[Read more session reports and live updates from the 12th Internet Governance Forum]
The moderator, Ms Nathalie Ducommun, Talk Master of Swiss Television RTS, opened the session and called on panellists to share their vision of the future evolution of digital global governance.
She reiterated the description of the session, noting that digitisation provides unique opportunities for growth and development. But in recent times, the Internet has also been associated with growing challenges that call for a better-coordinated global digital governance system. Pooling the strengths of different stakeholders – governments, the private sector, the technical community, and civil society – is essential for any such effort.
The first panellist and host chair, Ms Doris Leuthard, President of the Swiss Confederation, highlighted the need to manage new technologies using a governance structure which would create stability. This structure she said, should ideally be achieved through a multilateral process which everyone can trust. Leuthard pointed out the importance of drawing a line between regulation and freedom on the Internet while striving to build trust and confidence, and to ensure quality information in the era of fake news. She also acknowledged the need for governments to spearhead innovation for access and inclusion for all.
Mr Liu Zhenmin, Under-Secretary-General, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs and UNSG representative, stated that governance has lagged behind innovation. Internet governance needs to be enhanced for the development of humanity and future digital global governance should be structured and handled by institutions. He emphasised the need to make the most of multistakeholder processes, and for governments to create an enabling environment for the private sector to be an invaluable partner for the government in the provision of universal access. Inclusion is crucial, he said.
Mr Houlin Zhao, Secretary-General, International Telecommunications Union (ITU), highlighted four Is – infrastructure, investment, innovation, and inclusion. He explained that the ITU encourages cooperation between all stakeholders. The organisation is working on promoting network connectivity and capacity building to ensure that everyone is connected and no one is left behind in the acquisition of key digital skills for the future. He admitted that it is not easy to achieve a consensus on how to handle existing challenges but we still need to work within the multistakeholder process.
Ms Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, European Commission, stressed the need to integrate core values including freedom, an open Internet, accountability, inclusion, trust, and transparency into policy. Gabriel affirmed that we have to keep working together to build an Internet based on values and humanity. She insisted that we are all responsible for the future of the Internet and it is only by working together that we can succeed. And if we succeed, everyone would win, but if we fail, then we would all be losers. It is necessary to determine which approach will produce the most efficient results. She called on governments to act as a catalyser for the provision of basic infrastructure and the development of digital skills.
Ms Kathy Brown, President and Chief Executive Officer, Internet Society, explained the vision of the Internet Society for a digital governance which is open and beneficial to everyone. The Internet Society perceives an urgency to tackle rising challenges. A third of the world is not yet online and governance in a borderless world is difficult. People around the world are worried that their control over their lives and actions online will be taken away. While the multistakeholder process is essential, all parties are not yet ready to accommodate the aspirations of other stakeholders and the process stalls. Governance is about the way we live and this involves processes at the local, regional and global levels. In order to have a clear notion of what we have to do, we need to understand where and how decisions are being made and ensure that we are present at those tables. Multistakeholder engagement must go beyond consultations to collaborative decision making and we need to agree on the process and on the outcomes. We need to use 21st-century tools to arrive at collaborative decision making in and out of government.
Mr Eric Loeb, Senior Vice President International External and Regulatory Affairs, AT&T, talked about governance within the multistakeholder process. He underscored the need to use the Internet in strategic ways to encourage inclusion through participation and decision making. He affirmed that the Internet is the reflection of the world we live in and we need to use the Internet to understand what we need to change in society. Fragmentation challenges are a reflection of the shortcomings in our aspirations. We should aspire to enable remote participation and impact in the multistakeholder process in the future.
Mr Hasanul Haq Inu, Minister of Information, Bangladesh, stated that the third ICT revolution and fourth industrial revolution would be incomplete as long as there are unfinished tasks. At present, an estimated 2.9 million people are unconnected. In order to shape our future digital governance, the needs of the citizens of the world must be taken into consideration and future digital governance should be adapted to these needs. He explained the strategy put in place by the Government of Bangladesh to reduce the digital gap by investing in digitisation and in basic infrastructure. Although the collaboration of the private sector is important, the need to bridge the digital gap should not be left to competition only. Governments need to invest in infrastructure to bridge the digital gap. Inu highlighted pressing needs revolving around cybercrime, digital literacy, global agreements for the management of the Internet, multistakeholder democratic governance, a global treaty for security in cyberspace, and a universal declaration on the right to access the Internet as a basic right. On initiatives to support online activists and freedom of speech, he affirmed that this requires a fine balance between broadcasting regulation and freedom of speech. He proposed a seven-point action plan including greater involvement of governments in global digital governance to promote the harmonisation of mechanisms for the digital economy and prevention of cybercrime and cyber armament. He called for a UN global treaty for security in cyberspace and recommended that the UN reshape its ICT digital economy framework. The future lies in the empowerment of people through the Internet.
