The UN GGE - United Nations Group of Governmental Experts on Developments in the Field of Information and Telecommunications in the Context of International Security - is a UN-mandated working group in the field of information security. Six working groups were established since 2004. The UN GGE can be credited with two major achievements: outlining the global cybersecurity agenda, and introducing the principle that international law applies to the digital space.
On this page: Updates | Related Events | Cyber-armament | Reports | Members | Modus Operandi | Controversial Issues | Evolution and Milestones | Resources | Media | Actors
Updates of the UN GGE
- 22 December 2018, New York: UN General assembly adopted the resolution A/RES/73/266 named ‘Advancing responsible State behavior in cyberspace in the context of international security’. Thus, this group will be the second that will continue to study possible cooperative measures to address information security threats.
- 5 December 2018, New York: UN General assembly adopted the resolution A/RES/73/27 that establishes an open-ended working group, acting on the basis of consensus, for the further development of norms and principles of responsible behavior of states in cyberspace and ways of their implementation. The group will come up with the final report on the 75 session of the UN General Assembly. The first organizational meeting is scheduled in June 2019.
- 8 November 2018, New York: UN First Committee of the General Assembly (GA) has adopted two resolutions - one establishing the sixth UNGGE (to start in 2019 and report to the UNGA in 2021), the other establishing the new open-ended group (to start in 2019, and report to the UNGA in 2020).
- 19 - 23 June 2017, New York: The fourth and final session of the fifth UN GGE ends without a consensus on its final report. What does this mean for the future of the UN GGE? Read our analysis in our June's Geneva Digital Watch newsletter
- 20 - 24 February 2017, Geneva: The third session of the fifth UN GGE
- 28 November - 2 December 2016, Geneva: The second session of the fifth UN GGE
- 29 August - 2 September 2016, New York: The first session of the fifth UN GGE
Study: 'Towards a secure cyberspace via regional co-operation: overview of the main diplomatic instruments'
- 30 November 2016: "Towards a secure cyberspace via regional cooperation", a luncheon event in Geneva organised by the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs of Switzerland in cooperation with the Geneva Internet Platform on the occasion of the second meeting of the 2016-2017 UN GGE
- 23 November 2016: Webinar "Cyber Norms: Towards an Inclusive Dialogue" with Angela McKay, Director of Cybersecurity Policy and Strategy, Global Security Strategy and Diplomacy Team at Microsoft.
Trends in cyber-armament
There is evidence from official documents and media coverage that countries are increasingly investing in both offensive cyber-capabilities.
Reports of the UN GGE
Reports are the main outcome of the UN GGE's work. Although the reports are not legally binding, they carry significant influence in the field of global cybersecurity. They are frequently referred to in the main ICANN and Internet policy documents.
The 2015 UN GGE Report includes:
- Norms, rules, and principles on the responsible behaviour of States
- Confidence-building measures
- International cooperation and assistance in ICT security and capacity-building
- How international law applies to the use of ICTs
The 2013 UN GGE Report includes:
- Recognition that international law, and in particular the UN Charter, applies to digital space
- Norms, rules, and principles on the responsible behaviour of States
- Reference that state sovereignty applies to the digital field
- The principle that states must meet their international obligations regarding internationally wrongful acts in cyberspace attributable to them
The 2010 UN GGE report includes recommendations for:
- Further dialogue among States to reduce the risk and protect critical national and international infrastructure
- Confidence-building, stability and risk reduction measures
- Information exchanges on national legislation and strategies, and capacity-building measures
- The elaboration of common terms and definitions related to information security
Members of the UN GGE
Excerpts from UNIDIR's Report on the International Security Cyber Issues Workshop Series:
- Selection and Composition
GGEs are composed “on the basis of equitable geographical distribution”. The five permanent members of the Security Council traditionally have a seat on all GGEs, and the remaining seats are allocated by UN regional grouping. States often send an official request for a seat on a GGE of particular interest to them, and might even lobby at the highest levels of the Secretariat for a place at the table. The Office of the High Representative for Disarmament has the task of proposing the Group’s composition to the Secretary-General, taking into account not only geographical and political balance, but a demonstrated interest in the topic, the number of times that a country has served on other GGEs, whether they are currently serving on a different GGE, etc. Occasionally a government might decline to participate in a GGE if it believes it lacks the personnel or expertise necessary for the work.
Once the countries have been identified, they are asked to nominate an expert to participate in the GGE. In almost all cases, these experts are government officials. There was a mix of experts in the early GGEs on information security, some with diplomatic and others with technical backgrounds. Over time, the composition of the experts has changed, as nations have moved to select experts with diplomatic, arms control, or non-proliferation experience. Experts from technical backgrounds can be “left behind” in the sometimes intense diplomatic negotiations that accompany a GGE.
