connection and being an enabling tool — it is an empowering tool, not just in gaining decent work and employment but also for social inclusion. Equally important to support Internet access is also to ensure that people have a meaningful access that can impact their lives for the better. It is, therefore, important to focus on not just technical aspects but also human [or social] aspects of connectivity.
  • Challenges in access and connectivity remain and take different forms in various environments — a lack of conducive regulatory environments and legislative frameworks that support last mile and rural connectivity, and new technologies in general; inadequate enabling infrastructure (including rural power and backhaul); and some commercial operators focusing on lucrative urban rather than rural connectivity, among others. High access costs due to geographies is also an issue, especially for landlocked developing countries (LLDCs) and small island and developing States (SIDS).
  • 5G, starting with its cost-effective features, is envisioned to be a cornerstone infrastructure for digital economy and inclusion. Questions remain on its time-to-market and other enabling factors. On a similar note, mobile connectivity, IoTs and AI are among some new assistive technologies that display strong evidenced success and yet untapped potential to address efficiently the basic needs of the underserved, meeting SDG targets and indicators on electricity, water, education, healthcare and transport, among others.
  • In enabling Internet access, in addition to feasibility, both affordability and sustainability should be kept in mind. In some lower income or developing countries, people might not feel the need to pay for Internet access (as a priority above other, more essential, services), or simply be unable to access the Internet in a meaningful and consistent way due to system inadequacies or a lack of infrastructure. Some simple but innovative examples of ways to address these issues are relevant and replicable. Feasibility is only one aspect of addressing Internet accessibility.
  • Governments have a key role in facilitating the adoption of new technologies like 5G, IoTs, AI for the improvement of its population ́s accessibility and connectivity. Such technologies are expected to expand rapidly and improve connectivity and inclusivity for the benefit of consumers, innovators and business. Governments should therefore consider its role in allocating sufficient spectrum for mobile connectivity, especially at low bands and exploring network and spectrum sharing in rural areas.
  • Accessibility should be all-encompassing. There was a strong support for the view that IGF also has to live up to its commitment to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). A number of accessibility problems were pointed out by DCAD (DC on Accessibility and Disability) members, including but not limited to: remote participation, website (schedule format, online registration), and physical accessibility.

Digital inclusion of vulnerable groups

  • Digital inclusion can also lead to exclusion. For instance, the introduction of digital literacy programmes will not benefit those who are currently unconnected.
  • A reminder on the prevalent global demographic trend of urbanization and smart cities is that cities should exist to serve the needs of society and all people, not the other way around. As an integral part of the population, the needs of persons with disabilities, older persons and other vulnerable groups should be part of thoughtful and integrated into the designs of cities. Likewise, urban slum conditions that need to be tackled with various policy measures, should include the use of relevant technologies. This could be done through incorporating tried and trusted criteria such as World Wide Web Consortium standards and Universal Design. New and innovative people-centric approaches are also encouraged.
  • Persons with disabilities – More often than not, a connected person has substantial advantages over a disconnected person. For people with disabilities, this societal division is often wider when access to internet and ICTs is unavailable or unaffordable, and where many Internet based applications and tools are not designed to meet the needs of those with a disability. The needs of persons with disabilities are not sufficiently reflected in the Internet development and design of technologies — and this calls for a radical change in embracing this aspect as well as conditions for other vulnerable groups. For instance, artificial intelligence (AI) technologies can assist people with disabilities and other marginalized groups to access technology and establish or improve their professional, educational and human connections.
  • Refugees and migrants – Digital inclusion is also particularly important for refugees, as the Internet serves as a critical medium for access to information and connecting to loved ones. In addition, technologies such as blockchains and AI have also been increasingly deployed in an effective manner to empower and deliver basic services to refugees and migrants.
  • Indigenous people – People living in indigenous reservations lack basic access to services like electricity and therefore to the Internet. As such reservations also occur within higher developed countries, it is important to adopt suitable regional or local approaches to ensure digital inclusion.

Community networks

  • Lessons drawn from over 100 case studies show that deliberate efforts are needed to bring together two communities at large: the practitioners who work on projects at the grassroots level, and the development policy and investor community, which has expertise in improving social outcomes through policy, regulation and financing.
  • The establishment of community networks has emerged as a concrete alternative to address the challenge of connecting the unconnected. Successful community networks rely on the active participation of local communities in the design, development, and management of network infrastructure as a common public resource. Community networks give rise to new infrastructures, new governance models, new business opportunities, and facilitate the free flow of information and knowledge, filling the lacunae left by the traditional Internet access-provision paradigm. Moreover, they offer a promising strategy allowing individuals to build connectivity. Policy and regulation could facilitate the development of last mile and rural connectivity initiatives.
  • One useful and tested output coming out of the IGF’s Dynamic Coalition on CommunityConnectivity is The Community Network Manual. The Manual provides useful guidance on how to build, organise, and deploy community networks through toolkits, guidelines, and instructions.
  • At times, community networks face problems in finding a regulatory framework which could be adapted to the needs – often because such frameworks have never been considered by policy makers (most likely due to a lack of awareness that the need exists). Regulators may, however, be receptive developing frameworks when they gain awareness – including through dialoguewith people – of these needs.
  • Technological development increasingly provides new opportunities for libraries as cloudcomputing and the possibility to host digital content in safe servers while libraries in developing countries would only need and internet connection and computers. Community anchor institutions enable meaningful access and support economic empowerment. Libraries act as strategic players in forging partnerships and furthering Internet accessing goal.

Online education and digital capacity development

  • Digital skills training programs complement traditional connectivity and improve economic outcomes for vulnerable communities. These include not only content development for users, but also technical know-how on ensuring sustainability of networks and community training for equipment maintenance, especially in underdeveloped communities.
  • In some countries, the fear of adoption of technology is related to the fear of losing jobs. As this weakens economic development and growth, the gains of automation and Internet development should be redistributed fairly to both innovators and legacy skills. Retraining workers and adapting public policies (in areas such as industry or workplace relations policy) offer possible solutions for this.
  • Digital literacy is important – but digital inclusion is about more than digital literacy. It goes beyond browsing the Internet and using computer applications, to understanding and leveraging the power of the Internet to bring social and economic change to the community — to bring decent work and employment, social inclusion and a means to bridging the gaps between rural and urban populations.
  • Without digital literacy training we can build all the networks we want but will not accomplish the goals we seek.
  • Even though the need for capacity building is stressed in various policy circles, supply and demand expectations do not always match. In this regard, the multistakeholder nature of Internet governance does not always match involvement of all stakeholder groups in capacity development programmes.
  • Given the prevailing trends, it is likely that a number of countries will not able to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal Target 9c — to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet — by 2020 (notwithstanding that digital inclusion is more than the core of accessibility). Gaps in today’s digital inclusion will not be bridged by simply focusing on expanding broadband access. An inclusive society can only be realised if policymakers and stakeholders are aware of the root problems and are committed to solving them. Improved data systems, engagement and multistakeholder partnerships are needed, together with appropriate legal frameworks that are in line with relevant international conventions and recommendations that assert full digital inclusion.

Full set of Messages

Geneva IGF Messages (2017)
  • The digital divide remains a concern around the world and it requires actions in multiple areas, from building infrastructures, to empowering individuals and communities to make meaningful use of the Internet. Community networks are an example of such a multidisciplinary approach: the building of physical infrastructures is complemented by empowering communities to benefit from digital opportunities. Public libraries also have an important role to play in improving access, especially in developing countries.
  • The principle of universal design in the development of technologies should be seen as a requirement for enhancing accessibility, including for persons with disabilities. Measures are implemented around the world, and it is important to collect data about what works and what does not, to inform policy making.
  • There was general support that gender digital divide is still a reality manifesting itself in multiple dimensions. Efforts to enable women and girls to access the infrastructures and digital technologies need to be complemented with creating digital literacy, enabling meaningful use of technologies, encouraging them to prepare for jobs in technology fields, enabling them to create content that is relevant and valuable to their lives and contexts, as well as empowering them to contribute to Internet governance and digital policy processes. Some pointed out that gender equality is also a matter of culture and norms, and that stereotypes should be fought against through education and awareness. Context was stressed as an important factor that impacts on this issue.
  • The digital divide facilitates discrimination of women and girls and as such, is a human rights issue that states should address in line with international human rights frameworks. Cooperation is key, and also other stakeholders have critical roles to play.
  • Several discussants stated that technology is not neutral, and that gender diversity should be taken into account when technologies are designed. They warned for the potential impact of data-driven technologies on gender digital rights, and called for multistakeholder action to avoid that opaque algorithms and machine learning systems make gender-biased decisions.

Full set of Messages

Internet governance

UNGA Resolution 77/150 on ICT for sustainable development (2022)

  • Reaffirming also that Internet governance, including the process towards enhanced cooperation and the convening of the Internet Governance Forum, should continue to follow the provisions set forth in the outcomes of the summits held in Geneva and Tunis,
  • Recalling the efforts undertaken by the host countries in organizing the meetings of the Internet Governance Forum, held in Athens in 2006, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 2007, in Hyderabad, India, in 2008, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, in 2009, in Vilnius in 2010, in Nairobi in 2011, in Baku in 2012, in Bali, Indonesia, in 2013, in Istanbul, Türkiye, in 2014, in João Pessoa, Brazil, in 2015, in Guadalajara, Mexico, in 2016, in Geneva, in 2017, in Paris in 2018, in Berlin in 2019, in Katowice, Poland, in 2021 and the meeting held in Addis Ababa in 2022, and recalling also the meeting convened virtually by the Secretary-General in 2020,
  • Recalling also the convening of the Working Group on Enhanced Cooperation on Public Policy Issues Pertaining to the Internet, based on the proposal by the Chair of the Commission on Science and Technology for Development regarding the structure and composition of the Working Group, as requested by the General Assembly in its resolution 70/125 of 16 December 2015 and endorsed by the Economic and Social Council in its resolution 2017/21, and taking note of its work,
  • Reaffirming the value and principles of multi-stakeholder cooperation and engagement that have characterized the World Summit on the Information Society process since its inception, and recognizing that the effective participation, partnership and cooperation of Governments, the private sector, civil society, international organizations, the technical and academic communities and all other relevant stakeholders, within their respective roles and responsibilities, especially with balanced representation from developing countries, have been and continue to be vital in developing the information society,
  • […]
  • 26. Acknowledges the extension of the mandate of the Internet Governance Forum through 2025, as set out in the outcome document of the high-level meeting of the General Assembly on the overall review of the implementation of the outcomes of the World Summit on the Information Society;
  • 27. Recognizes the importance of the Internet Governance Forum and its mandate as a forum for multi-stakeholder dialogue on various matters, as reflected in paragraph 72 of the Tunis Agenda for the Information Society, including discussion of public policy issues related to key elements of Internet governance, and requests the Secretary-General to continue to submit, as part of his annual reporting on the progress made in the implementation of and follow-up to the outcomes of the World Summit on the Information Society at the regional and international levels, information on the progress made in the implementation of the recommendations contained in the report of the Working Group on Improvements to the Internet Governance Forum, in particular those on enhancing the participation of developing countries. 
  • 28. Stresses the need for the enhanced participation of Governments and stakeholders from all developing countries, in particular the least developed countries, in all meetings of the Internet Governance Forum, and in this regard invites Member States, as well as other relevant stakeholders, to support the participation of Governments and all other stakeholders from developing countries in the Forum itself, as well as in the preparatory meetings;
  • 29. Notes the work of the Working Group on Enhanced Cooperation, established by the Chair of the Commission on Science and Technology for Development as requested by the General Assembly in its resolution 70/125, to develop recommendations on how to further implement enhanced cooperation as envisioned in the Tunis Agenda, and also notes that the Working Group ensured the full involvement of Governments and other relevant stakeholders, in particular from developing countries, taking into account all their diverse views and expertise;
  • 30. Also notes that the Working Group held five meetings between September 2016 and January 2018 at which it discussed inputs from Member States and other stakeholders, as stipulated by the General Assembly in its resolution 70/125;
  • 31. Recalls the report of the Chair of the Working Group, which includes references to the full texts of all proposals and contributions, and expresses its gratitude to the Chair and all participants who submitted inputs and contributed to the work of the Working Group;
  • 32. Welcomes the good progress made by the Working Group in many areas and the fact that consensus seemed to emerge on some issues, while significant divergence of views in a number of other issues persisted, and in that regard regrets that the Working Group could not find agreement on recommendations on how to further implement enhanced cooperation as envisioned in the Tunis Agenda;
  • 33. Recognizes the importance of enhanced cooperation in the future, to enable Governments, on an equal footing, to carry out their roles and responsibilities in international public policy issues pertaining to the Internet, and notes the need for continued dialogue and work on the implementation of enhanced cooperation as envisioned in the Tunis Agenda;
  • 34. Encourages the use of and engagement with forums and expertise available within relevant United Nations bodies, such as the Commission on Science and Technology for Development, by all relevant stakeholders to promote global digital cooperation;
  • 49. Takes note of the recommendations of the Secretary-General, in his report entitled “Our Common Agenda” to improve digital cooperation, with a view to bridging digital divides and accelerating the positive contribution that digital technologies can play in society, including towards achieving the 2030 Agenda;
  • 50. Looks forward to the development of a global digital compact to strengthen digital cooperation through an open and inclusive process, taking into account the work being done in the United Nations and in relevant processes and forums, and takes note of the role of the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Technology in supporting this effort;

Full text of the resolution

Note: The UN General Assembly has been adopting resolutions on ICT for (sustainable) development on an almost yearly basis since 2002.

Our Common Agenda – Report of the UN Secretary-General (2021)
  • 93. It is time to protect the online space and strengthen its governance. I would urge the Internet Governance Forum to adapt, innovate and reform to support effective governance of the digital commons and keep pace with rapid, real- world developments. Furthermore, building on the recommendations of the road map for digital cooperation (see A/74/821), the United Nations, Governments, the private sector and civil society could come together as a multi-stakeholder digital technology track in preparation for a Summit of the Future to agree on a Global Digital Compact. This would outline shared principles for an open, free and secure digital future for all. Complex digital issues that could be addressed may include: reaffirming the fundamental commitment to connecting the unconnected; avoiding fragmentation of the Internet; providing people with options as to how their data is used; application of human rights online; and promoting a trustworthy Internet by introducing accountability criteria for discrimination and misleading content. More broadly, the Compact could also promote regulation of artificial intelligence to ensure that this is aligned with shared global values.

Full text of the report

United Nations Secretary General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation (2020)

E. Global digital cooperation

Recommendations 5A and 5B (global digital cooperatioon)

  • 66. To address gaps in global digital cooperation, the Panel suggested three potential models: a strengthened and enhanced Internet Governance Forum Plus, a distributed co-governance architecture and a digital commons architecture.
  • 67. The existing digital cooperation architecture has become highly complex and diffused but not necessarily effective, and global discussions and processes are often not inclusive enough. This situation is exacerbated by the lack of a common entry point into the global digital architecture, which makes it especially hard for developing countries, small and medium-sized enterprises, marginalized groups and other stakeholders with limited budgets and expertise to make their voices heard.
  • 68. Discussions among relevant stakeholders on the Panel’s three proposed models are ongoing, given the complexity and significance of the issues and the need to ensure a comprehensive representation of global voices. While there appears to be momentum in support of the Internet Governance Forum Plus model, some have highlighted the need to continue examining the other two architectures, including how various features may complement that model. Member States are considering working with a multi-stakeholder task force to pilot the distributed co-governance model at the national or regional levels.

IV. Concluding observations and way forward

Global digital cooperation

  • 93. While discussions on the different digital architecture models proposed by the Panel are ongoing among stakeholders, the following ideas have emerged with a view to making the Internet Governance Forum more responsive and relevant to current digital issues. These include:
    • (a) Creating a strategic and empowered multi-stakeholder high-level body, building on the experience of the existing multi-stakeholder advisory group, which would address urgent issues, coordinate follow-up action on Forum discussions and relay proposed policy approaches and recommendations from the Forum to the appropriate normative and decision-making forums;
    • (b) Having a more focused agenda for the Forum based on a limited number of strategic policy issues;
    • (c) Establishing a high-level segment and ministerial or parliamentarian tracks, ensuring more actionable outcomes;
    • (d) Forging stronger links among the global Forum and its regional, national, subregional and youth initiatives;
    • (e) Better integrating programme and intersessional policy development work to support other priority areas outlined in the present report;
    • (f) Addressing the long-term sustainability of the Forum and the resources necessary for increased participation, through an innovative and viable fundraising strategy, as promoted by the round table;
    • (g) Enhancing the visibility of the Forum, including through a stronger corporate identity and improved reporting to other United Nations entities.
  • 94. While consultations on digital architecture models will continue in the coming months, I support these measures to enhance the Forum and intend to implement them as appropriate.

Full text of the Roadmap

The Age of Digital Interdependence – Report of the UN Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation (2019)

4. Mechanisms for global digital cooperation

No single approach to digital cooperation can address the diverse spectrum of issues raised in this report – and as technologies evolve, so will the issues, and the most effective ways to cooperate. We should approach digital cooperation using all available tools, making dynamic choices about the best approach based on specific circumstances. In some cases, cooperation may be initiated and led by the private sector or civil society, and in some cases by governments or international organisations.

Most current mechanisms of digital cooperation are primarily local, national or regional. However, digital interdependence also necessitates that we strengthen global digital cooperation mechanisms to address challenges and provide opportunities for all.  

This chapter identifies gaps and challenges in current arrangements for global digital cooperation and summarises the functions any future cooperation architecture could perform and what principles could underpin them. It then outlines three possible options for digital cooperation architectures and concludes with a discussion of the role the United Nations can play. There was not unanimity of opinion among the Panel members about the shape, function and operations of these different models. Instead, they are presented as useful alternatives to explore in the spirit of digital cooperation and as an input for the broad consultations we call for in Recommendation 5A.

Ultimately, success of any proposed mechanisms and architecture will depend on the spirit in which they are developed and implemented. All governments, the private sector and civil society organisations need to recognise how much they stand to gain from a spirit of collaboration to drive progress toward the achievement of the SDGs and to raise the costs of using digital technologies irresponsibly. The alternative is further erosion of the trust and stability we need to build an inclusive and prosperous digital future.

4.1 Challenges and gaps 

The international community is not starting from scratch. It can build on established mechanisms for digital cooperation involving governments, technical bodies, civil society and other organisations. Some are based in national and international law, others in “soft law” – norms, guidelines, codes of conduct and other self-regulatory measures adopted by business and tech communities. Some are loosely organised, others highly institutionalised. Some focus on setting agendas and standards, others on monitoring and coordination. Many could evolve to become better fit for purpose.

The need for better digital cooperation is not so much with managing the technical nuts and bolts of how technologies function, as mechanisms here are generally well-established, but with the unprecedented economic, societal and ethical challenges they cause. How to tell, in context, when conversations on social media cross the line into inciting violence? How to limit the use of cyber weapons possessed not only by states but non-state actors and individuals? How to adapt trade systems designed for a different era to the newly emerging forms of online commerce? 

The 2003 and 2005 World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) established the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) as a platform for multi-stakeholder dialogue. Global, national and regional IGF meetings have contributed to many important digital debates. But the IGF, in its current form, has limitations in addressing challenges that are now emerging from new digital technologies.

The need for strengthened cooperation mechanisms has been raised many times in recent years by broad initiatives – such as the NetMundial Conference, the Global Commission on Internet Governance and Web Foundation’s Contract for the Web – and more narrowly focused efforts such as the Broadband Commission, the Alliance for Affordable Internet, the Internet & Jurisdiction Policy Network, the Global Commission on the Stability of Cyberspace, the Charter of Trust, Smart Africa, and the International Panel on AI recently announced by Canada and France.

In our consultations, we heard a great deal of dissatisfaction with existing digital cooperation arrangements: a desire for more tangible outcomes, more active participation by governments and the private sector, more inclusive processes and better follow-up. Overall, systems need to become more holistic, multi-disciplinary, multi-stakeholder, agile and able to convert rhetoric into practice. We have identified six main gaps:

First, despite their growing impact on society, digital technology and digital cooperation issues remain relatively low on many national, regional and global political agendas. Only recently have forums such as the G20 started regularly to address the digital economy. In 2018, the UN Secretary-General for the first time delivered an opening statement in person at the IGF in Paris.

Second, digital cooperation arrangements such as technical bodies and standard-setting organisations are often not inclusive enough of small and developing countries, indigenous communities, women, young and elderly people and those with disabilities. Even if they are invited to the table, such groups may lack the capacity to participate effectively and meaningfully.  

Third, there is considerable overlap among the large number of mechanisms covering digital policy issues. As a result, the digital cooperation architecture has become highly complex but not necessarily effective. There is no simple entry point. This makes it especially hard for small enterprises, marginalised groups, developing countries and other stakeholders with limited budgets and expertise to make their voices heard.

