The UN High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation

After nine months of deliberations, the UN High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation (Panel) issued its final report with five recommendations on how to deal with the impact of digitalisation felt across industries, sectors, organisations communities and societies. Digital technology as an accelerator drives innovation, facilitates the realisation of sustainable development goals (SDGs), and contributes to social transformation. At the same time, digital advances raise uncertainty, and trigger disruptions and divides. The Panel’s report guides governments, companies, and individuals in making policy choices on our digital future. 

The Panel’s report: The Age of Digital Interdependence

The Panel’s report: The Age of Digital Interdependence

In the spirit of the Agenda 2030, the report commits to ‘leaving no one behind’ in the digital age. It promotes inclusiveness and the use of digital technology as a tool for the realisation of the SDGs. It also assesses the highly complex relationship between individuals, societies, and digital technologies, and endorses a human-centric approach to digital innovation. The Panel invites us to adhere to the Declaration of Digital Interdependence and to commit to accessible and affordable digital technologies that promote economic growth, equal social opportunity, and environmental sustainability. 

In addition to addressing the impact on and the role of the UN and its specialised agencies in the digital transformation, the report explores the array of existing governing mechanisms of digital co-operation. 

*In order to simplify navigation through the rich landscape of digital policy, the Digital Watch has mapped out over a 1000 digital mechanisms. Analogous to one of the functions of a help desk (recommendation 2), the database allows stakeholders to stay informed and on track with the developments in the field of digital policy regulation. 

 

Given that the mechanisms have failed to pick up momentum, the Panel identifies the gaps which need to be addressed by appropriate functions, and presents three architecture models - the IGF Plus, Distributed Co-Governance Architecture, and a Digital Commons framework - which could fill these governance gaps.

 

 

The Panel’s recommendations

The five recommendations made in the report are:

#1. 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. 

#2. 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. 

#3. 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. 

#4. Trust, security and stability

4: We recommend the development of a Global Commitment on Digital Trust and Security to shape a shared vision, identify attributes of digital stability, elucidate and strengthen the implementation of norms for responsible uses of technology, and propose priorities for action.

#5. 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. 

More information: Read an analytical summary of the five recommendations.

How do we implement the Panel’s recommendations?

 

The launch of the report marks the beginning of a global discussion on how to implement the proposed recommendations, and how to connect the dots between existing digital co-operation mechanisms. 

The following sums up the discussions on the report’s implementation which have taken place since the launch of the report, or are expected to take place very soon.

Contributions from Geneva

On 24 June 2019, the Geneva Internet Platform convened over 80 participants from the diplomatic community, the private sector, civil society, and academia, to unpack the report and to propose action points for the report’s implementation.

During the discussion on Unpacking the High-Level Panel’s Report on Digital Cooperation, the policy experts agreed that there is a sense of urgency in digital policy discussions and that timely follow-ups should be carried out on how to boost digital co-operation. The neutrality and inclusivity of the Geneva Internet Platform were stressed as an asset for the implementation of the Panel’s recommendations. 

Each of the five recommendations were addressed in depth during breakout sessions led by expert discussants. Key action points for implementing the report include: map existing policy networks, mechanisms, and debates on the link between efficiency and effectiveness of ‘digital’ and SDGs; and advance the discussion on digital inclusion in the lead-up to, and during the upcoming Internet Governance Forum (IGF) meeting in Berlin (25-29 November). 

Read the full Contributions from Geneva.

Developments after the Panel

Following the publication of the Panel's Report, a total of eight roundtable discussions involving the so-called 'Champions' i.e, national governments and 'Key Constituents' composed of industry representatives, civil society organisations and other stakeholders were organised in order to provide feedback on the recommendations. The roundtable tackled the following issues: global connectivity, digital public goods, digital inclusion and data, digital help desk, digital human rights, artificial intelligence, global commitment on trust and security and digital cooperation architecture. Whereas the governments provides impetus to the recommendations, the 'Key Constituents' shared their digital expertise.

The discussions provided some of the necessary insights for the development of the UN Secretary-General's Roadmap on Digital Cooperation which was released on 11 June 2020. The Roadmap builds on the recommendations and sets forward the trajectory for their implementation. You can take part in the 'reading together' initiative and learn more about the Roadmap for Digital Cooperation here.

