Parliamentary roundtable

10 Nov 2020 18:00h - 19:30h

Event report

The Parliamentary Roundtable high-level session is a continuation of the first-ever parliamentary session held at the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) 2019 in Berlin. This special session had been created with the aim of supporting and linking the annual IGF ‎‎with other global, regional, and national legislative bodies. At last year’s IGF, parliamentarians called for greater co-operation between parliaments, especially on best practices around public policy issues.
This session looked into how the Internet affects parliamentarians and their view on political trust, especially in the time of COVID-19.

Mr Liu Zhenmin (Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, United Nations) said that COVID-19 only confirmed the importance of relying on the Internet. A critical access for everyone can be achieved with effective public policies and enhanced Internet governance (IG). National parliamentary institutions play a critical role in contributing to the regulatory framework for achieving sustainable development goals (SDGs).

Transparency, inclusiveness, and multistakeholder discussion on IG are crucial for enhancing trust. Networks are used to support parliaments, share experience, but also to enable democracies to function in difficult and challenging times. Mr Martin Chungong (Secretary General, Inter-Parliamentary Union, Cameroon) believes that the Internet has been a transformative tool for knowledge, communication, and information; but also a dangerous tool, when it comes to fake information and conspiracy. It is important to be able to trust the information online the same way it is important to trust legislators acting on people’s behalf.

Mr Manuel Höferlin (Member of Parliament (MP), Germany) suggested building a more active network between parliamentarians around the world to discuss and learn among each other about the most pressing issues related to digital technologies and digital policies. Höferlin put forward the idea of establishing an informal parliamentarian working group and a parliamentarian track at the IGF. It would provide an opportunity to work on relevant issues throughout the year, rather than just once a year during the event itself.

Ms Margarita Escobar (MP, El Salvador) said that the COVID-19 pandemic brought parliamentarians and other stakeholders closer. She is currently working with civil society organisations on digital law. In El Salvador, the practice of working online was introduced before the pandemic. The Internet helps governments to be more transparent, build trust, and draft new laws in a consultative manner. Escobar suggests keeping misinformation high on the priority list of governments.

While Poland supports broad Internet access for all its citizens, it is still working on improving online education, cybersecurity, and broadband. Mr Krzysztof Gawkowski (MP, Poland) says the pandemic has pushed everyone to shift almost every aspect of their lives to digital space. The ability to use digital tools will be necessary in the labour market.

Mr Mattia Fantinati (MP and Under Secretary of State for Public Administration, Italy) reminded that many online movements started with the aim to strengthen democracy and to fight corruption. The Internet gives people instruments to develop free and critical thinking. ‘The Internet belongs to everyone’. He endorsed the parliamentarians’ working group on Internet governance suggested by Höferlin.

Ms Marina Kaljurand (MP, European Parliament) said that members of parliaments need to be included in discussions related to digital technologies and related policies. Trust between all Internet governance stakeholders is crucial. Without trust, people will not be able to take advantage of digital benefits. It is important to take advantage of COVID-19 and bring digitalisation at the top of the political agenda, ‘both when it comes to cybercrime and cyber hygiene’.

Co-operation has to be present at all levels, starting with the UN. She reminded of the three important pillars within the ‘Roadmap for Digital Cooperation’: co-operation, security and trust.
Mr Alexander Khinshtein (Chair of the State Duma Committee on Information Policy, Russia) also emphasised international co-operation as crucial.

The Internet helps parliamentarians communicate not only between them within the country but also cross-border. Ms Florence Levy (MP, Nicaragua) says that the Internet is important for bilateral and intercontinental relations. In Nicaragua, they practice broadcasting parliament meetings online and on social media. Cybercrime is a huge challenge.

According to Mr Hasanul Haq (Information minister, Bangladesh), Internet access should be a universal fundamental right. There is a need for a global cyber treaty, as well as a global agreement on the emerging economy of the Internet. Parliamentarians’ job is to work on this and that is why they need to be more actively involved. It is important to assess the capabilities when it comes to digital technologies so that everyone can participate approximately equally.

Mr Francesco Berti (MP, Italy) called on young parliamentarians to push for digitalisation. Italy is tackling the problem of digital education at the moment. In Italy they perceive fake news as a threat to political democracy. Therefore, they have approved a parliamentary committee on fake news. He noted that privacy presents a big challenge, which the European Union has successfully tackled with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Without regulation digital innovation cannot provide trust, and without control on fake news, ownership of platforms, the Internet and communication become manipulation, Berti concluded.

The voice of parliamentarians is important. They hold governments into account, ask critical and important questions, and make laws. It is important to connect parliamentarians to co-operate on digitalisation-related issues.