Fourth, digital technologies increasingly cut across areas in which policies are shaped by separate institutions. For example, one body may look at data issues from the perspective of standardisation, while another considers trade, and still another regulates to protect human rights. Many international organisations are trying to adjust their traditional policy work to reflect the realities of the digital transformation, but do not yet have enough expertise and experience to have well-defined roles in addressing new digital issues. At a minimum there needs to be better communication across different bodies to shape awareness. Ideally, effective cooperation should create synergies. 

Fifth, there is a lack of reliable data, metrics and evidence on which to base practical policy interventions. For example, the annual cost of cybercrime to the global economy is variously estimated at anything from $600 billion to $6 trillion. Estimates of the value of the AI market in 2025 range from $60 billion to $17 trillion. The problem is most acute in developing countries, where resources to collect evidence are scarce and data collection is generally uneven. Establishing a knowledge repository on digital policy, with definitions of terms and concepts, would also increase clarity in policy discussions and support consistency of measurement of digital inclusion, as we have noted in our Recommendation 1D.

Sixth, lack of trust among governments, civil society and the private sector – and sometimes a lack of humility and understanding of different perspectives – can make it more difficult to establish the collaborative multi-stakeholder approach needed to develop effective cooperation mechanisms. 

Inter-governmental work must be balanced with work involving broader stakeholders. Multi-stakeholder and multilateral approaches can and do co-exist. The challenge is to evolve ways of using each to reinforce the effectiveness of the other. 

Values and principles 

As noted in the discussion of values in Chapter 1, we believe global digital cooperation should be: inclusive; respectful; human-centred; conducive to human flourishing; transparent; collaborative; accessible; sustainable and harmonious. Shared values become even more important during periods of rapid change, limited information and unpredictability, as with current discussions of cooperation relating to artificial intelligence. 

It would be useful for the private sector, communities and governments to conduct digital cooperation initiatives by explicitly defining the values and principles that guide them. The aim is to align stakeholders around a common vision, maximise the beneficial impacts and minimise the risk of misuse and unintended consequences. 

Alongside these shared values, we believe it is useful to highlight operational principles as a reference point for the future evolution of digital cooperation mechanisms. The principles we propose for global digital cooperation mechanisms include that they should: be easy to engage in, open and transparent; inclusive and accountable to all stakeholders; consult and debate as locally as possible; encourage innovation of both technologies and better mechanisms for cooperating; and, seek to maximise the global public interest. These are set forth in more detail in Annex VI, based on the experience of internet governance and technical coordination bodies – such as the WSIS process, UNESCO and the NetMundial conference. 

Defining values and principles is only the first step: we must operationalise them in practice in the design and development of digital technology and digital cooperation mechanisms. Where the reach of hard governance is limited or ambiguous – for example, at the stage of innovation or when the long-term impact of technologies is hard to predict – values-based cooperation approaches can play a vital role. 

We should look for opportunities to operationalise values and principles at each step in the design and development of new technologies, as well as new policy practices. For example, educational institutions could encourage software developers, business executives and engineers to integrate values and principles in their work and use professional codes of conduct akin to the medical profession’s Hippocratic Oath. Businesses can integrate values into workflows, use values-based measures to assess risk and institute a suitable incentive structure for staff to follow shared values. Self-assessments and third-party audits can also help institutionalise a business culture based on shared values. 

4.2 Three possible architectures for global digital cooperation

The Panel had many discussions about possible practical next steps to improve the architecture of global digital cooperation and the merits of proposing new mechanisms or updating existing ones. Some suggested that many cooperation challenges could be best addressed by strengthening implementation capacities of current agencies and mandates. 

While no single vision emerged, there was broad agreement that improved cooperation is needed, that such cooperation will need to take multiple diverse forms, and that governments, the private sector and civil society will need to find new ways to work together to steer an effective path between extremes of over-regulation and complete laissez-faire. Based on our consultations, the Panel felt that presenting options for digital cooperation architectures would best contribute to the discourse on global digital cooperation. 

Annex VI sets out functions that a digital cooperation architecture could be designed to improve. These include generating political will, ensuring the active and meaningful participation of all stakeholders, monitoring developments and identifying trends, creating shared understanding and purpose, preventing and resolving disputes, building consensus and following up on agreements. 

Below three possible models are proposed that could address some of these functions. The first enhances and extends the multi-stakeholder IGF. The second is a distributed architecture which builds on existing mechanisms. The third envisions a ‘commons’ approach with loose coordination by the UN. All have benefits and drawbacks. They are put forward here to provide concrete starting points for the further discussion and broad consultation which we recommend the UN Secretary-General initiate in our Recommendation 5A. 

A note on inclusive representation: All three models highlighted below would need to take special steps to ensure that they are broadly representative and develop specific mechanisms to ensure equitable participation of developing countries, women and other traditionally marginalised groups who have often been denied a voice.

“Internet Governance Forum Plus”

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 IGFs.206 It would add important capacity strengthening and other support activities.  

The IGF Plus model aims to address the IGF’s current shortcomings. For example, the lack of actionable outcomes can be addressed by working on policies and norms of direct interest to stakeholder communities. The limited participation of government and business representatives, especially from small and developing countries, can be addressed by introducing discussion tracks in which governments, the private sector and civil society address their specific concerns. 

The IGF Plus would comprise an Advisory Group, Cooperation Accelerator, Policy Incubator and Observatory and Help Desk.

The Advisory Group, based on the IGF’s current Multi-stakeholder Advisory Group, would be responsible for preparing annual meetings, and identifying focus policy issues each year. This would not exclude coverage of other issues but ensure a critical mass of discussion on the selected issues. The Advisory Group could identify moments when emerging discussions in other forums need to be connected, and issues that are not covered by existing organisations or mechanisms.

Building on the current practices of the IGF, the Advisory Group could consist of members appointed for three years by the UN Secretary-General on the advice of member states and stakeholder groups, ensuring gender, age, stakeholder and geographical balance.

The Cooperation Accelerator would accelerate issue-centred cooperation across a wide range of institutions, organisations and processes; identify points of convergence among existing IGF coalitions, and issues around which new coalitions need to be established; convene stakeholder-specific coalitions to address the concerns of groups such as governments, businesses, civil society, parliamentarians, elderly people, young people, philanthropy, the media, and women; and facilitate convergences among debates in major digital and policy events at the UN and beyond.

The Cooperation Accelerator could consist of members selected for their multi-disciplinary experience and expertise. Membership would include civil society, businesses and governments and representation from major digital events such as the Web Summit, Mobile World Congress, Lift:Lab, Shift, LaWeb, and Telecom World. 

The Policy Incubator would incubate policies and norms for public discussion and adoption. In response to requests to look at a perceived regulatory gap, it would examine if existing norms and regulations could fill the gap and, if not, form a policy group consisting of interested stakeholders to make proposals to governments and other decision-making bodies. It would monitor policies and norms through feedback from the bodies that adopt and implement them.

The Policy Incubator could provide the currently missing link between dialogue platforms identifying regulatory gaps and existing decision-making bodies by maintaining momentum in discussions without making legally binding decisions. It should have a flexible and dynamic composition involving all stakeholders concerned by a specific policy issue. 

The Observatory and Help Desk would direct requests for help on digital policy (such as dealing with crisis situations, drafting legislation, or advising on policy) to appropriate entities, including the Help Desks described in Recommendation 2; coordinate capacity development activities provided by other organisations; collect and share best practices; and provide an overview of digital policy issues, including monitoring trends, identifying emerging issues and providing data on digital policy.

The IGF Trust Fund would be a dedicated fund for the IGF Plus. All stakeholders – including governments, international organisations, businesses and the tech sector – would be encouraged to contribute. The IGF Plus Secretariat should be linked to the Office of the United Nations Secretary-General to reflect its interdisciplinary and system-wide approach. 

“Distributed Co-Governance Architecture”

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.  

Given the wide range of issues which the COGOV architecture could encompass, it will be imperative to ensure there is broad representation beyond the relatively homogenous expert communities which predominate for some of the technical issues discussed above.  

The COGOV architecture decouples the design of digital norms from their implementation and enforcement. It seeks to rapidly produce shared digital cooperation solutions, including norms, and publish them for stakeholders to consider and potentially adopt. These norms would be voluntary solutions rather than legal instruments. In themselves, the COGOV networks would not have governing authority or enforcement powers. However, the norms could be taken up by government agencies as useful blueprints to establish policies, regulations or laws.  

The COGOV could consist of three functional elements: a) Digital Cooperation Networks; b) Network Support Platforms; and, c) a Network of Networks. 

a) Digital Cooperation Networks. These networks would be issue-specific horizontal collaboration groups, involving stakeholders from relevant vertical sectors and institutions. They could be formed freely by stakeholders in a bottom-up way, self-governed, and share the same goal of cooperation – including potentially the design of digital norms. They could be created or supported by one or more governments and/or intergovernmental organisations with the same concerns. Their functions would include developing shared understandings and goals for a specific digital issue, strengthening cooperation, designing or updating digital norms, providing norm implementation roadmaps and developing capacity to adopt policies and norms.  

Participation in digital cooperation networks should be open for all relevant and concerned stakeholders, including governments, intergovernmental institutions, the private sector, civil society, academia and the technical community. Special efforts would need to be made to include and support representatives from developing countries and traditionally marginalised groups. The digital cooperation networks may be stand-alone voluntary networks or hosted by the network support platforms described below.

b) Network Support Platforms. These platforms could host and enable the dynamic formation and functioning of multiple digital cooperation networks. While the digital cooperation networks would operate in defined and limited timeframes, the network support platforms are proposed as stable long-term elements of the architecture, supporting the digital cooperation networks and enabling them to evolve as necessary to update their cooperation and relevant digital norms. 

The network support platforms should not interfere in the work product or composition of the self-governed and stakeholder-initiated digital cooperation networks; they should simply support the networks to operate efficiently. The platforms would help the networks to identify emerging issues, secure the commitment of relevant participants, provide necessary resources and facilities, and promote their outcomes.

c) Network of Networks. The network of networks would loosely coordinate and support activities across all digital cooperation networks and network support platforms. The role of the network of networks is to ensure integrity and enable coherent outcomes that account for the complex inter-dependencies across digital policy issues. 

The network of networks would consist of: 1) a support function, which would organise an annual forum, a ‘research cooperative’ and a ‘norm exchange’; and 2) a voluntary peer coordination network, which would bring issues to the attention of the annual forum and follow up on its recommendations by promoting action from specific stakeholders to form digital cooperation networks. 

The network of networks should avoid a controlling top-down form of administration: it is simply there to loosely coordinate the activities across the decentralized COGOV architecture; its decisions would not be binding. 

Once norms are available, governing authorities may choose to establish enforcement mechanisms and may choose to use these norms as policy input or blueprints. The following table summarises the mechanisms across the norm design, implementation, and enforcement stages:

Norm DesignNorm Implementation Norm Enforcement
Identify digital governance issuesDevelop norm design and adoption capacityDevelop norms into laws/regulations
Form digital cooperation networksProvide a ‘norm exchange’ to connect communitiesAdjudicate/resolve disputes and conflicts
Support networks through digital cooperation platformsOffer implementation incentivesEstablish clear guard rails for digital technologies
“Digital Commons Architecture” 

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. 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. 

Each track could be owned by a lead organisation – a UN agency, an industry or academic consortium or a multi-stakeholder forum, with the choice of participants governed by guiding principles of the kind listed in this report to ensure inclusiveness and broad representation. Light coordination of the tracks, and servicing of the annual meeting where their reports are considered, could be ensured by a small secretariat housed within the UN.

Analogous to processes such as the International Competition Network, the Digital Commons Architecture tracks would have flexible, project-oriented and results-based working groups. They would enable learning on governance and related capacity development to be driven by practice. Annual meetings could aggregate lessons for use in soft law or more binding approaches in the appropriate forums. This could rapidly build a repository of norms and governance practices to guide stakeholders in their respective roles and responsibilities.

The Digital Commons Architecture tracks could focus on issues agreed by the participants. For example, they might initially wish to address issues emerging from the preceding chapters, such as using data in support of the SDGs, using AI to improve agriculture and health, or developing a global values/ethics certification process for new technology.

Multi-stakeholder collaboration around these issues could pave the way for wider cooperation. For example, realising the potential of AI to provide insights to a global health challenge might require the pooling of reliable data, clear privacy measures, a common data architecture and interoperable standards. Successful outcomes could then be progressively extended to other areas. An additional benefit would be to promote transparency and build confidence.

The annual meeting would not make rules, but provide guidance to stakeholders, which they can use in the appropriate forums. The meeting would discuss the output of the various tracks as well as implementation of the governance guidance produced by these tracks through a ‘soft’ review of reports by stakeholders. 

The Digital Commons Architecture might not specify technical solutions, but instead propose technical models, and standards of accountability and trustworthiness, which could be applied across the globe. It could also facilitate a discussion of lessons from around the globe on implementation of existing norms in specific areas.

The annual meeting could build on and connect discussions taking place in other fora and could in turn feed its results into discussions taking place in other fora. This would reduce the current burden of multiplicity of forums by clarifying who is doing what, eliminating potential overlap, and identifying partnership opportunities. 

The Digital Commons Architecture could be funded through voluntary contributions. Along the lines of the International Chamber of Commerce, membership fees could be considered for private sector participation; these could be waived for certain categories such as small businesses or civil society participants.  A dedicated trust fund could assist with civil society and least developed country participation.

The three potential models share common elements, such as multi-stakeholder participation, dedicated trust funds to enhance inclusivity, reducing policy inflation by consolidating discussions across for a, and a light coordination and convening role for the UN. The values in Chapter 1 and principles and functions in Annex VI provide shared design elements that further emphasise inclusivity and multi-stakeholder participation. 

Equally, there are differences in emphasis and approach. The COGOV, for example, foresees a larger role for new networks of experts and multi-stakeholder governance; the Digital Commons Architecture presumes more of a focus on iterative learning of governance through practice in both multilateral and multi-stakeholder tracks; and the IGF Plus adds functionalities to an existing multi-stakeholder forum with a UN mandate. 

The common design elements across the models could be flexibly brought together once the broad thrust of a new digital cooperation architecture has been defined. As suggested in Recommendation 5A, a common starting point could be a Global Commitment for Digital Cooperation based on shared values and principles.   

4.3 The role of the UN 

The UN’s three foundational pillars – peace and security, human rights and development – position it well to help spotlight issues emerging in the digital age and advocate on behalf of humanity’s best interests. In our consultations, we heard that despite its well-known weaknesses, the UN retains a unique role and convening power to bring stakeholders together to create the norms and frameworks and assist in developing the capacity we need to ensure a safe and equitable digital future for all people.  

Digital technologies are increasingly impacting the work of the UN in three ways: changing the political, social and economic environment in the ways this report has discussed; providing new tools for its core mandates; and creating new policy issues. 

UN entities have begun to embrace the digital transformation and are revamping programmes and launching initiatives to apply digital technology to further their missions. Some UN agencies – such as UNICEF, UNESCO, the World Food Programme (WFP) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) – have made a priority of exploring how the digital transformation can provide them with new approaches to achieve their mandates. The Task Force on Digital Financing of the SDGs, for example, will explore how digital technologies can be leveraged to finance the SDGs.212

When digital issues often do not fit neatly within the traditional mandates of UN agencies, some have sought to expand their mandates, causing overlaps and friction. This duplication also causes confusion for external partners and stakeholders, who find it difficult to discern among the many fora, events and initiatives hosted by various parts of the UN on science, technology and innovation issues and policy setting. Some UN entities have responded to converging mandates by launching cross-cutting initiatives. For example, in 2010 the ITU and UNESCO established the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development; in 2016 the ITU, UN Women, the International Trade Centre (ITC), the GSM Association (GSMA), UNESCO and the United Nations University set up the EQUALS partnership to tackle the digital gender gap.

UN entities have also tended to go about digital issues in their own way, often without sharing information, at times duplicating each other’s work, and not reflecting on whether the systems they are building might scale to other UN entities. UN agencies can do much more to pool their human and computing capacities and develop shared tools and common standards – for example, through joint procurement of cloud computing, to reduce price and increase interoperability, and promoting open and interoperable standards for data produced and used by the UN.

The UN has begun to engage the private sector and tech community much more directly. For example, Tech Against Terrorism, a public/private partnership launched in April 2017 by the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate, aims to support the technology industry to develop more effective and responsible approaches to tackling terrorists’ use of the internet, while respecting human rights. However, working with stakeholders such as the private sector and civil society is still not part of the DNA of many UN agencies. More can be done to partner with other stakeholders effectively and consistently.

Created by the innovation units of several UN agencies in 2015, the UN Innovation Network is working on sharing best practices and recommending harmonisation of policies which may help reduce fragmentation across the UN system. The UN’s highest-level coordination body, the Chief Executives Board for Coordination, is trying to encourage more system-wide coordination through initiatives such as the UN Data Innovation Lab and UN data privacy principles. The High-level Committee on Programmes could also have a role to enable more knowledge sharing, efficiencies of scale and scaling up of successful practices and initiatives across the UN system.

The development of the UN Secretary-General’s Strategy on New Technologies, issued in September 2018, has helped identify points of overlap and convergence, and UN agencies meet regularly to track progress.The strategy notes that the Secretary-General may consider appointing a “Tech Envoy” following the work of this Panel.  

The UN can play a key role in enhancing digital cooperation by developing greater organisational and human capacity on digital governance issues and improving its ability to respond to member states’ need for policy advice and capacity development.

How can the UN add value in the digital transformation?

As a convener – The AI for Global Good Summit, the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development, ITU’s Global Symposium for Regulators, the WSIS Forum, the Multi-stakeholder Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for the Sustainable Development Goals (STI Forum).

Providing a space for debating values and norms  the IGF, the Group of Governmental Experts on Developments in the Field of Information and Telecommunications in the Context of International Security, Special Rapporteurs on the Right to Privacy and on the promotion and protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, UNESCO’s Artificial Intelligence with Human Values for Sustainable Development initiative, UNICEF’s efforts around children’s online safety.

Standard setting  ITU’s Telecommunication Standardization Sector, the UN Statistical Commission and its Global Working Group on Big Data for Official Statistics, WHO guidelines on digital health interventions, the Humanitarian Data Exchange – an open platform and standard for sharing data across crises and organisations. 

Multi-stakeholder or bilateral initiatives on specific issues – EQUALS: The Global Partnership for Gender Equality in the Digital Age, the Emergency Telecommunications Cluster hosted by WFP, the UN Global Compact’s Breakthrough Innovation for the SDGs Action Platform, the Famine Action Mechanism hosted by the World Bank and the UN in partnership with industry.  

Developing the capacity of member states  UNDP’s Accelerator Labs, the Technology Facilitation Mechanism, UN Global Pulse Labs, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development’s trainings, the Digital Blue Helmets initiative, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime’s Global Programme on Cybercrime.

Ranking, mapping and measuring  the annual E-Government Surveyproduced by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research’s Cyber Policy Portal, an online reference tool that maps the cybersecurity and cybersecurity-related policy landscape, ITU’s Measuring the Information Society report and Global Cybersecurity Index.

Arbitration and dispute-resolution  The World Intellectual Property Organization’s Internet Domain Name Process, the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law.

Recommendations

Global digital cooperation

5A: We recommend that, as a matter of urgency, the UN Secretary-General facilitate an agile and open consultation process to develop updated mechanisms for global digital cooperation, with the options discussed in Chapter 4 as a starting point. We suggest an initial goal of marking the UN’s 75th anniversary in 2020 with a “Global Commitment for Digital Cooperation” to enshrine shared values, principles, understandings and objectives for an improved global digital cooperation architecture. As part of this process, we understand that the UN Secretary-General may appoint a Technology Envoy.

5B: We support a multi-stakeholder “systems” approach for cooperation and regulation that is adaptive, agile, inclusive and fit for purpose for the fast-changing digital age. 

Enhancing digital cooperation will require both reinvigorating existing multilateral partnerships and potentially the creation of new mechanisms that involve stakeholders from business, academia, civil society and technical organisations. We should approach questions of governance based on their specific circumstances and choosing among all available tools.

Where possible we can make existing inter-governmental forums and mechanisms fit for the digital age rather than rush to create new mechanisms, though this may involve difficult judgement calls: for example, while the WTO remains a major forum to address issues raised by the rapid growth in cross-border e-commerce, it is now over two decades since it was last able to broker an agreement on the subject. 

Given the speed of change, soft governance mechanisms – values and principles, standards and certification processes – should not wait for agreement on binding solutions. Soft governance mechanisms are also best suited to the multi-stakeholder approach demanded by the digital age: a fact-based, participative process of deliberation and design, including governments, private sector, civil society, diverse users and policy-makers.

