Our Internet: Can the Internet remain open secure trustworthy and inclusive?

Geneva, Switzerland

[Update] A report from the panel discussion is now available:

Our Internet: Can the Internet remain open, secure, trustworthy, and inclusive?

The panel discussion, organised by the Permanent Mission of Canada and the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI), addressed the outcomes and recommendations of One Internet, a report written by the Global Commission on Internet Governance (GCIG).

Mr Carl Bildt, Chair of the Commission and former Swedish Prime Minister, introduced the report, pointing out its broad approach to Internet governance, from privacy to fragmentation, from human rights to security. He explained the reasoning behind the report: We are facing ‘the end of the industrial age and the beginning of the digital age’, with immense opportunities, as well as important risks. A multistakeholder approach is necessary, if we want the Internet to live up to its full potential.

Ms Latha Reddy, Member of the Commission and former Indian Ambassador, discussed the implications of the report for developing countries. She highlighted the importance of access to the Internet, as well as the promise of the Internet as a catalyser for economic development. The challenge that remains is the speed with which technology grows, a speed with which regulatory frameworks cannot keep up, especially in developing countries.  

Dr Eileen Donahoe, Member of the Commission and former US Ambassador, addressed the human rights challenges and opportunities related to the Internet. She mentioned three particularly challenging characteristics of the digital ecosystem:

  • The digitisation of everything.
  • The transborder nature of the Internet.
  • The privatisation of governance.

If these challenges are not effectively met, these features can result in the fragmentation of and on the Internet, digital sovereignty, and a lack of user trust. She stressed the importance of society-wide digital security with the engagement of all sectors, a refreshed vision of human rights, and innovation in governance models.

Presentations by the GCIG members were followed by a discussion with experts from different sectors.

H.E. Ms Elayne Whyte Gómez, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Costa Rica, emphasised the importance of addressing the connectivity gap and access to the Internet, highlighting several initiatives from her own country.

H.E. Dr Syed Tauqir Shah, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Pakistan, focused on the importance of e-commerce, especially for developing countries.

Mr Joakim Reiter, Deputy Secretary-General of UNCTAD, pointed out three aspects of digital society that should not be overlooked by policymakers:

  • The fundamentally transformative nature of the Internet, which is ‘inherently painful’ and can only be effectively addressed by a multistakeholder approach.
  • The democratisation of trade, which harbours enormous promise in e-commerce, yet this can only be achieved by bridging the sectoral divide between trade negotiators and technology actors.
  • The potential of the Internet to accelerate development, which is often more complex to handle than many actors think, especially regarding conflicts of interest between different policies and sectors.

Ms Anne-Rachel Inné, Vice President Government Engagement of ICANN, stressed the need for a shared responsibility across sectors and raised the question of how to act on each of the report’s recommendations. She echoed Reiter’s view that a multistakeholder process is at times ‘very painful’, but ‘it can be done’.

Dr Gustav Lindström, Head of the Emerging Security Challenges Programme at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GCSP), praised the holistic approach of the report, as well as its focus on issues ‘that are right around the corner’, such as the Internet of Things. Now, we need to make sure that all sectors will talk more openly with each other, to make sure that policies in one sector do not counteract those of other sectors.

Mr Gonzalo Lopez-Barajas Huder, Member of the ICC BASIS (International Chamber of Commerce Business Action to Support the Information Society) Strategy Council and Manager Public Policy and Internet at Telefonica, closed the debate on a critical note. He argued that economic aspects were not sufficiently covered by the report, and that the report could benefit from more nuanced considerations.

The Q&A that followed sparked a lively debate, especially regarding the role and possible regulation of those private sector companies and intermediaries that are currently ‘dominating the data’.  Another discussion related to trade negotiators and their reluctance to deal with privacy and security issues, as well as the size of business-to-consumer digital services (which might not be where the economic value is or will be).

Latvian Ambassador Janis Karklins pointed out that the understanding of the complexities embedded in digital technologies always falls behind digital developments, and that we might have missed some of the ‘turning points’.

The discussion nevertheless ended on a more positive note, with Donahoe predicting that due to the interdependence of the digital society, all sectors would inevitably come on board, and governance transformation would occur.

by Barbara Rosen Jacobson


Event announcement

The Permanent Mission of Canada in Geneva is organising a panel discussion on the final report of the Global Commission on Internet Governance, Our Internet. The event will be held on 22 November, between 15.00 and 17.00 CET, at Maison de la Paix, in Geneva.

The report, released in June 2016 at the OECD Ministerial Meeting on the Digital Economy in Cancun, Mexico, proposed key recommendations crucial to ensuring the Internet’s promised future of greater digital freedom, security, trustworthiness, and accessibility for all, and that touch on the rights and responsibilities of all actors who have a role to play in shaping the future of the Internet, including governments, civil society, the private sector, the technical community, and others. 

The event will bring together academics, business representatives, policy makers, diplomats, and Internet users, for in-depth discussion of the report's recommendations. The Panel will include, among others, former Swedish prime-minister Mr Carl Bildt who chaired the Commission’s work, former US Ambassador to the Human Rights Council Ms Eileen Donahoe, and Mr Joakim Reiter, Deputy Secretary General of UNCTAD.