Each GGE selects a Chair from among its members. A strong and skilful Chair is vital to the success of the group. The Russian Federation chaired in 2005 and 2010, Australia in 2013, Brazil in 2015 and Germany in 2016. While it is the experts who sit at the table (there are no “delegations”), some experts are accompanied by advisers. In the recent GGEs, legal advisers have been particularly common.
The Group, guided by the Chair and shaped by the mandate included in the General Assembly resolution, largely determines its own agenda and work plan. Work, particularly commenting on drafts and informal consultations, is often conducted intersessionally.
Most GGEs meet for four one-week sessions. The Group holds its meetings in the UN format, sitting for six hours a day (from 10 a.m. to 1p.m., and then again from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.), with simultaneous interpretation into all six official languages of the UN. The GGE’s meetings are closed and there are no publicly available meeting summaries. The closed door format is essential for the frank discussion that GGEs require to find agreement. Thus there are also no observers - whether representatives from other governments, non-governmental organizations, the private sector or international organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross. On more than one occasion it has been suggested that the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the UN specialized agency responsible for developing technical standards for information and communications technologies (ICTs), might be invited to observe the group. However, the General Assembly mandates place the work of the GGEs squarely in the realm of international security and disarmament and thus not as a technical exercise.
Decisions, including decision on the final Report, are made by consensus.
- Relations with other UN bodies and processes
That the GGE falls under the UN’s First Committee has important implications for how the Group interprets its mandate, by focusing and narrowing the scope of the task. The First Committee is a Main Committee of the General Assembly and is allocated agenda items on disarmament and international security. GGEs have decided after multiple discussions that issues that are not under the purview of the First Committee - such as espionage, Internet governance, development and digital privacy - are not the focus of the Group’s work. While terrorism and crime are important topics for understanding cybersecurity, previous GGEs have limited themselves to calling for greater cooperation among States, while deciding that detailed discussion of these topics and the development of recommendations for them is best done in other UN bodies.
A number of issues have been at the centre of the UN GGE's debate, including:
- How to deal with issues that do not fall within the UN GGE's ambit but have an impact on the UN GGE's work related to cybersecurity work Internet infrastructure, content management, freedm of expression, privacy protection, digital economy, etc)
- What qualifies cyberattack as 'use of force' and/or 'armed attack'
- Whether the protection of critical Internet infrastructure (for example, the DNS system) should be part of the work of the UN GGE
- Whether it is sufficient to apply existing norms of international law or there is a need to adopt new norms
- Whether cyberspace is a unique domain in international affairs
- How to apply state responsibility in digital issues
- What the responsibility of states should be with regards to acts of non-state actors against the cyber infrastructure of other states
- Whether the UN GGE should focus on disarmament and the de-militarisaiton of cyberspace or a more precise use of the law of armed conflict
- How to operationalise the norm of not attacking critical infrastructure in peacetime
- Whether digital critical infrastructure is a global public good
- How to ensure wider involvement in the UN GGE's work beyond limited membership (in particular how to involve developing countries)
- How to deal with the challenge of technical, legal, and policy attribution for cyberattacks
- How to deal with the dual-use nature of cyber technology
- How to ensure effective communication with technical, business, and civil society communities.
Evolution and milestones
- 1998: The UN General Assembly Resolution (A/RES/53/70) proposed by the Russian Federation put the question of digital and security on the UN Agenda. Since 1999, this resolution has been repeated annually by the General Assembly
- 2004 - 2005: First UN GGE, established by UN General Assembly Resolution A/RES/58/32
- 2009 - 2010: Second UN GGE, established by UN General Assembly Resolution A/RES/60/45
- 2012 - 2013: Third UN GGE, established by UN General Assembly Resolution A/RES/66/24
- 2014 - 2015: Fourth UN GGE, established by UN General Assembly Resolution A/RES/68/243
- 2016 - 2017: Fifth UN GGE, established by UN General Assembly Resolution A/RES/70/237
- 2019 - 2021: Sixth UN GGE, established by UN General Assembly Resolution A/C.1/73/L.37
- Cyber security and the coming failure of the UN's Group of Governmental Experts, Niskanen Center, 31 August 2016
- Cybersecurity, Elections, and Critical Infrastructure at Home and Abroad, Kristen Eichensehr, Just Security, 4 August 2016
- UN Reconstitutes its Top Cyber Body, This Time With India at the High Table, The Wire, 22 June 2016
- Making States Responsible for Their Activities In Cyberspace: The Role of the European Union, Net Politics, 15 June 2016