The aim of the holistic “systems” approach we recommended is to bring together government bodies such as competition authorities and consumer protection agencies with the private sector, citizens and civil society to enable them to be more agile in responding to issues and evaluating trade-offs as they emerge. Any new governance approaches in digital cooperation should also, wherever possible, look for ways – such as pilot zones, regulatory sandboxes or trial periods – to test efficacy and develop necessary procedures and technology before being more widely applied.

We envisage that the process of developing a “Global Commitment for Digital Cooperation” would be inspired by the “World We Want” process, which helped formulate the SDGs. Participants would include governments, the private sector from technology and other industries, SMEs and entrepreneurs, civil society, international organisations including standards and professional organisations, academic scholars and other experts, and government representatives from varied departments at regional, national, municipal and community levels. Multi-stakeholder consultation in each member state and region would allow ideas to bubble up from the bottom. 

The consultations on an updated global digital cooperation architecture could define upfront the criteria to be met by the governance mechanisms to be proposed, such as funding models, modes of operation and means for serving the functions explored in this report. 

More broadly, if appointed, a UN Tech Envoy could identify over-the-horizon concerns that need improved cooperation or governance; provide light-touch coordination of multi-stakeholder actors to address shared concerns; reinforce principles and norms developed in forums with relevant mandates; and work with UN member states, civil society and businesses to support compliance with agreed norms. 

The Envoy’s mandate could also include coordinating the digital technology-related efforts of UN entities; improving communication and collaboration among technology experts within the UN; and advising the UN Secretary-General on new technology issues. Finally, the Envoy could promote partnerships to build and maintain international digital common resources that could be used to help achieve the SDGs.

Full text of the report

WSIS+10 review outcome: Outcome document of the high-level meeting of the General Assembly on the overall review of the implementation of the outcomes of the World Summit on the Information Society (2015)
  • 3. We reaffirm, moreover, the value and principles of multi-stakeholder cooperation and engagement that have characterized the World Summit on the Information Society process since its inception, recognizing that effective participation, partnership and cooperation of Governments, the private sector, civil society, international organizations, the technical and academic communities and all other relevant stakeholders, within their respective roles and responsibilities, especially with balanced representation from developing countries, has been and continues to be vital in developing the information society.
  • 8. We reaffirm that Internet governance should continue to follow the provisions set forth in the outcomes of the summits held in Geneva and Tunis.

4. Internet governance

  • 55. We reaffirm paragraph 55 of the Tunis Agenda, and in this regard we recognize that the existing arrangements have worked effectively to make the Internet the highly robust, dynamic and geographically diverse medium that it is today, with the private sector taking the lead in day-to-day operations and with innovation and value creation at the edges. However, almost 4 billion people, representing  approximately  two  thirds  of  the  people  residing  in  developing countries, remain offline.
  • 56. We recognize that there are many cross-cutting international public policy issues that require attention and have not been adequately addressed.
  • 57. We take note of paragraph 29 of the Tunis Agenda, and recognize that the management of the Internet as a global facility includes multilateral, transparent, democratic and multi-stakeholder processes, with the full involvement of Governments, the private sector, civil society, international organizations, technical and academic communities and all other relevant stakeholders in accordance with their respective roles and responsibilities.
  • 58. We reiterate the working definition of Internet governance, set out in paragraph 34 of the Tunis Agenda, as the development and application by Governments, the private sector and civil society, in their respective roles, of shared principles, norms, rules, decision-making procedures and programmes that shape the evolution and use of the Internet.
  • 59. We reaffirm the principle agreed in the Geneva Declaration of Principles that the management of the Internet encompasses both technical and public policy issues and should involve all stakeholders and relevant intergovernmental and international organizations, within their respective roles and responsibilities, as set out in paragraph 35 of the Tunis Agenda.
  • 60. We take note of the hosting by the Government of Brazil of the NETMundial Global Multi-stakeholder Meeting on the Future of Internet Governance, in São Paulo, on 23 and 24 April 2014.
  • 61. We recognize that there is a need to promote greater participation and engagement in the Internet governance discussions of Governments, the private sector, civil society, international organizations, the technical and academic communities and all other relevant stakeholders from developing countries, particularly African countries, least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and small island developing States and middle-income countries, as well as countries in situations of conflict, post-conflict countries and countries affected by natural disasters. We call for strengthened, stable, transparent and voluntary funding mechanisms to this end.
  • 62. We note the important regulatory and legislative processes in some Member States on the open Internet in the context of the information society and the underlying drivers for it, and call for further information-sharing at the international level on the opportunities and challenges.
  • 63. We acknowledge the role of the Internet Governance Forum as a multi-stakeholder platform for discussion of Internet governance issues. We support the recommendations in the report of the Working Group on Improvements to the Internet Governance Forum of the Commission on Science and Technology for Development, which the General Assembly took note of in its resolution 68/198 of 20 December 2013, and we call for their accelerated implementation. We extend for another 10 years the existing mandate of the Internet Governance Forum as set out in paragraphs 72 to 78 of the Tunis Agenda. We recognize that during that period, the  Forum should continue to show progress on working modalities and the participation of relevant stakeholders from developing countries. We call upon the Commission, within its regular reporting, to give due consideration to fulfilment of the recommendations in the report of its Working Group.

4.1. Enhanced cooperation

  • 64. We acknowledge that various initiatives have been implemented and some progress has been made in relation to the process towards enhanced cooperation detailed in paragraphs 69 to 71 of the Tunis Agenda.
  • 65. We note, however, the divergent views held by Member States with respect to the process towards implementation of enhanced cooperation as envisioned in the Tunis Agenda. We call for continued dialogue and work on the implementation of enhanced cooperation. We accordingly request the Chair of the Commission on Science and Technology for Development, through the Economic and Social Council, to establish a working group to develop recommendations on how to further implement enhanced cooperation as envisioned in the Tunis Agenda, taking into consideration the work that has been done on this matter thus far. The group, which shall be constituted no later than July 2016, will decide at the outset on its methods of work, including modalities, and will ensure the full involvement of all relevant stakeholders, taking into account all their diverse views and expertise. The group will submit a report to the Commission on Science and Technology for Development at its twenty-first session for inclusion in the annual report of the Commission to the Council. The report will also serve as an input to the regular reporting of the Secretary-General on implementation of the outcomes of the World Summit on the Information Society.

Full text of the resolution

Tunis Agenda on the Information Society (WSIS 2005)
  • 29. We reaffirm the principles enunciated in the Geneva phase of the WSIS, in December 2003, that the Internet has evolved into a global facility available to the public and its governance should constitute a core issue of the Information Society agenda. The international management of the Internet should be multilateral, transparent and democratic, with the full involvement of governments, the private sector, civil society and international organizations. It should ensure an equitable distribution of resources, facilitate access for all and ensure a stable and secure functioning of the Internet, taking into account multilingualism.
  • 30. We acknowledge that the Internet, a central element of the infrastructure of the Information Society, has evolved from a research and academic facility into a global facility available to the public.
  • 31. We recognize that Internet governance, carried out according to the Geneva principles, is an essential element for a people-centred, inclusive, development-oriented and non-discriminatory Information Society. Furthermore, we commit ourselves to the stability and security of the Internet as a global facility and to ensuring the requisite legitimacy of its governance, based on the full participation of all stakeholders, from both developed and developing countries, within their respective roles and responsibilities.
  • 32. We thank the UN Secretary-General for establishing the Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG). We commend the chairman, members and secretariat for their work and for their report.
  • 33. We take note of the WGIG’s report that has endeavoured to develop a working definition of Internet governance. It has helped identify a number of public policy issues that are relevant to Internet governance. The report has also enhanced our understanding of the respective roles and responsibilities of governments, intergovernmental and international organizations and other forums as well as the private sector and civil society from both developing and developed countries.
  • 34. A working definition of Internet governance is the development and application by governments, the private sector and civil society, in their respective roles, of shared principles, norms, rules, decision-making procedures, and programmes that shape the evolution and use of the Internet.
  • 35. We reaffirm that the management of the Internet encompasses both technical and public policy issues and should involve all stakeholders and relevant intergovernmental and international organizations. In this respect it is recognized that:
    • a. Policy authority for Internet-related public policy issues is the sovereign right of States. They have rights and responsibilities for international Internet-related public policy issues.
    • b. The private sector has had, and should continue to have, an important role in the development of the Internet, both in the technical and economic fields.
    • c. Civil society has also played an important role on Internet matters, especially at community level, and should continue to play such a role.
    • d. Intergovernmental organizations have had, and should continue to have, a facilitating role in the coordination of Internet-related public policy issues.
    • e. International organizations have also had and should continue to have an important role in the development of Internet-related technical standards and relevant policies.
  • 36. We recognize the valuable contribution by the academic and technical communities within those stakeholder groups mentioned in paragraph 35 to the evolution, functioning and development of the Internet.
  • 37. We seek to improve the coordination of the activities of international and intergovernmental organizations and other institutions concerned with Internet governance and the exchange of information among themselves. A multi-stakeholder approach should be adopted, as far as possible, at all levels.
  • 38. We call for the reinforcement of specialized regional Internet resource management institutions to guarantee the national interest and rights of countries in that particular region to manage their own Internet resources, while maintaining global coordination in this area.
  • 52. In order to ensure effective participation in global Internet governance, we urge international organizations, including intergovernmental organizations, where relevant, to ensure that all stakeholders, particularly from developing countries, have the opportunity to participate in policy decision-making relating to Internet governance, and to promote and facilitate such participation.
  • 55. We recognize that the existing arrangements for Internet governance have worked effectively to make the Internet the highly robust, dynamic and geographically diverse medium that it is today, with the private sector taking the lead in day-to-day operations, and with innovation and value creation at the edges.
  • 56. The Internet remains a highly dynamic medium and therefore any framework and mechanisms designed to deal with Internet governance should be inclusive and responsive to the exponential growth and fast evolution of the Internet as a common platform for the development of multiple applications.
  • 57. The security and stability of the Internet must be maintained.
  • 58. We recognize that Internet governance includes more than Internet naming and addressing. It also includes other significant public policy issues such as, inter alia, critical Internet resources, the security and safety of the Internet, and developmental aspects and issues pertaining to the use of the Internet.
  • 59We recognize that Internet governance includes social, economic and technical issues including affordability, reliability and quality of service.
  • 60. We further recognize that there are many cross-cutting international public policy issues that require attention and are not adequately addressed by the current mechanisms.
  • 61. We are convinced that there is a need to initiate, and reinforce, as appropriate, a transparent, democratic, and multilateral process, with the participation of governments, private sector, civil society and international organizations, in their respective roles. This process could envisage creation of a suitable framework or mechanisms, where justified, thus spurring the ongoing and active evolution of the current arrangements in order to synergize the efforts in this regard.
  • 62. We emphasize that any Internet governance approach should be inclusive and responsive and should continue to promote an enabling environment for innovation, competition and investment.
  • 63. Countries should not be involved in decisions regarding another country’s country-code Top-Level Domain (ccTLD). Their legitimate interests, as expressed and defined by each country, in diverse ways, regarding decisions affecting their ccTLDs, need to be respected, upheld and addressed via a flexible and improved framework and mechanisms.
  • 64. We recognize the need for further development of, and strengthened cooperation among, stakeholders for public policies for generic Top-Level Domain names (gTLDs).
  • 65. We underline the need to maximize the participation of developing countries in decisions regarding Internet governance, which should reflect their interests, as well as in development and capacity building.
  • 66. In view of the continuing internationalization of the Internet and the principle of universality, we agree to implement the Geneva Principles regarding Internet governance.
  • 67. We agree, inter alia, to invite the UN Secretary-General to convene a new forum for multi-stakeholder policy dialogue.
  • 68. We recognize that all governments should have an equal role and responsibility for international Internet governance and for ensuring the stability, security and continuity of the Internet. We also recognize the need for development of public policy by governments in consultation with all stakeholders.
  • 69. We further recognize the need for enhanced cooperation in the future, to enable governments, on an equal footing, to carry out their roles and responsibilities, in international public policy issues pertaining to the Internet, but not in the day-to-day technical and operational matters, that do not impact on international public policy issues.
  • 70. Using relevant international organizations, such cooperation should include the development of globally-applicable principles on public policy issues associated with the coordination and management of critical Internet resources. In this regard, we call upon the organizations responsible for essential tasks associated with the Internet to contribute to creating an environment that facilitates this development of public policy principles.
  • 71. The process towards enhanced cooperation, to be started by the UN Secretary-General, involving all relevant organizations by the end of the first quarter of 2006, will involve all stakeholders in their respective roles, will proceed as quickly as possible consistent with legal process, and will be responsive to innovation. Relevant organizations should commence a process towards enhanced cooperation involving all stakeholders, proceeding as quickly as possible and responsive to innovation. The same relevant organizations shall be requested to provide annual performance reports.
  • 72. We ask the UN Secretary-General, in an open and inclusive process, to convene, by the second quarter of 2006, a meeting of the new forum for multi-stakeholder policy dialogue—called the Internet Governance Forum (IGF). The mandate of the Forum is to:
    • a. Discuss public policy issues related to key elements of Internet governance in order to foster the sustainability, robustness, security, stability and development of the Internet.
    • b. Facilitate discourse between bodies dealing with different cross-cutting international public policies regarding the Internet and discuss issues that do not fall within the scope of any existing body.
    • c. Interface with appropriate intergovernmental organizations and other institutions on matters under their purview.
    • d. Facilitate the exchange of information and best practices, and in this regard make full use of the expertise of the academic, scientific and technical communities.
    • e. Advise all stakeholders in proposing ways and means to accelerate the availability and affordability of the Internet in the developing world.
    • f. Strengthen and enhance the engagement of stakeholders in existing and/or future Internet governance mechanisms, particularly those from developing countries.
    • g. Identify emerging issues, bring them to the attention of the relevant bodies and the general public, and, where appropriate, make recommendations.
    • h. Contribute to capacity building for Internet governance in developing countries, drawing fully on local sources of knowledge and expertise.
    • i. Promote and assess, on an ongoing basis, the embodiment of WSIS principles in Internet governance processes.
    • j. Discuss, inter alia, issues relating to critical Internet resources.
    • k. Help to find solutions to the issues arising from the use and misuse of the Internet, of particular concern to everyday users.
    • l. Publish its proceedings.
  • 73. The Internet Governance Forum, in its working and function, will be multilateral, multi-stakeholder, democratic and transparent. To that end, the proposed IGF could:
    • a. Build on the existing structures of Internet governance, with special emphasis on the complementarity between all stakeholders involved in this process – governments, business entities, civil society and intergovernmental organizations.
    • b. Have a lightweight and decentralized structure that would be subject to periodic review.
    • c. Meet periodically, as required. IGF meetings, in principle, may be held in parallel with major relevant UN conferences, inter alia, to use logistical support.
  • 74. We encourage the UN Secretary-General to examine a range of options for the convening of the Forum, taking into consideration the proven competencies of all stakeholders in Internet governance and the need to ensure their full involvement.
  • 75. The UN Secretary-General would report to UN Member States periodically on the operation of the Forum.
  • 76. We ask the UN Secretary-General to examine the desirability of the continuation of the Forum, in formal consultation with Forum participants, within five years of its creation, and to make recommendations to the UN Membership in this regard.
  • 77. The IGF would have no oversight function and would not replace existing arrangements, mechanisms, institutions or organizations, but would involve them and take advantage of their expertise. It would be constituted as a neutral, non-duplicative and non-binding process. It would have no involvement in day-to-day or technical operations of the Internet.
  • 78. The UN Secretary-General should extend invitations to all stakeholders and relevant parties to participate at the inaugural meeting of the IGF, taking into consideration balanced geographical representation. The UN Secretary-General should also:
    • a. draw upon any appropriate resources from all interested stakeholders, including the proven expertise of ITU, as demonstrated during the WSIS process; and
    • b. establish an effective and cost-efficient bureau to support the IGF, ensuring multi-stakeholder participation.
  • 79. Diverse matters relating to Internet governance would continue to be addressed in other relevant fora.
  • 80. We encourage the development of multi-stakeholder processes at the national, regional and international levels to discuss and collaborate on the expansion and diffusion of the Internet as a means to support development efforts to achieve internationally agreed development goals and objectives, including the Millennium Development Goals.
  • 81. We reaffirm our commitment to the full implementation of the Geneva Principles.
  • 82. We welcome the generous offer of the Government of Greece to host the first meeting of the IGF in Athens no later than 2006 and we call upon the UN Secretary-General to extend invitations to all stakeholders and relevant parties to participate at the inaugural meeting of the IGF. 

Full text of the Agenda

Tunis Commitment (WSIS 2005)
  • 7. We reaffirm the commitments made in Geneva and build on them in Tunis by focusing on financial mechanisms for bridging the digital divide, on Internet governance and related issues, as well as on follow-up and implementation of the Geneva and Tunis decisions, as referenced in the Tunis Agenda for the Information Society.
  • 8. While reaffirming the important roles and responsibilities of all stakeholders as outlined in paragraph 3 of the Geneva Plan of Action, we acknowledge the key role and responsibilities of governments in the WSIS process.

Full text of the Commitment

Geneva Plan of Action (WSIS 2003)
C6. Enabling environment
  • 13.b. We ask the Secretary General of the United Nations to set up a working group on Internet governance, in an open and inclusive process that ensures a mechanism for the full and active participation of governments, the private sector and civil society from both developing and developed countries, involving relevant intergovernmental and international organizations and forums, to investigate and make proposals for action, as appropriate, on the governance of Internet by 2005. The group should, inter alia:
    • i. develop a working definition of Internet governance;
    • ii. identify the public policy issues that are relevant to Internet governance;
    • iii. develop a common understanding of the respective roles and responsibilities of governments, existing intergovernmental and international organisations and other forums as well as the private sector and civil society from both developing and developed countries;
    • iv. prepare a report on the results of this activity to be presented for consideration and appropriate action for the second phase of WSIS in Tunis in 2005.

Full text of the Plan of Action

Geneva Declaration of Principles (WSIS 2003)
B. An Information Society for all: Key Principles

6) Enabling environment

  • 48. The Internet has evolved into a global facility available to the public and its governance should constitute a core issue of the Information Society agenda. The international management of the Internet should be multilateral, transparent and democratic, with the full involvement of governments, the private sector, civil society and international organizations. It should ensure an equitable distribution of resources, facilitate access for all and ensure a stable and secure functioning of the Internet, taking into account multilingualism.
  • The management of the Internet encompasses both technical and public policy issues and should involve all stakeholders and relevant intergovernmental and international organizations. In this respect it is recognized that:
    • a) Policy authority for Internet-related public policy issues is the sovereign right of States. They have rights and responsibilities for international Internet-related public policy issues;
    • The private sector has had and should continue to have an important role in the development of the Internet, both in the technical and economic fields;
    • Civil society has also played an important role on Internet matters, especially at community level, and should continue to play such a role;
    • Intergovernmental organizations have had and should continue to have a facilitating role in the coordination of Internet-related public policy issues;
    • International organizations have also had and should continue to have an important role in the development of Internet-related technical standards and relevant policies.
  • International Internet governance issues should be addressed in a coordinated manner. We ask the Secretary-General of the United Nations to set up a working group on Internet governance, in an open and inclusive process that ensures a mechanism for the full and active participation of governments, the private sector and civil society from both developing and developed countries, involving relevant intergovernmental and international organizations and forums, to investigate and make proposals for action, as appropriate, on the governance of Internet by 2005.

Full text of the Declaration

IGF Messages (2017–2022)
Addis Ababa IGF Messages (2022)

Avoiding Internet fragmentation

Understanding the issue

  • The Global Digital Compact provides an opportunity to reassert the value of an open interconnected internet for the realisation of the UN Charter, achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and exercise of human rights. There is widespread agreement within the Internet community about the value of a global, unfragmented Internet as a platform for human activity.
  • The issues raised in discussions of Internet fragmentation are multi-layered, and different stakeholders give a variety of meanings and interpretations to the term. Some are most concerned with technical and infrastructural aspects of the Internet, while others focus on public policy issues including access, rights and impacts on user experience. These are explored in a draft framework prepared by the IGF Policy Network on Internet Fragmentation. Respect and understanding for different people’s perceptions and experience of fragmentation is essential if we are to reach effective and coordinated responses.
  • A wide range of political, economic, and technical factors can potentially drive fragmentation. However, diversity and decentralisation should not be mistaken for fragmentation. These are fundamentally positive aspects of the Internet’s architecture and operations.