About the Panel

The Panel was established by the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in July 2018 to enhance co-operation between relevant stakeholders working in the digital field, including governments, the private sector, the technical community, academia and civil society. The Panel’s objective was to address the opportunities and challenges of digital technologies, and to engage in discussions on how to secure an inclusive and humanistic digital future for all. 

The final outcome of the Panel’s work, the report The Age of Digital Interdependence, was launched in New York on 10 July 2019, and in Geneva on 17 June 2019.

 

 

Composition of the Panel

Melinda Gates, Co-Chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Jack Ma, Executive Chairman of the Alibaba Group, co-chaired the Panel composed of 20 independent experts from the policy, academia, civil society and technical community. This multistakeholder composition was regarded as a particularity of the Panel given that the members were able to approach digital from the perspective of engineers, economists, civil society representatives, tech entrepreneurs, etc. The composition of the Panel was the following:

  • Mohammed Al Gergawi, Minister of Cabinet Affairs and the Future, UAE
  • Yuichiro Anzai, Senior Advisor and Director of Center for Science Information Analysis, Japan Society for the Promotion of Science
  • Nikolai Astrup, Minister of Digitalisation, Norway
  • Vinton Cerf, Vice President and Chief Internet Evangelist, Google
  • Fadi Chehadé, Chairman, Chehadé & Company
  • Sophie Soowon Eom, Founder of Adriel AI and Solidware
  • Isabel Guerrero Pulgar, Director, IMAGO Global Grassroots and Lecturer, Harvard Kennedy School
  • Marina Kaljurand, Chair of the Global Commission on the Stability of Cyberspace
  • Bogolo Kenewendo, Minister of Investment, Trade and Industry, Botswana
  • Marina Kolesnik, Senior Executive, Entrepreneur and WEF Young Global Leader
  • Doris Leuthard, former President and Federal Councillor of the Swiss Confederation, Switzerland
  • Cathy Mulligan, Visiting Research Fellow Imperial College Centre for Cryptocurrency
  • Akaliza Keza Ntwari, ICT advocate and entrepreneur
  • Edson Prestes, Professor, Institute of Informatics, Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul
  • Kira Radinsky, Director of Data Science, eBay
  • Nanjira Sambuli, Digital Equality Advocacy Manager, World Wide Web Foundation
  • Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah, Chief Executive, Oxfam GB
  • Jean Tirole, Chairman of the Toulouse School of Economics and the Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse.

The Panel was supported by a Secretariat which was headed by Co-Executive Directors, Amb. Amandeep Singh Gill, and Dr Jovan Kurbalija. 

The Panel’s activities

Between June 2018 and June 2019 the Panel organised several in person meetings, discussions, workshops, international visits to the Silicon Valley, China, India, Kenya, Belgium and Israel as well as online meetings. 

The first in person meeting of the Panel was held in September 2018 in New York, followed by a second and third in person meeting in Geneva and Helsinki in January 2019 and April 2019 respectively. The first meeting was an opportunity for the Panel to identify how challenges in the digital realm could be addressed in a collaborative manner. The Panel decided to consult concerned communities in order to explore ways how to place humans at the center of digital developments.

The global ‘Call for Contributions’ was launched by the Panel In October 2018. Over a 100 contributions were received from a wide range of stakeholders that reflected on the guiding values and principles of digital co-operation as well as improved, effective and inclusive co-operation in the digital realm. The Panel sought to give an answer to every received input and in that manner make the process as inclusive as possible. 

During the second in person meeting in Geneva, the Panel provided feedback on the international visits that it conducted and explored areas, namely values and principles, digital public goods and safety and security, for potential recommendations. In Helsinki, on the basis of an initiative of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland, the Panel met together with the EU’s Global Tech Panel. The two panels held discussions on global digital governance and practical ways how digital technology could advance sustainable development. 

Through the year, the Panel organised virtual town hall meetings on the first Monday of the month where it provided updates on its work but also sought to engage with actors who are rarely given the opportunity to participate in similar debates. 

Lastly, the Panel organised regional dialogue with the African region in collaboration with the African Union Commission, the UN Economic Commission for Africa, International Telecommunications Union (ITU), Internet Governance Forum (IGF), the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the Association for Progressive Communication (APC) and DiploFoundation. The purpose of the discussions was to gather insights from regional actors on the recommendations and promote regional digital co-operation and innovation. Similar discussions were also organised in the Latin America and Caribbean region in partnership with the Digital Agenda for Latin America and the Caribbean (eLAC2020).