Digital cooperation – quo vadis?

8 Dec 2021 10:15h - 11:45h

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The Internet’s contribution to social, cultural, and economic growth and opportunity, as well as the numerous challenges it has created, is commonly recognised. Nonetheless, pressing topics of governance, accountability, misuse, and access persist. In 2020 the UN Secretary-General’s Road Map for Digital Cooperation proposed a shared agenda for addressing many of the challenges posed in the digital world. Parallel to such universalist, multilateral, and multistakeholder efforts stemming from the UN, the last years have witnessed the emergence of many views and perspectives.

Today’s debate examined the global digital corporation agendas, addressing whether the UN Secretary-General’s Road Map for Digital Cooperation is succeeding in achieving cooperation. It also addressed what can be expected from the ‘Global Digital Contract,’ proposed in the Secretary-General’s Common Agenda, and what changes are needed to advance digital cooperation.

The panel started with opening remarks from Ms Avri Doria (Member of the ICANN Board ), who pointed out that the IGF has been about digital cooperation since the beginning of its existence. 

The digital cooperation initiative of Secretary-General Guterres could not be more timely, stressed Mr Vint Cerf (Vice President and Chief Internet Evangelist at Google). Digital cooperation takes place on many different levels, but not yet in a very coherent way. For better internet governance, more than road maps and joint declarations or technical standard setting bodies are needed. We need strong relationships, good partners, and fast and agile cooperation. Ms Elke Siehl (Director General Sector and Global Programmes, GIZ) called for more institutions and communities beyond the UN to take inspiration from this road map and use it as a tool for coordinated efforts and activities.

Ms Nnenna Nwakanma (Chief Web Advocate at the World Wide Web Foundation) stated that global digital collaboration based on an inclusive and multi-stakeholder approach is critical in ensuring that the internet and digital technology remain forces for good across the world. We need the same vision about how we organise to adapt to present difficulties while seizing possibilities. 

The Secretary-General’s report on multistakeholder cooperation misses the point, argued Ms Anita Gurumurthy (Founding Member and Executive Director of IT For Change). It is impossible to hold any actor accountable for governance failure in a digital world. She stressed that the specific proposals in the Secretary-General’s road map do not clarify any binding mechanisms. Instead, they propose a high level body to address urgent issues, which in her opinion would be supported by private finance and which would offer membership based on financial contributions, leading to the establishment of a technology-led body. 

One of the significant elements that we hope we can achieve through this road map, and other interventions by the UN, is to improve the agency of developing countries, particularly those in Africa, underlined Mr Jean Paul Adam (Director of Technology, Climate Change in the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa). He also added that significant progress in access to the internet has been achieved in Africa, but that it is still well  behind the global average. In his opinion, one of the opportunities in Africa is that innovation is driven by necessity.

A huge disconnection is discerned between the multiple discussions in various forums and the everyday policy decisions made in each country. A perception persists that agreements on some issues could be achieved, but the right mechanism to conduct the discussions toward those possible agreements does not exist. Mr Raul Echeberria (Asociación Latinoamericana de Internet) highlighted the responsibility of the UN to recruit the right people from the government and the public sector to build a better world together. Ms Maria Francesca Spatolisano (Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs) noted that the UN can provide a platform for all stakeholders to participate in discussions about digital access. She added that the digital cooperation is a tool that can help to achieve the SDGs. 

More digital cooperation will happen when the world’s major state powers are ready to cooperate, cautioned Mr Milton Mueller (Professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology School of Public Policy). Digital collaboration is an outcome rather than a cause, and it can be advanced by addressing sources of digital conflict. Instead of setting big goals like providing broadband internet access to the world’s most distant locations, difficulties should be reduced to smaller, more targeted problem areas.

By Boris Begovic

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