Addressing the risk of fragmentation

  • Effective multistakeholder governance mechanisms are essential for the governance of a global unfragmented Internet. There is a need to reinforce trust in these mechanisms, to ensure that they are robust and sustainable, and to foster coherence across governance structures as they evolve to meet new challenges.
  • There is a need for vigilance concerning new or developing risks of fragmentation. Global cooperation and coordination will be essential in identifying early warning signs, mapping the impact of policies and other developments, and preparing to address the implications of these changes. A multistakeholder approach is best suited to assess, evaluate and monitor the potential unintended consequences of measures that affect the Internet and to suggest effective alternatives that avoid or mitigate the risks of fragmentation. The IGF Policy Network on Internet Fragmentation is a positive example of this approach.
  • Internet openness is instrumental in fostering the enjoyment of Internet users’ human rights, promoting competition and equality of opportunity, and safeguarding the generative peer-to-peer nature of the Internet. Debates about net neutrality and non-discriminatory traffic management are only part of broader discussions in this context. Net neutrality is necessary but not sufficient to guarantee Internet openness. Infrastructural and data interoperability, and platform and device neutrality, are also necessary.
  • While legal, regulatory and policy approaches will differ around the world, active coordination across international boundaries is vital to ensuring that fragmented approaches do not threaten the global reach and interoperability of the Internet. Maintaining the integrity of the global network requires international regulatory collaboration and consensus on basic principles.
  • Many different factors affect the experience of the Internet in different jurisdictions, including different social, demographic, economic, cultural and political contexts as well as technical and infrastructure issues. The pursuit of some forms of digital governance at national level can increase the risk of fragmentation at the technical level of the Internet. However, regulatory frameworks must also consider different requirements in different contexts and keep pace with rapid change in technology and services.
  • There is a need for greater knowledge- and information-sharing among stakeholders, to further discussion of cyber-diplomacy as an evolving phenomenon, and to consider the scope for appropriate interventions. Standard-making bodies should continue to improve outreach and engagement with stakeholders and to improve understanding between policy and technical communities. Technical decisions that bear policy implications should be discussed by standardisation bodies through the direct involvement of all affected stakeholders.

Full set of messages

Katowice IGF Messages (2021)

Inclusive Internet ecosystems and digital cooperation

  • positive vision for the future of the Internet has to draw together the strands of core values across technical principles, human rights, access and openness, transparency, and rule of law, as well as economic considerations. This can only be done in an inclusive multistakeholder manner, where the interests of all actors can be addressed.
  • While the Internet contributes to social, cultural and economic growth, questions of governance, accountability, misuse, trust and access still exist. As the Internet cannot be dealt with from a one-dimensional perspective, collaborative, equitable and inclusive Internet governance is imperative and requires well-structured coordination and consolidation.
  • There is a need to think about the sustainability of the Internet governance ecosystem, including the empowerment of youth – the next generation of experts and leaders. Given the rapid pace of technologies, there is a need to build the capacity of the generations to come. One of the concrete ways this could be done relates to creating educational curriculums based on competencies and skills in the local languages of targeted groups. Similarly, the ‘’train the trainer’’ concept could be a quick, feasible and effective way to ensure educational professionals, such as teachers, are equipped with knowledge and skills to pass on to massive numbers of multiple generations.
  • Violation of the rights of youth and minors on the Internet are a growing concern. One approach to protecting young people against online threats (e.g. data breaches, cyberbullying) could be to establish a global network of Youth Digital Ombudspersons to act as mediators between the youth and all stakeholders.
  • Digital inequalities have become much more visible during the COVID-19 pandemic, calling urgently for actions to resolve them. It has been raised as a concrete example to prioritise digital cooperation. Through collaboration, partnerships and cooperation, stakeholders can exchange good practices and attract investment to ensure an affordable and accessible Internet for all.
  • Inequalities are multi-layered nuanced areas and require dedicated assessments and tailored solutions. Women and girls are especially affected. The inclusion process should be designed and implemented in a multistakeholder manner through capacity development, empowerment and awareness raising and building common understanding across stakeholder groups.
  • Digital cooperation requires trust, and the IGF can help build that. To adapt to the future, the IGF has to boldly embrace the policy controversies that face the Internet.

Full set of Messages

IGF 2020 Messages

How can we ensure that policy spaces and processes that address digital inclusion issues are inclusive and foster the active and meaningful participation of those people and communities whose digital inclusion issues they hope to overcome?

  • […]
  • More inclusive, participatory, and innovative models of Internet governance are required at the national and international levels. One way to drive more engagement in Internet governance processes is by better connecting them with the realities on the ground. Citizens and other stakeholders are more likely to get involved if they understand how Internet governance issues impact them directly.
  • Stakeholders should create more opportunities for an effective, sustainable, and meaningful participation of youth, women, gender-diverse people, and other underrepresented groups in Internet governance spaces (including the decision- making ones). Ensuring that these spaces are safe and secure, avoiding tokenism, and allocating more resources (including financial) to capacity development programmes are essential elements.

Full set of Messages

Berlin IGF Messages (2019)

Social and economic inclusion, gender equality and human rights

  • […]
  • Bias and exclusion continue to be deeply embedded in digital spaces. Discussion about inclusion of marginalized people should be at the centre of Internet governance and public policy conversations and not in the margins.
  • […]

Capacity building

  • We need to foster a more informed dialogue between stakeholders, based on a better understanding of the technical, legal and economic feasibility of the various digital sovereignty models being considered or implemented around the world as well as their implications for Internet governance.

Full set of Messages

Paris IGF Messages (2018)

Evolution of Internet governance

Overarching messages

  • Newly emerging technologies have brought new challenges to society and their impacts on people have deepened. With regard to the unregulated online domain, some national and regional responses related to Internet governance have been implemented, as well as some instruments applicable to the Internet public policy. There is a need for the global community to come up with a set of universal values and standards and with that with a globally recognized framework that will support the harmonization of these individualistic national approaches. It is an imperative for the community that the Internet stays free, open and safe for everyone.
  • Given the complexity of these issues and of the Internet itself, involvement from all sectors is critical for finding effective solutions. This is why the multistakeholder model is essential for discussing Internet governance. The IGF is seen as a unique forum under the auspices of the United Nations, that makes possible for various people and groups to discuss Internet governance matters within a bottom up, open, inclusive, non-commercial and multistakeholder framework. However, the IGF should keep pace with technological innovations in order to stay relevant. This is why the IGF community must continue to work on improving its processes, by strengthening multistakeholder communities at the national level and establishing cooperation among these on a global level.
  • Global Internet penetration has rapidly increased in the last five years period. At the same time, the digital divide has deepened, especially between developing and developed countries. The small island developing states (SIDS) are facing unique challenges in terms of achieving meaningful access. In parallel, newly emerging technologies are posing concerns regarding online safety, protection of personal data and respect for human rights online. How should the community respond to these and many more challenges? Is the multistakeholder model effective and, if so, is it globally accepted? What is the role of the IGF in the present moment and in the future?

Broadening stakeholder participation in Internet governance

  • There is a need for a standardized set of principles applicable to Internet governance for advancing human rights and achieving sustainable development.
  • The evolution of how providers and operators of Internet services function may affect Internet governance and its core principles. There should be some forms of mechanism for raising awareness of such trends. In this regard, stakeholders being accountable to agreed values and principles could preserve the public and distributed nature of the Internet.
  • The term ‘Internet governance’ is seen as unattractive and difficult to be meaningfully translated into some languages. Stakeholder engagement requires the core organizing groups to explain the terminology and bring it down to specific topics.
  • Different stakeholders have different stakes in the Internet. For increasing stakeholder engagement, it is important to explain to different stakeholders that the nature of the Internet requires all disciplines to be involved, and how they will benefit from developing good Internet policies.
  • Stakeholder engagement processes need to be widely spread on national, regional and global levels, to achieve the inclusion of everyone.
  • Capacity building can be done through the Schools on Internet Governance, which have been shown to be effective and already have global presence.
  • The multistakeholder model has to be inclusive of all voices, taking into account the rapid growth of the Internet population where it is estimated that two-thirds of the future users will come from developing countries. These users must be engaged in existing processes, as they connect online.
  • Effective tools need to be used and developed to facilitate the online interactions of stakeholders and broaden their participation in Internet governance.
  • The development of digital technologies has brought new substantive challenges. Net neutrality raises many concerns, as there are a variety of views on how to approach this subject. Some countries normatively regulate net neutrality, while others currently operate openly without any specific regulation. Enhanced dialogue and cooperation among relevant stakeholders is necessary to discuss net neutrality on a global scale.
  • Internet Governance matters reflect human rights. However, with the evolution of Internet Governance, certain sections of the intersection of IG and human rights evolved as well. Presently, the online freedom of speech and right to be informed in dominated by the term fake news, that relates to disinformation, misinformation, propaganda. There should be harmonized set of solutions for combating this practice, rather than sporadic measures.
  • National laws on the Internet are proliferating. These must be enacted by those that understand the technology and policy aspects. Recognized international framework and a set of agreed principles should be developed to avoid inconsistent practices.

IGF’s organization and role

  • The IGF is seen as a unique forum, with a place in the UN system, that allows various people and groups to discuss Internet governance matters within a bottom up and multistakeholder framework. For a free, open and accessible Internet for all, its existence is seen as essential.
  • The IGF community must continue to work on improving its processes, to strengthening multistakeholder communities at the national level and establishing cooperation among these on a global level.
  • Improvements of the IGF processes, on national, regional and global levels, are dependent on sustainable funding.
  • It was proposed that the community take concrete steps to improve its work and profile, including, (i) using new/different terminology to describe the IGF (i.e., to clarify the meaning of ‘governance’ and to fully capture the scope of the issues that it considers, such as cybercrime, AI, etc); (ii) improved targeted branding and communications strategies (to make the IGF more recognizable at local, regional and global levels; and, (iii) broadening the scope of emerging technology topics that the IGF considers.
  • The IGF process should engage voices that have not traditionally been involved in the Internet governance space.
  • Collaboration among the national, regional and Youth IGFs should be enhanced by sharing best practices and coordinating the timing of their annual events, so that they can follow each other processes.

Multistakeholderism

  • With the Internet being unique in both its transnational nature and rapid evolution, there is a need for new structures and ways of discussion which are more inclusive than a purely governmental process. However, there is also a broad recognition that in order to stay relevant, or even survive, the multistakeholder model needs to evolve, and quickly. The interrelationship between the UN structures and the IGF is one aspect of that, but more could be done to highlight and promote examples of successes and to highlight its relevance in concrete terms. Better continuity ‘bridging’ from year to year was felt to be desirable, together with reporting of more directed and specific policy recommendations. Although it is still very fresh there was interest in the recent suggestions made by the French government for the evolution of the IGF.
  • Implementation of the multistakeholder model for discussing matters pertaining to Internet governance is not unified on national levels. For this reason, national practices have to be compared, especially among developing and developed countries to understand various challenges, and for exchanging best practices and recommending improvements.
  • The multistakeholder approach is seen as an effective method for Governments to overcome the challenges of jurisdiction and legislation that the cross-territorial nature of the Internet has brought.
  • While the National, Regional and Youth IGFs (NRIs) each take a different approach to influencing policy, there are some commonalities. Some NRIs aims to influence policy directly, while others aim to facilitate multistakeholder discussions alongside governments without any direct policy objective. Despite these differences, they all share the objective of elevating the voice of all stakeholders. Additionally, they provide an example of the multistakeholder model that extends beyond the confines of the IGF and the NRIs.
  • Difficulties in the application of the multistakeholder model also occur on national, regional and global levels. Resourcing is a challenge, with funding most commonly mentioned as an issue, in addition to securing locations meetings and events. Difficulties with engagement and participation were also referenced multiple times, ranging from low youth participation rates to a lack of government engagement. The multistakeholder model struggles for relevance in some parts of the world, where history and culture create an expectation that problems are solved in a more hierarchical (rather than multistakeholder) manner.
  • A lack of awareness about the work of the IGF in many parts of the world, whether at a global level or national or regional levels, was also noted as a related issue.

Full set of Messages

Geneva IGF Messages (2017)

High level thematic session ‘Shaping our future digital global governance’

  • There was broad support for the notion that as the Internet and digital technologies continue to evolve, better coordinated digital governance systems are needed to maximise the opportunities offered by these technologies, and address the challenges they bring. How such systems could or should look like, and what they should focus on, remains however an issue to be further discussed.
  • That effective digital governance adapts and responds to the needs of the global citizens, was shared by all participants. But what are those needs? Some highlighted as priority areas bridging the digital divide (in its multiple dimensions), fostering digital literacy, and supporting the development of the digital economy. Others stressed that governance structures need to focus on enhancing confidence and trust in digital technologies, ensuring security, and creating stability and predictability in cyberspace.
  • The notion that the ideal future digital global governance should be value-based, inclusive, open, and transparent gained traction along the debate. While it is challenging to determine values that can be shared by all stakeholder groups, and at a global level, there was common ground in the thought that core Internet values are and need to stay human-centred.
  • When it comes to the governance model, there was broad support for the multistakeholder approach, and a more active involvement of all stakeholders in identifying and implementing consensus-based solutions for digital policy issues. It was underlined that the challenges of the digital world also need to be addressed by governments and intergovernmental organisations, through laws and regulation.
  • On the suitability of an international treaty or convention to address challenges such as cybercrime and cybersecurity, some expressed the view that it might be too early to consider such an option – without excluding it as an option for the future – , while others considered that an intergovernmental treaty is not an adequate solution to tackle challenges that affect all stakeholders, and for which all stakeholders should have roles and responsibilities.
  • The IGF, as a multistakeholder and inclusive process, was broadly supported as an important platform that allows stakeholders to reflect critically on existing digital governance processes, and contribute to the shaping of future processes.

Full set of Messages

Data protection

UNGA Resolution 77/150 on ICT for sustainable development (2022)
  • Taking note of the Digital Economy Report 2021 of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, which examines the role of cross-border data flows for development in maximizing equitable development gains, while minimizing risks and impacts of a potential fragmentation in the digital space, and recognizing the need to continue discussions on the connection between data and sustainable development, including data governance, while taking into account the multiple dimensions of data,
  • 10. Also notes that the digital economy is an important and growing part of the global economy and that connectivity is correlated with increases in gross domestic product, recognizes the critical importance of expanding the participation of all countries, in particular developing countries, in the digital economy, and further notes that the Commission on Science and Technology for Development could explore the connection between data and sustainable development;
  • 14. Looks forward to the holding of the third meeting of the Working Group on Measuring E-commerce and the Digital Economy, on 28 and 29 November 2022, and the sixth session of the Intergovernmental Group of Experts on E-commerce and the Digital Economy, from 10 to 12 May 2023, which will focus on how to make data work for the 2030 Agenda;
  • 40. Also recognizes the importance of the free flow of information and knowledge, and the need to reduce disparities in information flows at all levels, as the amount of information distributed worldwide grows and the role of communication becomes all the more important, and acknowledges that the mainstreaming of information and communications technologies in school curricula, open access to data, the fostering of competition, the creation of transparent, predictable, independent and non-discriminatory regulatory and legal systems, proportionate taxation and licensing fees, access to finance, the facilitation of public – private partnerships, multi-stakeholder cooperation, national and regional broadband strategies, efficient allocation of the radio frequency spectrum, infrastructure-sharing models, community-based approaches and public access facilities have in many countries facilitated significant gains in connectivity and sustainable development;

Full text of the resolution

Note: The UN General Assembly has been adopting resolutions on ICT for (sustainable) development on an almost yearly basis since 2002.

Our Common Agenda – Report of the UN Secretary-General (2021)
  • 35. In 2023, we will commemorate the seventy fifth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and 30 years since the adoption of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action on human rights. As this milestone nears, the time has come to take stock, rejuvenate our shared values and update our thinking on human rights. Consideration should, for instance, be given to updating or clarifying our application of human rights frameworks and standards to address frontier issues and prevent harms in the digital or technology spaces, including in relation to freedom of speech, hate speech and harassment, privacy, the “right to be forgotten” and neuro-technology. 
  • 93. […] Furthermore, building on the recommendations of the road map for digital cooperation (see A/74/821), the United Nations, Governments, the private sector and civil society could come together as a multi-stakeholder digital technology track in preparation for a Summit of the Future to agree on a Global Digital Compact. This would outline shared principles for an open, free and secure digital future for all. Complex digital issues that could be addressed may include: reaffirming the fundamental commitment to connecting the unconnected; avoiding fragmentation of the Internet; providing people with options as to how their data is used; application of human rights online; and promoting a trustworthy Internet by introducing accountability criteria for discrimination and misleading content. More broadly, the Compact could also promote regulation of artificial intelligence to ensure that this is aligned with shared global values.

Full text of the report

United Nations Secretary General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation (2020)

II. Introduction

  • 9. As more people are brought online, new vulnerabilities arise. According to estimates, the potential cost of worldwide data breaches will be more than $5 trillion by 2024. The use of the Internet and social media in the context of elections, as both enablers of participation and tools for spreading disinformation and hate speech, raise complex issues.

C. Human rights and human agency

Recommendations 3A and 3B (digital human rights)

Data protection and privacy

  • 43. Data protection has failed to keep up with advances in hacking and espionage. In 2019, more than 7,000 data breaches were recorded, exposing more than 15 billion records. 
  • 44. Effective personal data protection and the protection of the right to privacy in line with internationally agreed standards are imperative. Human rights-based domestic laws and practices for the protection of data privacy, including enforcement mechanisms such as access to judicial review, or fully independent and well-resourced data protection authorities, are needed to address the use of data by private companies or Governments. 
  • 45. The importance of protecting the right to privacy in the digital space and to take clear actions to do so is fundamental for private sector actors. More systemically, the current financing model for social media platforms effectively encourages the collection of personal data for commercial purposes, so that content and advertising can be more effectively tailored to individuals’ consumption patterns. Changes to this model will need to be considered in order to reverse the trend.

Digital identity

  • 46. For over 1 billion individuals worldwide, their lack of recognized identification bars them from having access to basic goods and services. A “good” digital identity that preserves people’s privacy and control over their information can empower them to gain access to these much-needed services. Initiatives such as Identification for Development and the United Nations Legal Identity Task Force can help countries to realize the transformative potential of digital identification systems. 
  • 47. It is nonetheless problematic that some digital identity programmes have been designed outside the frameworks of privacy and data protection. If digital identity is to become a trusted force for good and used for everyone, it has to be built upon a foundation of user agency and choice, informed consent, recognition of multiple forms of identity, space for anonymity and respect for privacy, ensuring that there is transparency when an individual’s data are used by government and other entities. 
  • 48. The adoption of safeguards related to digital identity is critical for Governments and the United Nations as they strive to realize its full utility and potential while building trust in its use. This includes, for instance, efforts such as decentralized data storage, identification and authentication, encrypted communications and considering the incorporation of “privacy by design” principles

Surveillance technologies, including facial recognition

  • 49. Researchers have observed that surveillance technologies have, in many situations, allowed for serious breaches of privacy, by Governments, individuals and the private sector. Surveillance technologies, where used in accordance with applicable international human rights law, can be effective law enforcement tools. However, there are reports of targeted communications surveillance and facial recognition software that could result in human rights violations and lead to arbitrary arrests or detentions and violation of the right to peaceful protest. These technologies may also misidentify certain minority groups and cement existing social biases, leading to situations in which marginalized people and members of minority communities may be more likely to be identified as the wrong gender or be discriminated against, for instance, in being denied loans. 
  • 50. It is critical that legislation and safeguards are in place to protect people from unlawful or unnecessary surveillance, including any arbitrary surveillance that may be carried out by State actors in cyberspace, as well as in the physical world. Any such policies have to be fully in line with countries’ human rights obligations. This is relevant also for the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic: a careful and considered approach is required to ensure that responses are aligned with human rights obligations. 

IV. Concluding observations and way forward

Digital human rights

  • […] 87. I also call upon Member States to place human rights at the centre of regulatory frameworks and legislation on the development and use of digital technologies. In a similar vein, I call upon technology leaders urgently and publicly to acknowledge the importance of protecting the right to privacy and other human rights in the digital space and take clear, company-specific actions to do so.

Full text of the Roadmap

The Age of Digital Interdependence – Report of the UN Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation (2019)

2. Leaving no one behind

2.1. Creating an inclusive digital economy

Harnessing data and digital public goods for development

The immense power and value of data in the modern economy can and must be harnessed to meet the SDGs, but this will require new models of collaboration.

The Panel discussed potential pooling of data in areas such as health, agriculture and the environment to enable scientists and thought leaders to use data and artificial intelligence to better understand issues and find new ways to make progress on the SDGs. Such data commons would require criteria for establishing relevance to the SDGs, standards for interoperability, rules on access and safeguards to ensure privacy and security.

We also need to generate more data relevant to the SDGs. In a world which has seen exponential growth of data in recent years, many people remain invisible. For example, the 2018 UN SDG Report notes that only 73 percent of children under the age of 5 have had their births registered. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimated in 2014 that two-thirds of deaths are not registered. Only 11 countries in sub-Saharan Africa have data on poverty from surveys conducted after 2015. Most countries do not collect sex-disaggregated data on internet access.   

Anonymised data – information that is rendered anonymous in such a way that the data subject is not or no longer identifiable – about progress toward the SDGs is generally less sensitive and controversial than the use of personal data of the kind companies such as Facebook, Twitter or Google may collect to drive their business models, or facial and gait data that could be used for surveillance. However, personal data can also serve development goals, if handled with proper oversight to ensure its security and privacy. 

