As a representative of the government the UK, the current chair of the Commonwealth Interest Group (CIG) at the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the UK Mission to the UN, Mr Julian Braithwaite moderated the session.
The aim of the meeting was to provide an opportunity for Commonwealth countries to discuss their priorities during the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Forum, follow-up on the implementation of the Cyber Declaration, and express ideas for Commonwealth co-ordination in the field of ICTs over the coming year.
Braithwaite emphasised that in a multilateral system reaching consensus requires regional groups to come together in support of common proposals. The great strength of the CIG is that it is cross-regional which allows for a common position to rise. This strong co-operation has identified several key issues as policy priorities for the CIG in the upcoming year: (a) WSIS outcomes and sustainable development goals (SDGs), (b) the digital divide, (c) over-the-top services, (d) cybersecurity, (e) data protection, (f) World Radiocommunication Conference in 2019, and (g) the role of the Commonwealth Telecoms Organisation (CTO). Diversity and co-operation were stressed as most important for the work of the CIG.
Mr Malcolm Johnson, (Deputy Secretary-general of the ITU) reminded the room that the CIG was formed in 2002. and has grown to include 193 member states, 600 private sector companies, 160 universities among others. This diverse CIG membership spans over the six geographical regions as recognised by the ITU and benefits greatly the negotiation process. ‘The ITU is very supportive of the coordination efforts before attending the ITU meetings and coordinated positions before the conference are a prerequisite for achieving results’, Johnson said. If the CIG achieves an agreement, there is a good chance that it will be a basis for a wider compromise among the ITU membership.
Agreeing with Johnson, Mr Nigel Hickson, (Vice President of the Intergovernmental Organisation Engagement at the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers [ICANN]) added that the Commonwealth group contributes to discussion in the ICANN community as well. The Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) includes 177 governments and 30 observers, including the ITU and the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation, and many issues are on the agenda. ‘Some issues tend to be divisive, such as data protection, and the Commonwealth coordination has been very positive to gather different views and move the discussion further’ Hickson remarked.
The open consultation process that led to WSIS Forum 2019 identified 29 main themes broadly divided into four priority areas areas: emerging technologies, accessibility and diversity, trade/environment/agriculture/health, and sports. Some of the priorities for the CIG countries include looking at policies and activities to support the markets and work towards achieving the goals of the WSIS Action Line 2 on greater access and broadband infrastructure.
Braithwaite then invited a representative from the UK government to comment on the implementation of the Commonwealth Cyber Declaration adopted in April 2018 in London. Cybersecurity was one of the three key themes of the last Commonwealth heads of government meeting, leading to the Declaration. So far over 330 experts were trained, more than 33 events were held in 17 countries, and planned activities included establishing cybersecurity emergency response teams (CERT), boosting the number of experts, running campaigns to raise awareness, and strengthening cybersecurity for the elections.
The audience raised several questions focused on the common efforts within the CIG to tackle the issues of hate speech and disinformation on social media. Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and New Zealand were noted as examples of countries in need of help in tackling the issue. Online safety of children was also mentioned as a priority area for common cybersecurity efforts.
by Jana Mišić