For example, individual health data is extremely sensitive – but many people’s health data, taken together, can allow researchers to map disease outbreaks, compare the effectiveness of treatments and improve understanding of conditions. Aggregated data from individual patient cases was crucial to containing the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Private and public sector healthcare providers around the world are now using various forms of electronic medical records. These help individual patients by making it easier to personalise health services, but the public health benefits require these records to be interoperable.  

There is scope to launch collaborative projects to test the interoperability of data, standards and safeguards across the globe. The World Health Assembly’s consideration of a global strategy for digital health in 2020 presents an opportunity to launch such projects, which could initially be aimed at global health challenges such as Alzheimer’s and hypertension.

Improved digital cooperation on a data-driven approach to public health has the potential to lower costs, build new partnerships among hospitals, technology companies, insurance providers and research institutes and support the shift from treating diseases to improving wellness. Appropriate safeguards are needed to ensure the focus remains on improving health care outcomes. With testing, experience and necessary protective measures as well as guidelines for the responsible use of data, similar cooperation could emerge in many other fields related to the SDGs, from education to urban planning to agriculture. […]

2.3. Regional and global economic policy cooperation

[…] It has likewise proved difficult so far to establish international standards or rules for the exchange of data. Trade rules were developed for goods and services that are produced and then consumed. By contrast, data which is “produced” by individuals and devices is not “consumed”, but rather can be used repeatedly, and gains value when combined with other data. 

Some argue that restrictions on data flows should be treated like any other trade barrier and generally minimised. However, views differ sharply, and decisions on national legislation are complicated by concerns about privacy and security – discussed in the next chapter. Countries that require companies to store and process data within their national borders argue that it promotes local innovation and investment in technology infrastructure and makes it easier to tax global corporations. Others argue against such approaches on the basis that they are protectionist or represent an effort to obtain access to the data. 

3. Individuals, societies and digital technologies

3.1. Human rights and human agency

The right to privacy

The right to privacy has become particularly contentious as digital technologies have given governments and private companies vast new possibilities for surveillance, tracking and monitoring, some of which are invasive of privacy. As with so many areas of digital technology, there needs to be a society-wide conversation, based on informed consent, about the boundaries and norms for such uses of digital technology and AI. Surveillance, tracking or monitoring by governments or businesses should not violate international human rights law.

It is helpful to articulate what we mean by “privacy” and “security”. We define “privacy” as being about an individual’s right to decide who is allowed to see and use their personal information. We define “security” as being about protecting data, on servers and in communication via digital networks.

Notions and expectations of privacy also differ across cultures and societies. How should an individual’s right to privacy be balanced against the interest of businesses in accessing data to improve services and government interest in accessing data for legitimate public purposes related to law enforcement and national security?

Societies around the world debate these questions heatedly when hard cases come to light, such as Apple’s 2016 refusal of the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)’s request to assist in unlocking an iPhone of the suspect in a shooting case. Different governments are taking different approaches: some are forcing technology companies to provide technical means of access, sometimes referred to as “backdoors”, so the state can access personal data.

Complications arise when data is located in another country: in 2013, Microsoft refused an FBI request to provide a suspect’s emails that were stored on a server in Ireland. The United States of America (USA) has since passed a law obliging American companies to comply with warrants to provide data of American citizens even if it is stored abroad. It enables other governments to separately negotiate agreements to access their citizens’ data stored by American companies in the USA.

There currently seems to be little alternative to handling cross-border law enforcement requests through a complex and slow-moving patchwork of bilateral agreements – the attitudes of people and governments around the world differ widely, and the decision-making role of global technology companies is evolving. Nonetheless, it is possible that regional and multilateral arrangements could develop over time.

For individuals, what companies can do with their personal data is not just a question of legality but practical understanding – to manage permissions for every single organisation we interact with would be incredibly time consuming and confusing. How to give people greater meaningful control over their personal data is an important question for digital cooperation.

Alongside the right to privacy is the important question of who realises the economic value that can be derived from personal data. Consumers typically have little awareness of how their personal information is sold or otherwise used to generate economic benefit.

There are emerging ideas to make data transactions more explicit and share the value extracted from personal data with the individuals who provide it. These could include business models which give users greater privacy by default: promising examples include the web browser Brave and the search engine DuckDuckGo. They could include new legal structures: the UK and India are among countries exploring the idea of a third-party ‘data fiduciary’ who users can authorise to manage their personal data on their behalf.

3.2. Trust and social cohesion

[…] Violations of privacy and security are undermining people’s trust in governments and companies. Trust between states is challenged by new ways to conduct espionage, manipulate public opinion and infiltrate critical infrastructure. While academia has traditionally nurtured international cooperation in artificial intelligence, governments are incentivised to secrecy by awareness that future breakthroughs could dramatically shift the balance of power.

Recommendations

An inclusive digital economy and society

1B. 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.

[…] The specific decisions needed to promote inclusivity and minimise risks will depend on local and national conditions. They should consider four main factors.

First, the broader national policy and regulatory frameworks should make it easy to create, run and grow small businesses. These frameworks should ensure that digital service providers – including e-commerce and inclusive finance platforms – support the growth of local enterprises. This requires enabling policies on investment and innovation, and structural policies to ensure fair competition, privacy rights, consumer protection and a sustainable tax base. Efforts to agree regional or global standards in these areas are welcome. […] Fourth, respect for human rights – including privacy – is fundamental. Panel members had divergent views on digital ID systems in particular: they have immense potential to improve delivery of social services, especially for people who currently lack legal identity, but they are also vulnerable to abuse. As digital ID becomes more prevalent, we must emphasise principles for its fair and effective use. […]

Human rights and human agency

[…] Consensus is also emerging that more needs to be done to safeguard the human right to privacy: individuals often have little or no meaningful understanding of the implications of providing their personal data in return for digital services. We believe companies, governments and civil society should agree to clear and transparent standards that will enable greater interoperability of data in ways that protect privacy while enabling data to flow for commercial, research and government purposes, and supporting innovation to achieve the SDGs. Such standards should prevent data collection going beyond intended use, limit re-identification of individuals via datasets, and give individuals meaningful control over how their personal data is shared. […]

Full text of the report

WSIS+10 review outcome: Outcome document of the high-level meeting of the General Assembly on the overall review of the implementation of the outcomes of the World Summit on the Information Society (2015)

1. Information and communication technology for development

1.2. Enabling environment

  • 29. We recognize the importance of the free flow of information and knowledge, as the amount of information distributed worldwide grows and the role of communication becomes all the more important. We acknowledge that the mainstreaming of information and communications technologies in school curricula, open access to data, the fostering of competition, the creation of transparent, predictable, independent and non-discriminatory regulatory and legal systems, proportionate taxation and licensing fees, access to finance, facilitation of public- private partnerships, multi-stakeholder cooperation, national and regional broadband strategies, efficient allocation of the radio frequency spectrum, infrastructure- sharing models, community-based approaches and public access facilities have in many countries facilitated significant gains in connectivity and sustainable development.

2. Human rights in the information society

  • 46. We recall General Assembly resolution 69/166 and, in this context, emphasize that no person shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy, family, home or correspondence, consistent with countries’ obligations under international human rights law. Accordingly, we call upon all States to review their procedures, practices and legislation regarding the surveillance of communications, as well as their interception and collection of personal data, including mass surveillance, with a view to upholding the right to privacy as set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights for States that are party to the Covenant, by ensuring the full and effective implementation of all their obligations under international human rights law.

Full text of the resolution

Tunis Agenda on the Information Society (WSIS 2005)
  • 39. We seek to build confidence and security in the use of ICTs by strengthening the trust framework. We reaffirm the necessity to further promote, develop and implement in cooperation with all stakeholders a global culture of cybersecurity, as outlined in UNGA Resolution 57/239 and other relevant regional frameworks. This culture requires national action and increased international cooperation to strengthen security while enhancing the protection of personal information, privacy and data. Continued development of the culture of cybersecurity should enhance access and trade and must take into account the level of social and economic development of each country and respect the development-oriented aspects of the Information Society.
  • 42. We reaffirm our commitment to the freedom to seek, receive, impart and use information, in particular, for the creation, accumulation and dissemination of knowledge. We affirm that measures undertaken to ensure Internet stability and security, to fight cybercrime and to counter spam, must protect and respect the provisions for privacy and freedom of expression as contained in the relevant parts of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Geneva Declaration of Principles.
  • 46. We call upon all stakeholders to ensure respect for privacy and the protection of personal information and data, whether via adoption of legislation, the implementation of collaborative frameworks, best practices and self-regulatory and technological measures by business and users. We encourage all stakeholders, in particular governments, to reaffirm the right of individuals to access information according to the Geneva Declaration of Principles and other mutually agreed relevant international instruments, and to coordinate internationally as appropriate.
  • 93. We seek to digitize our historical data and cultural heritage for the benefit of future generations. We encourage effective information management policies in the public and private sectors, including the use of standards-based digital archiving and innovative solutions to overcome technological obsolescence, as a means to ensure the long-term preservation of, and continued access to, information.

Full text of the Agenda

Tunis Commitment (WSIS 2005)
Geneva Plan of Action (WSIS 2003)

C5. Building confidence and security in the use of ICTs

12. Confidence and security are among the main pillars of the Information Society.

  • a. Promote cooperation among the governments at the United Nations and with all stakeholders at other appropriate fora to enhance user confidence, build trust, and protect both data and network integrity; consider existing and potential threats to ICTs; and address other information security and network security issues.
  • c. Governments, and other stakeholders, should actively promote user education and awareness about online privacy and the means of protecting privacy.
  • f. Further strengthen the trust and security framework with complementary and mutually reinforcing initiatives in the fields of security in the use of ICTs, with initiatives or guidelines with respect to rights to privacy, data and consumer protection.

C6. Enabling environment

13. To maximize the social, economic and environmental benefits of the Information Society, governments need to create a trustworthy, transparent and non-discriminatory legal, regulatory and policy environment. Actions include:

  • i. Governments and stakeholders should actively promote user education and awareness about online privacy and the means of protecting privacy.

C7. ICT applications: benefits in all aspects of life

18. E-health

  • d. Promote the development of international standards for the exchange of health data, taking due account of privacy concerns.

C10. Ethical dimensons of the Information Society

25. The Information Society should be subject to universally held values and promote the common good and to prevent abusive uses of ICTs.

  • c. All actors in the Information Society should promote the common good, protect privacy and personal data and take appropriate actions and preventive measures, as determined by law, against abusive uses of ICTs such as illegal and other acts motivated by racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance, hatred, violence, all forms of child abuse, including paedophilia and child pornography, and trafficking in, and exploitation of, human beings.

Full text of the Plan of Action

Geneva Declaration of Principles (WSIS 2003)

B. An Information Society for All: Key Principles

5. Building confidence and security in the use of ICTs

  • 35. Strengthening the trust framework, including information security and network security, authentication, privacy and consumer protection, is a prerequisite for the development of the Information Society and for building confidence among users of ICTs. A global culture of cyber-security needs to be promoted, developed and implemented in cooperation with all stakeholders and international expert bodies. These efforts should be supported by increased international cooperation. Within this global culture of cyber-security, it is important to enhance security and to ensure the protection of data and privacy, while enhancing access and trade. In addition, it must take into account the level of social and economic development of each country and respect the development-oriented aspects of the Information Society.

10. Ethical dimensions of the Information Society

  • 58. The use of ICTs and content creation should respect human rights and fundamental freedoms of others, including personal privacy, and the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion in conformity with relevant international instruments.

Full text of the Declaration

IGF Messages (2017–2022)
Addis Ababa IGF Messages (2022)

Governing data and protecting privacy

Data are the key resource of the globalised digital age. The movement of data drives economies, while data analysis, including big data analytics, has been the basis for remarkable innovations across disciplines, from finance, to health and law enforcement.

But the widespread use, routine flow across borders and fungibility of data remain sensitive and unresolved topics. As a transnational, commercial asset, data flows operate in an environment in which there is little consistency between national legal regimes and where there are significant enforcement challenges. The privacy of personal data is too often sacrificed over the course of data exchanges, from the point of collection to application and storage, with deep consequences for trust and security.

To harness the significant promise of data, economically and for research purposes, discussions need to be relaunched around governance, integrity and the protection of peoples’ privacy.

The centrality of data

  • Data have become a critical resource in an increasingly digital age. Data flows are crucial to international cooperation in many fields including scientific research, law enforcement, and national and global security. Data, data security and data protection are critical enablers of sustainable development. The effective use and sharing of data on a global scale can help overcome shared challenges and the threats posed by cascading crises such as pandemics and climate change.
  • Data can generate both profit and significant social value. The benefits of the data-driven economy, however, have so far been unevenly distributed. Many people are concerned that they may become primarily providers of data rather than beneficiaries.
  • The relationship between those who generate and those who use data is important. Data poverty is a significant problem, especially in local communities and among vulnerable segments of populations. Lack of data privacy and inadequate data protection undermine trust in data management. It is important to build data literacy and data capacities across levels of government, in educational curricula and for the general public.
  • Data management and governance are complex issues in both national and international governance. Developments in data – including big data analytics, innovations in artificial intelligence and machine learning, and innovations across public policy dimensions and the SDGs – demonstrate the need for appropriate consideration of political, economic and social impacts and for nuanced policy interventions. Government and regulatory institutions need the infrastructure and capacity required to implement effective, integrated national data governance frameworks. Application developers have a responsibility to ensure ethical and safe design.

Data privacy and data justice

  • Data privacy is not a matter of convenience or good practice but of human rights. As well as the rights to privacy, equal treatment and non-discrimination it affects access to other human rights such as those to healthcare, education and public services, as well as democratic rights such as free expression and association. Privacy laws should be substantial, evidence-based and capable of clear enforcement. Those affected by them should be able to understand their implications clearly.
  • Data flows and data exchange should take place without compromising data privacy. The privacy of personal data has often been sacrificed in the processes of data exchange, between the gathering of information and its application, with intentional and unintentional risks to trust and security. Internet access and use should not be dependent on data-tracking: users should have the right to choose the extent to which their information is shared, including information derived from their online activity. Personal data should not be exported into jurisdictions which do not provide adequate guarantees.
  • Policies should reach beyond data protection to data justice in which people have choices over how personal data are used and where they can share the returns and benefits of innovation brought by datasets derived from their data. Privacy protections should thereby contribute to a safer and more prosperous digital economy.
  • Governments and regulators should ensure that personal data are protected, identifying the differentiated responsibilities of different stakeholders and without imposing undue burdens or responsibilities on individual users. Data governance policies should be developed with multistakeholder input to ensure that implementation challenges are understood.
  • Privacy and data protection are particularly significant for the governance of artificial intelligence and machine learning. All stakeholders in the AI supply chain have a role to play in upholding privacy rights.
  • There is a need for independent oversight bodies equipped with appropriate resources. Data protection offices should have a mandate to manage data registration, provide guidance, implement investigations and resolve complaints from data subjects.

Data governance

  • Issues concerning data governance should not be treated in silos or in isolation from their impacts. The current data governance landscape is a fragmented patchwork of national, regional, and international rules involving responsibilities for national governments, private sector businesses and individuals.
  • Greater coherence is needed on a global level to achieve a balanced approach in which data work for people and the planet. Existing legislation and regulatory frameworks at national, regional, and international levels are often insufficient and fail to keep up with the pace of change in technology and applications. They should seek to ensure high security standards by businesses and other organisations responsible for holding data.
  • Different contexts and challenges, histories, cultures, legal traditions, and regulatory structures mean that there cannot be one rigid set of rules for all. Different individuals and organisations also interpret broadly similar approaches in different ways. However, while countries and regions must develop their own tailored approaches to data governance there should be consistency and interoperability to facilitate data flows and ensure a level playing field.
  • Transparency, participation and accountability are important aspects of good data governance. Important considerations in governing data include (but are not limited to): data standards and classification; data sharing, exchange and interoperability; data security and data privacy; data infrastructure; data and digital identity; data justice and fairness; data traceability, transparency and explicability; data minimization and data limitation; data accuracy and quality; data bias, marginalization and discrimination; the data life cycle, specificity and retention of data use; data accountability and data ethics; data harms, data security and data protection
  • Many stakeholders have roles within this context and should exercise their power and influence to promote effective data governance, including regulators, researchers, standards organizations, consumer organisations and end users. Policies for data governance should be developed with input from this multistakeholder community which has expertise in both legal debates around privacy and the “real world” challenges of implementing effective data privacy solutions.
  • Developing economies need to enhance their institutional capacities to govern, use and manage data in a comprehensive, objective and evidence-based manner, including through regional and global cooperation. This requires improved understanding of the institutional capacities of government officials and stakeholders.

Cross-border data flows

  • Cross-border data flows are essential to many aspects of e-commerce and digital trade. Efficient intra-regional trade and supply chain management relies on the smooth flow of data as well as goods, services and capital. However, all of these require complex cross-cutting considerations for regulatory convergence, harmonisation of legal frameworks, Internet governance, information and communications technology policy reform and strategic regional infrastructure implementation.
  • Current multilateral, regional and bilateral trade agreements are insufficient for current and future cross-border data flows. These operate in a largely unregulated environment with little consistency between national legal regimes. Approaches differ and are contextual, generating barriers to trade, while many countries do not currently have adequate legislation or enforcement capacity. There is a growing need to develop and harmonise measures to manage cross-border flows that facilitate development and economic value generation, in different contexts, while respecting national sovereignty and user privacy.

Full set of messages

Katowice IGF Messages (2021)

Economic and Social Inclusion and Human Rights

  • Issues that were raised, but on which disagreement remains among stakeholders, include (a) the possibility of introducing a moratorium for certain human rights violating technologies that are not (yet) regulated adequately (e.g. facial recognition and biometric data collection and analysis), and (b) the potential development of a legally binding agreement on technology and human rights, which would build on existing frameworks (e.g. the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights).

Inclusive Internet Ecosystems and Digital Cooperation

  • Violation of the rights of youth and minors on the Internet are a growing concern. One approach to protecting young people against online threats (e.g. data breaches, cyberbullying) could be to establish a global network of Youth Digital Ombudspersons to act as mediators between the youth and all stakeholders.

Full set of Messages

IGF 2020 Messages

Data

What policies and concrete actions are needed to ensure that data collection and use can benefit all – including those in developing countries, marginalised communities and the unconnected?

  • Artificial intelligence relies on the data sets it is fed. This means that when content is missing from data sets, or actively excluded, it can result in artificial intelligence deepening existing divides, marginalisations and exclusions. In the area of health, particularly, this can have fatal consequences.
  • Significant efforts are needed to provide wider, more inclusive data sets and to take active measures to counter bias by those who gather, process and use data.
  • “Nothing about me without me”. Consent processes for data collection should be strengthened and made more transparent, in particular, for marginalised communities and people in developing countries.
  • The concept of data-self determination should be explored as a possible core principle for data governance.
  • Internet connectivity isn’t just about connecting the remaining billions. It’s also about enabling big data and Artificial Intelligence technologies. Artificial intelligence can function offline, but in many circumstances, Internet connectivity is necessary to collect data for processing. With 3 billion people still offline, that is 3 billion people whose needs are not being fully addressed by the opportunities that big data and Artificial Intelligence can contribute to their development and well-being.
  • Developing countries with low levels of Internet connectivity and digitalisation are unable to fully benefit from the opportunities that big data, AI and open data can provide. One-off initiatives are not the solution. Instead, long-term strategies need to be developed that connect data strategies to connectivity and digital development strategies.

In a world where technology will always develop faster than laws and regulation, what needs to be done to ensure people’s rights are protected in regard to the collection and use of their data, from localised misuse of data for surveillance of citizens to international data flows related to increasingly globalised trade and use of online platforms, without undermining the lawful economic and other advantages that data processes can provide to citizens, companies and governments?

  • Governments and the private sector – the primary collators of data on individuals – need to ensure that inequalities and marginalisation in the real world are not replicated, and not amplified, by the collection and potential (mis)use of data related to marginalised communities. The inclusion of marginalised communities and minorities in data sets is an important part of improving representation and visibility, but equally, this must not make such communities more vulnerable to adverse actions such as targeted surveillance and restricting access to services available to
    people considered “mainstream”.
  • Data localisation is one policy that governments employ to protect their citizens’ data from being used in ways contrary to their national laws, if that data were to cross borders. However, that localisation can also have an adverse effect on small to medium businesses and startups who lack the resources to comply with the complexities of such legislation, hampering economic development. Data legislation must, therefore, consider innovative mechanisms that can balance both privacy concerns and the economic and other benefits that can result from the sharing of data across borders.

With COVID-19-related expedited policy making on data collection and use successfully meeting immediate policy goals as well as helping mitigate long-term economic fallout, what lessons can be learned from the quickly established coalitions of often silo-based stakeholders and decision makers who developed and implemented these policies, and how can the innovations in data policies made during the pandemic be applied in other non-pandemic-related contexts?

  • Countries that had existing open data policies and standards were able to quickly build on those standards and existing data sharing structures and relationships to quickly develop targeted COVID-19 related data initiatives that respected human rights. Governments without open data policies or standards should consider developing these to not only support quick responses in future times of crisis, but to also democratise and enable evidence-based decision-making in everyday situations.
  • The rapid deployment of contact tracing apps during the pandemic has demonstrated that citizens are willing to share their data for the wider public good, as long as they can trust that the information they are sharing is secure, does not collect more information than is necessary, and is not used for purposes other than which it was collected, including long-term surveillance of citizens’ movements and activities. While some governments’ tracking apps did not always fulfil these requirements, governments and the private sector should endeavour to develop such transparent standards to ensure citizens are willing to participate in data collection processes in future, where such data collection can benefit the wider community.
  • Data sovereignty has emerged as a growing trend over the past few years, with a number of countries passing legislation to keep their citizens’ data within their national borders. However, the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated how applying borders to data can have a negative impact on the ability to respond to global challenges.
  • Over the past few years, there has been a lively debate about how privately owned online public spaces such as social media platforms should be governed, and whether, and how much, regulation is needed by governments of these spaces and the data that is collected on their users. The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated that it is possible for private sector entities to work closely with governments, to share data and coordinate on public information campaigns, to support more accurate policy making and empower citizens to make well-informed decisions about their lives. While many of these partnerships between governments and the online platforms were improvised during a time of great need, such relationships could set a good example for future co-governance models of privately owned online public spaces.

Trust

  • […] The fast growth in IoT home devices raises concerns about security and privacy implications for their users. Guidelines, publications and recommendations need to be published in a user-friendly format and use a language with less jargon and technical terminology.
  • Ensuring the security and privacy is essential for the IoT ecosystem to thrive while the guidelines and related decision-making process have to involve diverse stakeholders including civil society and policy makers. There’s a lack of knowledge about the IoT associated risks and the need of capacity building actions to present best practices and prevent threats. The IGF is well placed to intermediate such a process.

Full set of Messages

Berlin IGF Messages (2019)

Data Governance

Cross-border data flows and development

  • Flows of data and information link up communities, cities, countries and continents, bringing people together beyond traditional barriers established through politics, through religion or social status.
  • As data crosses borders, multiple legal and regulatory frameworks, such as personal data protection regulations, data disclosure requirements and judicial redress processes often apply, with the potential to produce uncertainty in global data-driven supply chains, with the potential to adversely affect economic and social development, innovation, and as well as place constraints on freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, and introduce security risks.
  • Working collaboratively in a global context on developing commonly agreed values and principles for data frameworks could assist in building confidence in cross-border data flows, with resultant economic and social benefits. Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs) lacking the resources to map differing national legal regimes would particularly benefit from increased confidence in their ability to reach out to customers in other national market.

Data: the key resource of our economy and society

  • Evidence shows that Artificial Intelligence (AI) and open data can assist in achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals by contributing to the establishment of inclusive and empowered knowledge societies. Already, today, our everyday lives are being supported and influenced by digital applications that rely on big data and algorithms.
  • The global trend towards urbanization has brought about challenges in urban mobility, public health, and equitable access to public services and equal opportunities. Increasing uptake of Internet of Things (IoT) in urban infrastructure also inevitably results in more data being produced, collected and shared. It is essential to ensure public services are people-centric and data-driven, with participation and transparency in the design of services. Sustainable development and the protection of fundamental rights of all people, including marginalized groups, should be the overarching goals for policymaking, that also allows for integrated services and innovation to drive efficiency and equality.
  • A lack of adequate global and national human-centric data governance limits data’s potential as a key resource for sustainable development. Current data governance models support the concentration of access to data to only a few very large technology companies. Meanwhile, the human sources of data, as well as smaller businesses and developing countries, are excluded from sharing and benefitting from the value of their own data, while simultaneously being vulnerable to data breaches and attacks on their privacy rights.
  • Data governance challenges are also increasingly seen through the lens of human rights risks and not just as ethical dilemmas. This lens has widened to bring into context issues related to corporate environmental and social responsibility, and the sufficiency and accountability of the current global governance and public policies related to the Internet.
  • Effective data governance is essential in building smart cities that foster the creation and delivery of effective, innovative and sustainable public services. Data-driven public services, including mobility services, should be governed in a manner that is consistent with the Sustainable Development Goals through a holistic and integrated approach.

Data governance, ethics and fundamental rights

  • Data governance challenges are increasingly seen through the lens of human rights risks.
  • Artificial Intelligence and algorithms, if not governed effectively, can be used to monitor and manipulate behaviour, to besiege us with ever more targeted and intrusive advertising, to manipulate voters and stifle freedom of expression. Algorithmic discrimination affects labour market, the criminal justice system and access to public services.
  • There needs to be a balance between the need to protect children’s data and children’s ability to participate online in meaningful ways. In particular, parental control – both too much and too little – can limit children’s ability to benefit from digitalization with both the data protection rights and active permission of children to use their data often overlooked. Integrated digital literacy programmes at school are essential to improving children’s digital literacy at both the national and local levels.
  • Use of AI on anonymized big data sets can de-anonymize and identify specific individuals within the data sets.
  • When developing algorithms there should be a policy balance between being able to extract knowledge that can be used for good and knowledge that can be used to infringe on the fundamental rights of people whose data has been collected.
  • Appropriate protocols for data interoperability need to be part of data governance models.

Security, safety, stability and resilience

Safety and security online

  • Security and people’s fundamental freedoms and rights can coexist, but sometimes there need to be trade-offs. However, prioritizing security over people’s freedoms and rights, including freedom of expression and privacy, must be legitimate, proportionate, and based on the rule of law.

Full set of Messages

Paris IGF Messages (2018)

Cybersecurity, Trust and Privacy

Overarching messages

All stakeholders agree on the importance and relevance of cybersecurity. Only a secure and reliable cyber space can generate and preserve trust in the Internet. With the development of the Internet and new technologies, the cybersecurity question has become more complex, translating into a wide range of angles and issues and engaging a multiplicity of players. Privacy, data protection, and the security of new technologies, are among some of the issues that are central to the cybersecurity dialogue.

Trust & Stakeholder cooperation

  • Cybersecurity and privacy are often intertwined and interdependent. They impact the trust in the digital space and may limit its potential for growth and prosperity. Cooperation based on mutual recognition and successful models of engagement between governments, the private sector, technical community and the civil society, can address privacy and cybersecurity concerns without undermining the open, free and secure nature of the Internet.

Data Privacy & Protection

  • Institutional solutions adopted in countries in the Global North to reconcile the protection of privacy and access to data to address digital threats affect the entire Internet ecosystem, and may therefore have implications for countries in the Global South. There are opportunities for the creation of legal interoperability frameworks between developed and developing countries in a mutually-agreeable and negotiated way.
  • Enhanced digital identity management must increase data privacy, in particular where data- sharing is made mandatory under national digital identity programs. Personal data must be protected from hacks and misuse, and tracking and monitoring of users must be avoided.
  • Biometric data are privacy data and require a minimum level of protection. Biometric information is inseparably linked to a person and its life, and with possible risks to be abused. A safe, rights-respecting use of biometrics requires collaboration of experts, practitioners and stakeholders with diverse backgrounds (such as technical, business, government, philosophy, gender experts, etc.).
  • The right to privacy is a crucial safeguard for the ability of individuals to live freely, form opinions, express themselves without fear and fully develop their personality. Privacy protection is key for the most disadvantaged and vulnerable members of society who are at greater risk of discrimination. Privacy is essential to allow civil society to operate and meaningfully participate in public life.
  • The continued push for meaningful access comes against the background of a new digital divide where protecting privacy comes at significant economic cost and can undermine people’s ability to opt-out.
  • “Smart City” services will increasingly shape urban governance and public policies. Insight is needed in the use and protection of personal data, and the existence of legal gaps that may unintentionally allow social and economic discrimination, including discrimination in access to public services.

Algorithms

  • A better understanding of how algorithms affect people’s lives, of the potential risks of automated or algorithmic decision making, and of their impact on human rights and the right to privacy, will allow adequate technical and policy solutions, including a right to explanation.
[…]

Ethical issues

  • […] Ethics differ across cultures and geographies, but if we build technologies with a global approach, developers may need a single form of guidance. In that regard, new technologies need to be trusted and be “trustworthy”. Building trust requires various steps such as protecting privacy and personal data, enhancing cybersecurity, being transparent about problems, respecting human rights, giving users alternatives if they find one service or application unsatisfactory, design for safety, and design for diversity.[…]

Development, Innovation & Economic Issues

[…]

The Multistakeholder Approach for Digital Development

  • Big data should be fully leveraged for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); at the same time, its application should be accompanied by multistakeholder governance discussions with an eye to developing a transnational governance structure.

Human Rights, Gender, and Youth

[…]

Refugees

  • […] Despite the empowering potential of ICTs for refugees, challenges remain in accessing digital networks and infrastructure such as unaffordable connectivity and restrictions to full participation online. These challenges are also related to rights to privacy and data protection.[…]

Evolution of Internet Governance

Overarching messages

[…]  The small island developing states (SIDS) are facing unique challenges in terms of achieving meaningful access. In parallel, newly emerging technologies are posing concerns regarding online safety, protection of personal data and respect for human rights online. How should the community respond to these and many more challenges? Is the multistakeholder model effective and, if so, is it globally accepted? What is the role of the IGF in the present moment and in the future?

Full set of Messages

Geneva IGF Messages (2017)

Main session: Local interventions, global impacts: How can international, multistakeholder cooperation address Internet disruptions, encryption and data flows

  • […]
  • Encryption helps promote public security, and allows a better protection of human rights (such as those of activists, journalists, and minorities). It should not be seen as a by-default security threat. Countries that consider bans on encryption should understand the limitations and impacts of such a ban (e.g. cross-border effects, undermining the security of citizens, challenging the human rights of groups or minorities, and determining companies to move to other jurisdictions where such bans are not in place). Tools developed or employed to undermine encryption can come into the hands of those with illegal or criminal purposes. Governments and industry should cooperate and Identified vulnerabilities in encryption/encrypted products should be reported to the vendors.
  • Stakeholders should work together on achieving an appropriate balance between the interests of citizens and entities to secure their data and the needs of law enforcement agencies, while not undermining the fundamentals of the technology.
  • Data is an important asset in the digital era, due to its multiple uses. As governments and private companies collect and process large amounts of data, there is a need for more transparency and accountability in these processes. Users should be educated on how their data may be used and how to protect it.
  • The digital economy depends on the free flow of data, but this should be balanced with data protection. Governments, private companies, and civil society should work together on basic sets of rules that allow data aggregation and data flows, while also protecting the integrity of data and the privacy of individuals.

Main session: Dynamic Coalitions: Contribute to the digital future!

  • […] Internet rights, principles, and values span across multiple dimensions. Core Internet values are of a technical nature and refer to the Internet as a global, interoperable, open, decentralised, user-centric, robust, and reliable network. Beyond these values, human rights need to be protected online. For example, privacy and data protection rights remain a major concern, and principles such as privacy-by-design and consent-by-design could contribute to better preserving them. Children and gender rights are also important, and their implementation requires both digital literacy and protection from online harm and violence.[…]

Main session: NRIs Perspectives: Rights in the digital world 

  • There was broad support for the view that the rights that people have offline should also be protected online. Rights such as privacy, data protection and freedom of expression are equally important in the digital space as they are in the physical world. Some pointed out that there might not be an uniform understanding of these rights and that the application of rights might vary from country to country. […]
  • New data-driven technologies such as the Internet of things and artificial intelligence were expected to have both positive and negative impacts on human rights. Suggested solutions to maximise the opportunities and minimise the risks included the adoption of standards and principles on issues such as security and privacy, ethics, and accountability.[…]

Main session: Digital transformation: How do we shape its socio-economic and labour impacts for good?

  • […] E-commerce was seen as an enabler of global trade, empowering enterprises to reach international markets. But barriers still exist. Some pointed that this specific time is a historically important turning point in many meanings, then also touched upon a need to update cross-border trade rules and procedures, to better cater for the digital era. Others cautioned that time is needed to reach consensus between countries on how to best address the challenges of the digital trade. There were also calls for tackling issues such as limitations in cross-border data flows, as well as data privacy and security concerns.

Full set of Messages

Human rights online

UNGA Resolution 77/150 on ICT for sustainable development (2022)
  • Recalling the vision of a people-centred, inclusive and development-oriented information society, where everyone can create, access, utilize and share information and knowledge, enabling individuals, communities and peoples to achieve their full potential in promoting their sustainable development and improving their q uality of life, premised on the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and respecting fully and upholding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,
  • Reaffirming that the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online, and emphasizing that progress towards the vision of the World Summit on the Information Society should be considered not only as a function of economic development and the spreading of information and communications technologies but also as a function of progress with respect to the realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms,

Full text of the resolution

Note: The UN General Assembly has been adopting resolutions on ICT for (sustainable) development on an almost yearly basis since 2002.

Our Common Agenda – Report of the UN Secretary-General (2021)

  • 35. In 2023, we will commemorate the seventy fifth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and 30 years since the adoption of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action on human rights. As this milestone nears, the time has come to take stock, rejuvenate our shared values and update our thinking on human rights. Consideration should, for instance, be given to updating or clarifying our application of human rights frameworks and standards to address frontier issues and prevent harms in the digital or technology spaces, including in relation to freedom of speech, hate speech and harassment, privacy, the “right to be forgotten” and neuro-technology
  • 93. […] Furthermore, building on the recommendations of the road map for digital cooperation (see A/74/821), the United Nations, Governments, the private sector and civil society could come together as a multi-stakeholder digital technology track in preparation for a Summit of the Future to agree on a Global Digital Compact. This would outline shared principles for an open, free and secure digital future for all. Complex digital issues that could be addressed may include: reaffirming the fundamental commitment to connecting the unconnected; avoiding fragmentation of the Internet; providing people with options as to how their data is used; application of human rights online; and promoting a trustworthy Internet by introducing accountability criteria for discrimination and misleading content. More broadly, the Compact could also promote regulation of artificial intelligence to ensure that this is aligned with shared global values.

Full text of the report

United Nations Secretary General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation (2020)

C. Human rights and human agency

  • 38. Digital technologies provide new means to advocate, defend and exercise human rights, but they can also be used to suppress, limit and violate human rights. As the Panel noted, existing human rights treaties were signed in a pre-digital era. In today’s world, where online violations can lead to offline abuses, the Internet cannot be an ungoverned or ungovernable space – human rights exist online as they do offline and have to be respected in full (see A/70/174). 
  • 39. Effective due diligence is required to ensure that technology products, policies, practices and terms of service comply with human rights principles and standards. To that end, the Secretary-General, in his call to action for human rights, addresses new frontiers of technology and human rights, emphasizing that new technologies are too often used for surveillance, repression, censorship and online harassment, especially of vulnerable people and human rights defenders, and calling for these technologies to be used to provide new means to advocate, defend and exercise rights. Greater efforts are needed to develop further guidance on how human rights standards apply in the digital age, including through the Human Rights Council, and to build upon work by the special procedures and treaty bodies, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and diverse stakeholders.
  • 40. There remains a need to address possible protection gaps created by constantly evolving digital technologies. In that regard, the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights provide a useful tool.
  • 41. Blanket Internet shutdowns and generic blocking and filtering of services are considered by United Nations human rights mechanisms to be in violation of international human rights law. In addition to appropriate law enforcement, other means need to be found through consultation between Governments, industry and civil society, in accordance with international human rights law, including to deal with the spread of disinformation and, in particular, harmful, life-threatening content while avoiding disruptive blanket Internet shutdowns. 
  • 42. Of particular concern are the areas outlined below, in which technologies can be, and increasingly are, used to violate and erode human rights, deepen inequalities and exacerbate existing discrimination, especially of people who are already vulnerable or left behind.

Data protection and privacy

  • 43. Data protection has failed to keep up with advances in hacking and espionage. In 2019, more than 7,000 data breaches were recorded, exposing more than 15 billion records. 
  • 44. Effective personal data protection and the protection of the right to privacy in line with internationally agreed standards are imperative. Human rights-based domestic laws and practices for the protection of data privacy, including enforcement mechanisms such as access to judicial review, or fully independent and well-resourced data protection authorities, are needed to address the use of data by private companies or Governments. 
  • 45. The importance of protecting the right to privacy in the digital space and to take clear actions to do so is fundamental for private sector actors. More systemically, the current financing model for social media platforms effectively encourages the collection of personal data for commercial purposes, so that content and advertising can be more effectively tailored to individuals’ consumption patterns. Changes to this model will need to be considered in order to reverse the trend.

Digital identity

  • 46. For over 1 billion individuals worldwide, their lack of recognized identification bars them from having access to basic goods and services. A “good” digital identity that preserves people’s privacy and control over their information can empower them to gain access to these much-needed services. Initiatives such as Identification for Development and the United Nations Legal Identity Task Force can help countries to realize the transformative potential of digital identification systems. 
  • 47. It is nonetheless problematic that some digital identity programmes have been designed outside the frameworks of privacy and data protection. If digital identity is to become a trusted force for good and used for everyone, it has to be built upon a foundation of user agency and choice, informed consent, recognition of multiple forms of identity, space for anonymity and respect for privacy, ensuring that there is transparency when an individual’s data are used by government and other entities. 
  • 48. The adoption of safeguards related to digital identity is critical for Governments and the United Nations as they strive to realize its full utility and potential while building trust in its use. This includes, for instance, efforts such as decentralized data storage, identification and authentication, encrypted communications and considering the incorporation of “privacy by design” principles. 

Surveillance technologies, including facial recognition

  • 49. Researchers have observed that surveillance technologies have, in many situations, allowed for serious breaches of privacy, by Governments, individuals and the private sector. Surveillance technologies, where used in accordance with applicable international human rights law, can be effective law enforcement tools. However, there are reports of targeted communications surveillance and facial recognition software that could result in human rights violations and lead to arbitrary arrests or detentions and violation of the right to peaceful protest. These technologies may also misidentify certain minority groups and cement existing social biases, leading to situations in which marginalized people and members of minority communities may be more likely to be identified as the wrong gender or be discriminated against, for instance, in being denied loans. 
  • 50. It is critical that legislation and safeguards are in place to protect people from unlawful or unnecessary surveillance, including any arbitrary surveillance that may be carried out by State actors in cyberspace, as well as in the physical world. Any such policies have to be fully in line with countries’ human rights obligations. This is relevant also for the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic: a careful and considered approach is required to ensure that responses are aligned with human rights obligations. 

Online harassment and violence and the need for content governance

  • 51. In 2018, it was reported that women and girls were 27 times more likely to be harassed online than men. In addition to the impacts on health and dignity, the threat of online abuse is leading many women to “log off” of social media, perpetuating and entrenching inequalities in the space. They are joined by human rights defenders, environmental defenders, journalists, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons, young people, religious groups and civil society organizers in facing persistent harassment and violence online, including death threats, threats of sexual and gender-based violence and defamation and disinformation campaigns. Harassment and hate speech online can lead to physical violence offline. Increased digitalization owing to the current global health crisis has increased such threats. 
  • 52. The Internet has to provide a safe space for information-sharing, education, expression, mobilization and participation. Addressing the legitimate concerns underlying the need for encryption without undermining legitimate law enforcement objectives is possible, along with human rights-based laws and approaches to address illegal and harmful online content. Member States and businesses, including cross-industry initiatives, should advocate transparent and accountable content governance frameworks that protect freedom of expression, avoid incentives for overly restrictive moderation practices and protect the most vulnerable

IV. Concluding observations and way forward

Digital human rights

  • 86. To address the challenges and opportunities of protecting and advancing human rights, human dignity and human agency in a digitally interdependent age, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights will develop system-wide guidance on human rights due diligence and impact assessments in the use of new technologies, including through engagement with civil society, external experts and those most vulnerable and affected.
  • 87. I also call upon Member States to place human rights at the centre of regulatory frameworks and legislation on the development and use of digital technologies. In a similar vein, I call upon technology leaders urgently and publicly to acknowledge the importance of protecting the right to privacy and other human rights in the digital space and take clear, company-specific actions to do so.

Full text of the Roadmap

The Age of Digital Interdependence – Report of the UN Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation (2019)

3. Individuals, societies and digital technologies

The ultimate purpose of digital technology should always be to improve human welfare. Beyond the socio-economic aspects discussed in the previous chapter, digital technologies have proved that they can connect individuals across cultural and geographic barriers, increasing understanding and potentially helping societies to become more peaceful and cohesive. 

However, this is only part of the story. There are also many examples of digital technologies being used to violate rights, undermine privacy, polarise societies and incite violence. 

The questions raised are new, complex and pressing. What are the responsibilities of social media companies, governments and individual users? Who is accountable when data can move across the world in an instant? How can varied stakeholders, in nations with diverse cultural and historical traditions, cooperate to ensure that digital technologies do not weaken human rights but strengthen them? 

3.1. Human rights and human agency

Many of the most important documents that codify human rights were written before the age of digital interdependence. They include the Universal Declaration on Human Rights; the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women; and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. 

The rights these treaties and conventions codify apply in full in the digital age – and often with fresh urgency. 

Digital technologies are widely used to advocate for, defend and exercise human rights – but also to violate them. Social media, for example, has provided powerful new ways to exercise the rights to free expression and association, and to document rights violations. It is also used to violate rights by spreading lies that incite hatred and foment violence, often at terrible speed and with the cloak of anonymity. 

The most outrageous cases make the headlines. The live streaming of mass shootings in New Zealand. Incitement of violence against an ethnic minority in Myanmar. The #gamergate scandal, in which women working in video games were threatened with rape. The suicides of a British teenager who had viewed self-harm content on social media and an Indian man bullied after posting videos of himself dressed as a woman.

But these are manifestations of a problem that runs wide and deep: one survey of UK adult internet users found that 40 percent of 16-24 year-olds have reported some form of harmful online content, with examples ranging from racism to harassment and child abuse. Children are at particular risk: almost a third of under-18s report having recently been exposed to “violent or hateful contact or behaviour online”. Elderly people are also more prone to online fraud and misinformation. 

Governments have increasingly sought to cut off social media in febrile situations – such as after a terrorist attack – when the risks of rapidly spreading misinformation are especially high. But denying access to the internet can also be part of a sustained government policy that itself violates citizens’ rights, including by depriving people of access to information. Across the globe, governments directed 188 separate internet shutdowns in 2018, up from 108 in 2017.

Protecting human rights in the digital age

Universal human rights apply equally online as offline – freedom of expression and assembly, for example, are no less important in cyberspace than in the town square. That said, in many cases it is far from obvious how human rights laws and treaties drafted in a pre-digital era should be applied in the digital age.

There is an urgent need to examine how time-honoured human rights frameworks and conventions – and the obligations that flow from those commitments – can guide actions and policies relating to digital cooperation and digital technology. The Panel’s Recommendation 3A urges the UN Secretary-General to begin a process that invites views from all stakeholders on how human rights can be meaningfully applied to ensure that no gaps in protection are caused by new and emerging digital technologies. 

Such a process could draw inspiration from many recent national and global efforts to apply human rights for the digital age. Illustrative examples include: 

  • India’s Supreme Court has issued a judgement defining what the right to privacy means in the digital context.
  • Nigeria’s draft Digital Rights and Freedom Bill tries to apply international human rights law to national digital realities.
  • The Global Compact and UNICEF have developed guidance on how businesses should approach children’s rights in the digital age.
  • UNESCO has used its Rights, Openness, Access and Multi-stakeholder governance (ROAM) framework to discuss AI’s implications for rights including freedom of expression, privacy, equality and participation in public life.
  • The Council of Europe has developed recommendations and guidelines, and the European Court of Human Rights has produced case law, interpreting the European Convention on Human Rights in the digital realm.

We must collectively ensure that advances in technology are not used to erode human rights or avoid accountability. Human rights defenders should not be targeted for their use of digital media. International mechanisms for human rights reporting by states should better incorporate the digital dimension.

In the digital age, the role of the private sector in human rights is becoming increasingly pronounced. As digital technologies and digital services reach scale so quickly, decisions taken by private companies are increasingly affecting millions of people across national borders. 

The roles of government and business are described in the 2011 UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Though not binding, they were unanimously endorsed by the Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly. They affirm that while states have the duty to protect rights and provide remedies, businesses also have a responsibility to respect human rights, evaluate risk and assess the human rights impact of their actions.

There is now a critical need for clearer guidance about what should be expected on human rights from private companies as they develop and deploy digital technologies. The need is especially pressing for social media companies, which is why our Recommendation 3B calls for them to put in place procedures, staff and better ways of working with civil society and human rights defenders to prevent or quickly redress violations.

We heard from one interviewee that companies can struggle to understand local context quickly enough to respond effectively in fast-developing conflict situations and may welcome UN or other expert insight in helping them assess concerns being raised by local actors. One potential venue for information sharing is the UN Forum on Business and Human Rights, through which the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva hosts regular discussions among the private sector and civil society.

Civil society organisations would like to go beyond information sharing and use such forums to identify patterns of violations and hold the private sector to account. Governments also are becoming less willing to accept a hands-off regulatory approach: in the UK, for example, legislators are exploring how existing legal principles such as “duty of care” could be applied to social media firms.

As any new technology is developed, we should ask how it might inadvertently create new ways of violating rights – especially of people who are already often marginalised or discriminated against. Women, for example, experience higher levels of online harassment than men. The development of personal care robots is raising questions about the rights of elderly people to dignity, privacy and agency.

The rights of children need especially acute attention. Children go online at ever younger ages, and under-18s make up one-third of all internet users. They are most vulnerable to online bullying and sexual exploitation. Digital technologies should promote the best interests of children and respect their agency to articulate their needs, in accordance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child. 

Online services and apps used by children should be subject to strict design and data consent standards. Notable examples include the American Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule of 2013 and the draft Age Appropriate Design Code announced by the UK Information Commissioner in 2019, which defines standards for apps, games and many other digital services even if they are not intended for children.

Human dignity, agency and choice

We are delegating more and more decisions to intelligent systems, from how to get to work to what to eat for dinner.

This can improve our lives, by freeing up time for activities we find more important. But it is also forcing us to rethink our understandings of human dignity and agency, as algorithms are increasingly sophisticated at manipulating our choices – for example, to keep our attention glued to a screen.

It is also becoming apparent that ‘intelligent’ systems can reinforce discrimination. Many algorithms have been shown to reflect the biases of their creators. This is just one reason why employment in the technology sector needs to be more diverse – as noted in Recommendation 1C, which calls for improving gender equality. Gaps in the data on which algorithms are trained can likewise automate existing patterns of discrimination, as machine learning systems are only as good as the data that is fed to them. 

Often the discrimination is too subtle to notice, but the real-life consequences can be profound when AI systems are used to make decisions such as who is eligible for home loans or public services such as health care. The harm caused can be complicated to redress. A growing number of initiatives, such as the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE)’s Global Initiative on Ethics of Autonomous and Intelligent Systems, are seeking to define how developers of artificial intelligence should address these and similar problems.

Other initiatives are looking at questions of human responsibility and legal accountability – a complex and rapidly-changing area.  Legal systems assume that decisions can be traced back to people. Autonomous intelligent systems raise the danger that humans could evade responsibility for decisions made or actions taken by technology they designed, trained, adapted or deployed. In any given case, legal liability might ultimately rest with the people who developed the technology, the people who chose the data on which to train the technology, and/or the people who chose to deploy the technology in a given situation. 

These questions come into sharpest focus with lethal autonomous weapons systems – machines that can autonomously select targets and kill. UN Secretary-General António Guterres has called for a ban on machines with the power and discretion to take lives without human involvement, a position which this Panel supports.

The Panel supports, as stated in Recommendation 3C, the emerging global consensus that autonomous intelligent systems be designed so that their decisions can be explained, and humans remain accountable. These systems demand the highest standards of ethics and engineering. They should be used with extreme caution to make decisions affecting people’s social or economic opportunities or rights, and individuals should have meaningful opportunity to appeal. Life and death decisions should not be delegated to machines.

Recommendations

Human rights and human agency

3A: 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

3B: 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.

3C: 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 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. 

As discussed in Chapter 3, while human rights apply online as well as offline, technology presents challenges that were not foreseen when many foundational human rights accords were created. National laws and regulations must prevent advances in technology being used to erode human rights or avoid accountability. We need to cooperate to ensure that digital technologies advance the inherent dignity and equal and inalienable rights of every human. 

Applying human rights in the digital age requires better coordination and communication between governments, technology companies, civil society and other stakeholders. Companies have often reacted slowly and inadequately to learning that their technologies are being deployed in ways that undermine human rights. We need more forward-looking efforts to identify and mitigate risks in advance: companies should consult with governments, civil society and academia to assess the potential human rights impact of the digital technologies they are developing. From risk assessment to ongoing due diligence and responsiveness to sudden events, it should be clarified what society can reasonably expect from each stakeholder, including technology firms. 

In some areas there is consensus that much more needs to be done – notably, companies providing social media services need to do more to prevent the dissemination of hatred and incitement of violence, and companies providing online services and apps used by children need to do more to ensure appropriate design and meaningful data consent.

Consensus is also emerging that more needs to be done to safeguard the human right to privacy: individuals often have little or no meaningful understanding of the implications of providing their personal data in return for digital services. We believe companies, governments and civil society should agree to clear and transparent standards that will enable greater interoperability of data in ways that protect privacy while enabling data to flow for commercial, research and government purposes, and supporting innovation to achieve the SDGs. Such standards should prevent data collection going beyond intended use, limit re-identification of individuals via datasets, and give individuals meaningful control over how their personal data is shared. 

We also emphasise our belief that autonomous intelligent systems should be designed in ways that enable their decisions to be explained and humans to be held to account for their use. Audits and certification schemes should monitor compliance of AI systems with engineering and ethical standards. Humans should never delegate life and death decisions to machines.

Full text of the report

WSIS+10 review outcome: Outcome document of the high-level meeting of the General Assembly on the overall review of the implementation of the outcomes of the World Summit on the Information Society (2015)

2. Human rights in the information society

  • 41. We reaffirm the commitment set out in the Geneva Declaration of Principles and the Tunis Commitment to the universality, indivisibility, interdependence and interrelation of all human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the right to development, as enshrined in the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action of the World Conference on Human Rights. We also reaffirm that democracy, sustainable development and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as good governance at all levels, are interdependent and mutually reinforcing. We resolve to strengthen respect for the rule of law in international, as in national, affairs.
  • 42. We recognize that human rights have been central to the vision of the World Summit on the Information Society and that information and communications technologies have shown their potential to strengthen the exercise of human rights, enabling access to information, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and association.
  • 43. We reaffirm, moreover, as an essential foundation of the information society and as recognized in Human Rights Council resolution 26/13 of 26 June 2014 and General Assembly resolution 69/166 of 18 December 2014, that the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online.
  • 44. We note with concern, however, that there are serious threats to freedom of expression and plurality of information, and we call for the protection of journalists, media workers and civil society space. We call upon States to take all appropriate measures necessary to ensure the right to freedom of opinion and expression, the right to peaceful assembly and association and the right not to be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy, in accordance with their human rights obligations.
  • 45. We reaffirm our commitment to article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in which it is stated that everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and that this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. We also recall the commitments made under article 19 by States that are party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. We underscore the need to respect the independence of media. We believe that communication is a fundamental social process, a basic human need and the foundation of all social organization, and is therefore central to the information society. Everyone, everywhere should have the opportunity to participate, and no one should be excluded from the benefits that the information society offers.
  • 46. We recall General Assembly resolution 69/166 and, in this context, emphasize that no person shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy, family, home or correspondence, consistent with countries’ obligations under international human rights law. Accordingly, we call upon all States to review their procedures, practices and legislation regarding the surveillance of communications, as well as their interception and collection of personal data, including mass surveillance, with a view to upholding the right to privacy as set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights for States that are party to the Covenant, by ensuring the full and effective implementation of all their obligations under international human rights law.
  • 47. We reaffirm our commitment to the provisions in article 29 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his or her personality is possible and that, in the exercise of his or her rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society. These rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations. In this way, we shall promote an information society in which human dignity is respected.

Full text of the resolution

Tunis Agenda on the Information Society (WSIS 2005)
  • 42. We reaffirm our commitment to the freedom to seek, receive, impart and use information, in particular, for the creation, accumulation and dissemination of knowledge. We affirm that measures undertaken to ensure Internet stability and security, to fight cybercrime and to counter spam, must protect and respect the provisions for privacy and freedom of expression as contained in the relevant parts of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Geneva Declaration of Principles.
  • 43. We reiterate our commitments to the positive uses of the Internet and other ICTs and to take appropriate actions and preventive measures, as determined by law, against abusive uses of ICTs as mentioned under the Ethical Dimensions of the Information Society of the Geneva Declaration of Principles and Plan of Action.
  • 44. We also underline the importance of countering terrorism in all its forms and manifestations on the Internet, while respecting human rights and in compliance with other obligations under international law, as outlined in UNGA A/60/L.1 with reference to Article 85 of the 2005 World Summit Outcome.
  • […]
  • 46. We call upon all stakeholders to ensure respect for privacy and the protection of personal information and data, whether via adoption of legislation, the implementation of collaborative frameworks, best practices and self-regulatory and technological measures by business and users. We encourage all stakeholders, in particular governments, to reaffirm the right of individuals to access information according to the Geneva Declaration of Principles and other mutually agreed relevant international instruments, and to coordinate internationally as appropriate.
  • […]
  • 90. We reaffirm our commitment to providing equitable access to information and knowledge for all, recognizing the role of ICTs for economic growth and development. We are committed to working towards achieving the indicative targets, set out in the Geneva Plan of Action, that serve as global references for improving connectivity and universal, ubiquitous, equitable, non-discriminatory and affordable access to, and use of, ICTs, considering different national circumstances, to be achieved by 2015, and to using ICTs, as a tool to achieve the internationally agreed development goals and objectives, including the Millennium Development Goals, by:
    • […] o. reaffirming the independence, pluralism and diversity of media, and freedom of information including through, as appropriate, the development of domestic legislation, we reiterate our call for the responsible use and treatment of information by the media in accordance with the highest ethical and professional standards. We reaffirm the necessity of reducing international imbalances affecting the media, particularly as regards infrastructure, technical resources and the development of human skills. These reaffirmations are made with reference to Geneva Declaration of Principles paragraphs 55 to 59. […]

Full text of the Agenda

Tunis Commitment (WSIS 2005)
  • 3. We reaffirm the universality, indivisibility, interdependence and interrelation of all human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the right to development, as enshrined in the Vienna Declaration. We also reaffirm that democracy, sustainable development, and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms as well as good governance at all levels are interdependent and mutually reinforcing. We further resolve to strengthen respect for the rule of law in international as in national affairs.
  • 4. We reaffirm paragraphs 4, 5 and 55 of the Geneva Declaration of Principles. We recognize that freedom of expression and the free flow of information, ideas, and knowledge, are essential for the Information Society and beneficial to development.

Full text of the Commitment

Geneva Plan of Action (WSIS 2003)

C9. Media

24. The media — in their various forms and with a diversity of ownership—as an actor, have an essential role in the development of the Information Society and are recognized as an important contributor to freedom of expression and plurality of information.

  • a. Encourage the media – print and broadcast as well as new media – to continue to play an important role in the Information Society.
  • b. Encourage the development of domestic legislation that guarantees the independence and plurality of the media.
  • c. Take appropriate measures – consistent with freedom of expression – to combat illegal and harmful content in media content.
  • d. Encourage media professionals in developed countries to establish partnerships and networks with the media in developing ones, especially in the field of training.
  • e. Promote balanced and diverse portrayals of women and men by the media.
  • f. Reduce international imbalances affecting the media, particularly as regards infrastructure, technical resources and the development of human skills, taking full advantage of ICT tools in this regard.
  • g. Encourage traditional media to bridge the knowledge divide and to facilitate the flow of cultural content, particularly in rural areas.

C10. Ethical dimensions of the information society

  1. The Information Society should be subject to universally held values and promote the common good and to prevent abusive uses of ICTs.
    • a. Take steps to promote respect for peace and to uphold the fundamental values of freedom, equality, solidarity, tolerance, shared responsibility, and respect for nature.
    • b. All stakeholders should increase their awareness of the ethical dimension of their use of ICTs.
    • c. All actors in the Information Society should promote the common good, protect privacy and personal data and take appropriate actions and preventive measures, as determined by law, against abusive uses of ICTs such as illegal and other acts motivated by racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance, hatred, violence, all forms of child abuse, including paedophilia and child pornography, and trafficking in, and exploitation of, human beings.
    • d. Invite relevant stakeholders, especially the academia, to continue research on ethical dimensions of ICTs.

Full text of the Plan of Action

Geneva Declaration of Principles (WSIS 2003)

A. Our Common Vision of the Information Society

3. We reaffirm the universality, indivisibility, interdependence and interrelation of all human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the right to development, as enshrined in the Vienna Declaration. We also reaffirm that democracy, sustainable development, and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms as well as good governance at all levels are interdependent and mutually reinforcing. We further resolve to strengthen respect for the rule of law in international as in national affairs.

4. We reaffirm, as an essential foundation of the Information Society, and as outlined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; that this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. Communication is a fundamental social process, a basic human need and the foundation of all social organization. It is central to the Information Society. Everyone, everywhere should have the
opportunity to participate and no one should be excluded from the benefits the Information Society offers
.

5. We further reaffirm our commitment to the provisions of Article 29 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of their personality is possible, and that, in the exercise of their rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society. These rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations. In this way, we shall promote an Information Society where human dignity is respected.

11. We are committed to realizing our common vision of the Information Society for ourselves and for future generations. We recognize that young people are the future workforce and leading creators and earliest adopters of ICTs. They must therefore be empowered as learners, developers, contributors, entrepreneurs and decision-makers. We must focus especially on young people who have not yet been able to benefit fully from the opportunities provided by ICTs. We are also committed to ensuring that the development of ICT applications and operation of services respects the rights of children as well as their protection and well-being.

18. Nothing in this Declaration shall be construed as impairing, contradicting, restricting or derogating from the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, any other international instrument or national laws adopted in furtherance of these instruments.

10. Ethical dimensions of the Information Society

  1. The Information Society should respect peace and uphold the fundamental values of freedom, equality, solidarity, tolerance, shared responsibility, and respect for nature.
  2. We acknowledge the importance of ethics for the Information Society, which should foster justice, and the dignity and worth of the human person. The widest possible protection should be accorded to the family and to enable it to play its crucial role in society.
  3. The use of ICTs and content creation should respect human rights and fundamental freedoms of others, including personal privacy, and the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion in conformity with relevant international instruments.
  4. All actors in the Information Society should take appropriate actions and preventive measures, as determined by law, against abusive uses of ICTs, such as illegal and other acts motivated by racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance, hatred, violence, all forms of child abuse, including paedophilia and child pornography, and trafficking in, and exploitation of, human beings.

Full text of the Declaration

IGF Messages (2017–2022)
Addis Ababa IGF Messages (2022)

Connecting all people and safeguarding human rights

The Gender Digital Divide and women’s rights

  • Men are significantly more likely to be online or have mobile connectivity than women. The gender digital gap is particularly wide in Least Developed Countries. SDG target 9c, which seeks to achieve universal, affordable Internet access, cannot be met until this gap is closed.
  • The threat of violence and harassment is a deterrent to women’s online participation. Online gender-based violence is an important factor driving and reinforcing gender inequality in Internet access and usage, leading to some women leaving online spaces. The role of technology services and platforms in propagating gender-based violence should be acknowledged and addressed. Women should be supported by guidance to resist and redress online gender-based violence, including through community-led helplines. Resources, community guidelines and reporting on platforms should be made available in local languages.
  • Concepts of gender equality, inclusion, and women’s rights and protection should be incorporated into the Global Digital Compact (GDC), as has been proposed by UN Women.

Human Rights and digital development

  • Universal access should respect human rights, to ensure the Internet is both accessible and safe for all. These include freedom of expression and association, the right to privacy and other civil and political and economic, social and cultural rights set out in international rights agreements. Internet governance structures and the design of digital technologies should respect these rights. Standards development organisations should consider inviting participation by experts in online human rights, from all stakeholder communities, in their work.
  • Transparency, accountability and due diligence regarding human rights are the responsibilities of all stakeholder groups, including intergovernmental and international organisations, governments, the private sector, the technical community and civil society. This will require alignment of business practices with digital rights and cooperation between stakeholders to address issues such as disinformation, discrimination and hate speech, especially at times of political unrest, elections and transfers of power.
  • Access to the Internet provides a crucial opportunity for access to information and expression. Governments should avoid recourse to Internet shutdowns because of their negative impact on both human rights and economic welfare. Social media and technology companies should support citizens in their advocacy efforts concerning shutdowns.
  • It is important to improve the monitoring and implementation of digital rights. A number of suggestions have been made to establish international monitoring arrangements within the UN system, with multistakeholder engagement. These could complement and build on existing mechanisms, including both those concerned with digital development and rights and those in other spheres such as climate change.
  • The internet provides opportunities for enhancing rights to education, as part of broader policies for educational improvementThe quality of education in the Global South, particularly during the pandemic, has suffered due to a lack of connectivity. While ICTs can enable meaningful access for students, differences in global and local adoption rates have exacerbated pre-pandemic inequalities. Experience during the pandemic can be used to improve the use of digital resources in the future.
  • Efforts should be made to help smaller and local businesses take maximum advantage of the Internet. Use of digital tools by small and medium-sized enterprises has increased greatly since 2020, but micro-enterprises still face significant challenges in their ability to digitalise their businesses.
  • Labour market changes built around online platforms present both opportunities and challenges for job creation and job quality, especially for women who play a greater part than men in the informal sector in most countries. Lack of training remains a barrier for many people in maximising their employment potential.
  • Digital competencies must be improved, and adaptations in teaching, learning and training methodologies are needed to adapt to new paradigms in both education and employment. It is important to identify and close the gap between the needs of the industry and tertiary education.

Full set of messages

Katowice IGF Messages (2021)

Economic and Social Inclusion and Human Rights

  • […] Digital IDs and financial inclusion solutions could contribute to fostering meaningful participation in the digital economy and society. Public actors are encouraged to create or upgrade digital ID ecosystems and put in place normative frameworks to ensure that the ecosystems are inclusive, human rights respecting, and interoperable. Regulators and the private sector are invited to support a more extensive use of technologies as a way to achieve sustainable development and drive digital inclusion.
  • […]
  • A suggestion was made for states to consider transposing the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) General Comment 25 (GC25) on children’s rights in the digital environment into national regulation and legislation, and to ensure compliance. Another suggestion was for the UNCRC itself to tailor recommendations to individual countries during dialogue and review processes related to GC25.
  • To ensure that human rights are enforced and upheld in the digital space, a careful reflection is needed on how technology serves humanity, as opposed to simply putting in place safeguards around the edges and waiting until harms occur. States’ duty to prevent potential harm of human rights (e.g. through regulation and enforcement) needs to be complemented with (a) effective access to remedy when people are victims of human rights violation, and (b) responsibility on the part of relevant actors in integrating human rights due diligence and impact assessments throughout the entire life cycle of a technology.
  • Mechanisms need to be put in place to ensure that the rights-limiting measures put in place to cope with public health crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic are not prolonged indefinitely and become instruments of mass surveillance.
  • States and the private sector should perform due diligence when it comes to the protection and promotion of digital rights, including in the context of public-private partnerships.
  • Issues that were raised, but on which disagreement remains among stakeholders, include (a) the possibility of introducing a moratorium for certain human rights violating technologies that are not (yet) regulated adequately (e.g. facial recognition and biometric data collection and analysis), and (b) the potential development of a legally binding agreement on technology and human rights, which would build on existing frameworks (e.g. the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights).

Full set of Messages

IGF 2020 Messages

Inclusion

  • More investments are needed (from the public and private sector) to develop digital skills among citizens. Beyond acquiring technical skills, people need to be empowered to exercise critical thinking and use technology in a safe and meaningful way to advance their rights.

Trust

  • Fact checking will remain ineffective if there’s no trust in the fact checkers.
    Government involvement in fact checking initiatives can strengthen or undermine this trust. Bots are important, innovative and compelling tools to automate tasks in the fight against disinformation, and save resources that can be concentrated on tasks where human oversight is needed. Transparency is crucial to avoid that bots limit essential rights, such as freedom of expression and access to information, and has many layers: the inner working of the tool, the used criteria and their effects, but also who is deploying the tool and their objective.
  • […]
  • Technology can be a solution as well as part of a problem. The digital world creates opportunities for children to learn, play, develop their potential and protect their rights, but is also full of dangers that can harm or undermine their rights.
  • The protection of children online requires a careful balance that manages the risks while maximizing the opportunities. A successful approach should involve children, parents, educators, industry, and policymakers ensure cyberspace is as safe and empowering as possible.

Full set of Messages

Berlin IGF Messages (2019)

Data governance

Data: the key resource of our economy and society

  • […] Sustainable development and the protection of fundamental rights of all people, including marginalized groups, should be the overarching goals for policymaking, that also allows for integrated services and innovation to drive efficiency and equality.
  • Data governance challenges are also increasingly seen through the lens of human rights risks and not just as ethical dilemmas. This lens has widened to bring into context issues related to corporate environmental and social responsibility, and the sufficiency and accountability of the current global governance and public policies related to the Internet.

Security, safety, stability and resilience

Safety and security online

  • Security and people’s fundamental freedoms and rights can coexist, but sometimes there need to be trade-offs. However, prioritizing security over people’s freedoms and rights, including freedom of expression and privacy, must be legitimate, proportionate, and based on the rule of law.
  • Children’s rights are no different in the online or offline world – in particular their rights to play and their rights to protection from inappropriate, illegal and bullying behaviours as well as their rights to be protected from sexual abuse and commercial exploitation.

Policy and cooperation

  • The pace of technology development is outpacing traditional processes to put in place policy and regulatory processes to address security issues in a timely way. It is necessary to enhance collaboration to develop and implement policy solutions, and for norm development processes to be inclusive and respecting human rights.

Full set of Messages

Paris IGF Messages (2018)

Human Rights, Gender, and Youth

Overarching messages

The theme of “Human Rights, Gender, and Youth” at the IGF 2018 saw sessions moving beyond the gender binary and focusing not only on women — as has traditionally been the case in past editions of IGF and also other fora — but also on gender non-binary and queer persons. Gender needs to be viewed as a cross-cutting theme, and gender inequality must be located at the intersection of other inequalities such as class (income/education), location (urban/rural), race and ethnicity, among others. It is crucial to examine emerging issues and technologies such as dataveillance and biases in artificial intelligence algorithms through the lens of gender and sexuality perspectives, particularly while analyzing policies and strategies to address them.

Approaches to combating child and youth online safety include strengthening efforts to raise awareness and sensitizing diverse stakeholders on these issues of urgency. Mental health and ability cannot be de-linked from similar challenges associated with Internet misuse. While Internet access plays a pivotal role in helping refugees stay connected, challenges remain in accessing digital networks and infrastructure such as unaffordable connectivity and restrictions to ensure full and meaningful online participation.

Advocacy for digital rights at the local levels produces momentum for local realization of human rights in the digital environment. Decentralization of agency through proliferation of localized discourse around digital rights is an observed trend that also raises contestations relating to how digital rights should be protected.

Gender Equality

  • Gender needs to be viewed as a cross-cutting theme requiring multi-stakeholder cooperation for addressing challenges. Similarly, gender inequality must be located at the intersection of other inequalities such as class (income/education), race, location (urban/rural), etc.
    • Efforts need to be made to move beyond the gender binary and focus not only on women (as has traditionally been the case in the past) but also gender non-binary persons.
    • Gender analysis must be an integral part of planning efforts of initiatives that support Internet access, rather than an “add-on” task.
    • Since many Internet access initiatives tend to be gender-blind, targeted policy recommendations are required to develop specific initiatives that focus on women and gender non-binary persons.
    • There is a need to deepen understanding of emerging issues such as dataveillance, and algorithmic decision-making, and their influence in cyberspace through a gender and sexuality lens, along with strategies to address them.
    • Many local access projects use ICTs to secure the rights of underrepresented populations of women, with a focus on the Global South.
  • Relevant gender issues in the context of emerging technologies include biases in artificial intelligence algorithms, regressive regulatory practices, and commercially driven technology design – with a disproportionate and undesirable impact on the inclusion of and participation by women and politically marginalised groups and communities.

Child and Youth Online Safety

  • Children face various online risks such as online child sexual exploitation. To combat this threat public-private sector models based on hashing and similar technologies need to be deployed.
    • The increasing call for responses to online youth radicalization and violent extremism highlight the need for the international community to cooperate and strengthen efforts to raise awareness and sensitize diverse stakeholders on these issues of urgency. These responses include the responsibility of Governments to implement violence prevention measures through national policies or dedicated action plans. International, regional and national stakeholders must also play an active role through consistent counter narratives to extremist ideas and education.
    • There are clear interlinkages between Internet misuse and mental health. Proactive multi- stakeholder approaches to preventing suicide and minimizing detrimental mental health impacts of internet-related technologies must be sought.
    • Children’s rights to be protected and to be empowered to exercise their rights to freedom of information, peaceful participation and assembly need to be fulfilled in the digital environment.
    • To achieve digital inclusion and gender diversity on the Internet, online safety is a basic need. Especially political participation of women and gender non-binary persons is prevented by hate speech and online harassment. “Human Impact Assessments” should be adopted to measure how hate speech affects women and gender non-binary persons (LGBTQIA+).

Democracy and Digital Citizenship

  • Methods of designing and implementing automated decision-making by digital platforms must be analyzed along with their potential benefits and risks. A positive example is the recent proposal of AI-based proactive detection and removal of abusive content.
    • In the context of increased pressure on Internet platforms to act as proxy law enforcement, policymakers must keep in mind that online communities can build effective systems of self-governance, potentially an important enabler of freedom of expression and democratic processes online. Provisions could be made to allow for such models of self- governance and content moderation by Internet users, which promote the right to participation based on the cultural context.
    • Digital rights declarations and other documents written to advocate for human rights protection in the digital age (“digital constitutionalism”) are proliferating locally and on the level of the nation-state. This moves agency and discourse in this field away from international and global fora of Internet governance (like IGF) toward more decentralised arenas of public policy – which is an encouraging trend.
    • The development of decentralised cryptographically organized infrastructure through blockchains raises new contestations relating to self-enforcing smart contracts, and considerations on which and how digital rights should be protected online (e.g., the issuance of automated fines if data is leaked by a data collector).
    • Advocacy for digital rights at the local levels produces momentum for local realization of human rights in the digital environment, while blockchain-based smart contracts have the potential to permeate (national) borders and entrench certain norms transnationally, which may not take into consideration what political communities have decided locally/nationally.
  • Drawing from other disciplines such as media, the effectiveness of self-regulation to assess complaints of hate speech online must be analyzed for the entire Internet landscape. Self-regulation should address the needs of a democratic society by providing for effective protection of those targeted, quick procedures, and a clear understanding of the reasons for the takedown or non-takedown for users.

Refugees

  • Internet access and mobile phones play a pivotal role in providing vital information to refugees, helping families to stay connected and giving newcomers the necessary tools for being able to start a new life in another part of the world.
    • Despite the empowering potential of ICTs for refugees, challenges remain in accessing digital networks and infrastructure such as unaffordable connectivity and restrictions to full participation online. These challenges are also related to rights to privacy and data protection.
    • In the age of Artificial Intelligence, the relevance of the current legal framework for refugees must be assessed. A legal framework on refugees’ digital rights needs to be adopted.
    • Efforts are being made by international organisations, civil society, private sector and members of the technical community to collect refugees’ data to help respond to the daily needs of the growing community. These include developing digital tools such as blockchain technologies, biometric records, etc.

Youth Inclusion

  • Factors that impact the participation of youth in the digital economy include inequities in terms of Internet access, gaps in levels of connectivity, socioeconomic status, quality of education and degree of digital literacy skills, and the degree of Internet freedom in a particular region, among others. These, in turn, affect the visibility of youth engaging in online economic activities.
    • Youth inclusion can be facilitated by increasing the recruitment for IGF attendance in schools and universities, and designing best practices to implement these through setting up suitable education networks.
    • The education system, especially in the STEM domains, should become more welcoming for women, young girls, and LGBTQIA+ persons. Schools that enable low-income girls and minorities to access education in the field of new technologies, coding and engineering should be encouraged and should experience innovative pedagogies.

Full set of Messages

Geneva IGF Messages (2017)

Main session: Local interventions, global impacts: How can international, multistakeholder cooperation address Internet disruptions, encryption and data flows

  • While there is increasing awareness of potential unintended impacts of Internet shutdowns, they continue to happen around the world. Shutdowns may affect the exercise of human rights, have economic implications, and may lead to the fragmentation of the Internet (as they often have cross-border effects).
  • The motivations behind Internet shutdowns vary, they may be legitimate, but sometimes blocking is used to address problems that could be solved by using the Internet. It is important to have a process in place that ensures: transparency, , adequate oversight, and redress mechanisms.
  • Encryption helps promote public security, and allows a better protection of human rights (such as those of activists, journalists, and minorities). It should not be seen as a by-default security threat. Countries that consider bans on encryption should understand the limitations and impacts of such a ban (e.g. cross-border effects, undermining the security of citizens, challenging the human rights of groups or minorities, and determining companies to move to other jurisdictions where such bans are not in place). Tools developed or employed to undermine encryption can come into the hands of those with illegal or criminal purposes. Governments and industry should cooperate and Identified vulnerabilities in encryption/encrypted products should be reported to the vendors.
  • […]

Main session: Dynamic Coalitions: Contribute to the digital future!

  • […] Internet rights, principles, and values span across multiple dimensions. Core Internet values are of a technical nature and refer to the Internet as a global, interoperable, open, decentralised, user-centric, robust, and reliable network. Beyond these values, human rights need to be protected online. For example, privacy and data protection rights remain a major concern, and principles such as privacy-by-design and consent-by-design could contribute to better preserving them. Children and gender rights are also important, and their implementation requires both digital literacy and protection from online harm and violence.
  • Content control policies that platforms implement at the request of governments could challenge human rights. To avoid platforms becoming regulators, solutions could include co-regulation and self-regulation, with governments maintaining an adequate supervision of the processes. With regard to netneutrality and zero-rating, it was pointed out that different practices and policies exist around the world, and it seems as if zero-rating plans are more common in countries without netneutrality regulations, while other services seem to be zero-rated at a global level.[…]

Main session: NRIs Perspectives: Rights in the digital world 

  • There was broad support for the view that the rights that people have offline should also be protected online. Rights such as privacy, data protection and freedom of expression are equally important in the digital space as they are in the physical world. Some pointed out that there might not be an uniform understanding of these rights and that the application of rights might vary from country to country.
  • While for some access to the Internet should be considered as a human right, others noted that access is more a need than a right. It was generally supported that access to the Internet is an important enabler of development and growth. For this reason, many noted that more should be done to bridge the digital divide.
  • Many indicated that the Internet enables them to exercise their digital rights, and called for more education, digital literacy, and for raising awareness about digital rights, and ways to exercise and protect them.
  • Some recommended that the protection of digital rights should be imbedded in an inclusive approach that also considers the needs and rights of vulnerable groups and communities – such as children, women, gender minorities, people with disabilities.
  • Other challenges and limitations mentioned during the session were: Internet shutdowns; limited transparency in how some Internet intermediaries process personal data or deal with content control policies; individual self-censorship caused by activities such as surveillance; tendencies to trade off rights against each other; and the lack of effective legal frameworks at national level, or insufficient resources to implement them.
  • New data-driven technologies such as the Internet of things and artificial intelligence were expected to have both positive and negative impacts on human rights. Suggested solutions to maximise the opportunities andminimise the risks included the adoption of standards and principles on issues such as security and privacy, ethics, and accountability.
  • There was a broad confidence that multistakeholder processes could be effective in addressing challenges related to digital rights. It was noted that more efforts should be made to strengthen the engagement of stakeholders, and empower them to make meaningful contributions.

Main session: Gender inclusion and the future of the Internet

  • […] The digital divide facilitates discrimination of women and girls and as such, is a human rights issue that states should address in line with international human rights frameworks. Cooperation is key, and also other stakeholders have critical roles to play.
  • Several discussants stated that technology is not neutral, and that gender diversity should be taken into account when technologies are designed. They warned for the potential impact of data-driven technologies on gender digital rights, and called for multistakeholder action to avoid that opaque algorithms and machine learning systems make gender-biased decisions.
  • The issue of online gender-based abuse and violence was highlighted as a continued challenge to be addressed. Some warned that states and Internet intermediaries, when tackling online gender-based abuse and violence should not do so through a protectionist framework, but through the framework of human rights. This includes the need to potentially balance different rights, and that the principles of necessity, proportionality, and transparency should be respected in so far as they limit the freedom of expression.
  • The important role played by civil society actors in developing research and coordinating collaboration to understand key and emerging gender-related issues were acknowledged, and policymakers were encouraged to engage and be part of honest conversations to develop not only policies but coordinated plans together to achieve concrete results. Many acknowledged the progress made in recent years to integrate women rights and the gender issues into Internet governance processes, mechanisms, and structures (including the IGF). Yet, it was felt that gender equality and inclusion should remain a priority area. A multistakeholder approach was underlined as an important model and approach in this.

Full set of Messages

Digital transformation among the priorities of Germany’s new strategy for Africa

Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) has launched a new Africa Strategy dedicated, among other goals, to ‘lend[ing] structural support to the achievement of the development goals set by the African Union (AU) and its member states’.

Titled ‘Shaping the future with Africa’, the strategy notes that Germany’s cooperation with Africa will be based on respect and reciprocity, and anchored into Africa’s priorities and initiatives. Moreover, ‘the BMZ wants to engage in a dialogue with Africa rather than about Africa. It advocates for the voices of African states and the AU to be heard appropriately within multilateral fora.’

Digital transformation features among the focus areas for development cooperation (as part of a broader cluster titled ’employment, fair trade, migration and digital transformation’). First and foremost, Germany intends to contribute to the growth of digital economies across Africa by providing support in areas such as (a) enhancing relevant economic and political frameworks; (b) creating digital markets; (c) enabling secure, universal internet access and bridging digital divides; (d) fostering legal standards and data privacy regulations; (d) stimulating the creation of jobs in the ICT sector. Mobilising investments in digital infrastructures and supporting the implementation of the African Common Free Trade Area are also envisioned.

But supporting digital transformation across Africa relates to more than the digital economy. BMZ will also be directing its development cooperation towards supporting (a) enhancing women’s economic participation, including through providing training for women with a special focus on digital expertise; (b) the digitalisation of healthcare; and (c) the digitalisation of the public sector and the use of digital technology to strengthen political participation.

US government launches Digital Transformation with Africa initiative

The US government has launched a Digital Transformation with Africa (DTA) initiative dedicated to ‘expand[ing] digital access and literacy and strengthen[ing] digital enabling environments across the continent’. The USA plans to dedicate over US$350 million to this initiative, which is expected to support the implementation of both the African Union’s Digital Transformation Strategy and the US Strategy Towards Sub-Saharan Africa. DTA’s objectives revolve around three pillars:

  1. Digital economy and infrastructure: (a) expanding access to an open, interoperable, reliable, and secure internet; (b) expanding access to key enabling digital technologies, platforms, and services and scale the African technology and innovation ecosystem; (c) facilitating investment, trade, and partnerships in Africa’s digital economy.
  2. Human capital development: (a) facilitating inclusive access to digital skills and literacy, particularly for youth and women; (b) fostering inclusive participation in the digital economy; (c) strengthening the capacity of public sector employees to deliver digital services.
  3. Digital enabling environment: (a) strengthening the capacities of authorities and regulators to develop, implement, and enforce sound policies and regulations; (b) supporting policies and regulations that promote competition, innovation, and investment; (c) promoting governance that strengthens and sustains an open, interoperable, reliable, and secure digital ecosystem.

Airtel and UNICEF collaborate to connect Nigerian students to digital learning

In early 2023, as part of the Reimagine Education Initiative, Airtel will connect 620 primary schools in Nigeria to digital learning through its partnership with UNICEF. The implementation of the project will take five years. In the first year, Airtel and UNICEF will deliver digital learning resources to the 620 identified schools: to twenty schools this December and the remaining 600 before the end of February 2023. The project will provide a reliable telecommunications network and free access to a curriculum through the Nigeria Learning Passport (NLP), an e-learning platform developed by the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Education, UNICEF, and Microsoft. In addition, Airtel will provide free access to the Youth Agency Market Place (YOMA) digital platform to any Airtel subscriber.

Asian Development Bank allocates US$40 million loan for building telecom towers in the Philippines

To provide a full range of mobile and data services to Filipino mobile users, a US$40 million loan has been signed by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and Tiger Infrastructure Philippines, Inc. As of 2021, an estimated 164 towers per 1 million people or about 27,000 telecom towers had been installed in the Philippines. To connect the unconnected, the government of the Philippines estimates that an additional 60,000 towers are needed by 2031. The loan will fund 380 telecommunications towers in the Mindanao and Visayas regions.

New evidence reveals disparity in internet access for children in five African countries

A recent UNICEF research brief estimated the level of internet access for children in Ethiopia, Kenya, Namibia, Uganda, and the United Republic of Tanzania, as well as the most common barriers to connecting children to the digital world. The report classified these common barriers into three categories: infrastructure-related, resource-constrained, and adult permission-related. According to the findings, 90% of children in the five surveyed countries reported having at least one barrier to regular internet access. The most frequently mentioned barrier was the high cost of data.

The report identified three priorities for addressing the digital divide and enabling equal access to digital connectivity: investing in electricity and connectivity with a focus on marginalised communities and users; lowering the cost of connectivity and devices; and addressing cultural and social norms as barriers that prevent children and adolescents from using the internet.