Mr Vinton Cerf, Vice President and Chief Internet Evangelist, Google, said that the Internet today is a reflection of the world we live in. 'We can't run away from that, and if you try to change what's in the mirror, nothing happens, you have to change what is reflected in it.' He called on everyone to use the Internet and its reflection to tell us about our society and how it needs to change. He predicted that ten years from now, there could be at least 6 billion people online and if the IGF is successful, there will be increased multistakeholder cooperation and trust in the Internet, increased focus on cyberliteracy, long-term attention to local content, and a successful defence against the fragmentation of the Internet. In order to promote a safer online environment, there is a need for digital literacy, greater accountability for technology companies, and the recognition that every actor has a role to play. The Internet must be beneficial for everybody, and in 10 years the Internet will be for everyone.
Ms Lakshmi Puri, Deputy Executive Director, UN Women, talked about her vision for future digital governance led by, participated in, and beneficial to women – a future where governance would enable the digital divide to be bridged. It is crucial to ensure that basic infrastructure is universally accessible in a world where the majority of the 2.9 million unconnected are women. In the future, it would be important to understand how the Internet and enabling technology can serve gender quality, how governments, academia, civil society and the private sector can enhance Internet opportunities to serve gender equality and how e-governance initiatives can reach and involve women. She underlined three aspects of governance which women want and deserve: access, empowerment through governance to benefits from the Internet, and regulation to protect them from harmful conduct and actions in the online environment. We need to use the digital revolution to work on gender equality, she said.
Mr Masahiko Tominaga, Vice-Minister for Policy Coordination (International Affairs), Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC), Japan, reminded the audience that Internet governance has lagged behind the rapid changes spurred by technology innovation. In order to shape our future digital governance, it is necessary to facilitate proactive discussions on a roadmap, the participation of various stakeholders must be continued, and we must move beyond participation to decision making. He explained Japan’s support for the discussions on artificial intelligence (AI) at the OECD, which is taking a leadership role in discussions concerning AI. Digital governance has to be harmonised for the benefit of all.
Ms Anriette Esterhuysen, Director of Global Policy and Strategy, Association for Progressive Communications (APC), iterated that people are worried about surveillance and network disruptions. Accountability and decision making are difficult because of the borderless nature of the Internet. She emphasised the need to look at competition and innovation, and what type of engagements and partnerships could be created between different stakeholders to achieve openness. Our future digital governance is dependent on how decisions are made; policy processes have to be collaborative and respectful of rights.
The remote moderator, Mr Jovan Kurbalija, Head of the Geneva Internet Platform, summarised the reactions from the remote participants. Concerning the development of laws in cyberspace, he highlighted comments indicating that although the law cannot change our behaviour, it can influence our behaviour. We have two categories of people who are missing in the IGF – the people who are not connected and whose future is influenced by the Internet, and the future generations.
From the audience, Mr Rashid Ismailov, Deputy Minister of Telecom and Mass Communications, Russian Federation emphasised the need to learn from the past. He said that every revolution has side effects and we need to understand the side effects of the third industrial revolution even though the fourth is already accelerating. He stated that Russia is very concerned about Internet governance and the digital divide. Returning to the industrial revolution, He noted that there are several issues to consider, essentially how to invest and prepare to handle resources, and how to manage the side effects of the revolution on health, education, and society. He revealed that Russia has already started working on relevant programmes, like most developing countries. The challenge lies in harmonising the approaches. Some of these have been discussed at the G20, some key issues need to be discussed at the UN, including, regulation, technology, and investment, to avoid wasting resources, infrastructure, and international security/information security.
Ms Farida Dwi Cahyarini, Secretary-General, Ministry of Communication and Information Technology (MCIT) of the Republic of Indonesia, highlighted the importance of e-commerce for the Indonesian economy. The government has invested in connectivity and several islands are linked through a stable connection. The government is also working to reduce the impact of the spread of hoaxes and illegal content by strengthening the law and encouraging inclusive participation through a national digital literacy programme as well as national IGFs which have been organised since 2002.
Mr Brad Smith, President of Microsoft, reached out through a remote presentation to stress the importance of digital technology. No matter where we come from, we all live in a digital world and digital technology has become a cornerstone in our lives, he said. It is imperative that we think about how to protect users from crime, how to ensure that the Internet is beneficial to everyone across the world, and how to ensure that everyone can participate in the digital economy. He described the IGF as an ideal opportunity for stakeholders from all over the world to reflect on a Digital Geneva Convention on cybersecurity.
From the audience, Mr Göran Marby, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), stated that we are at a critical juncture in digital global governance. Beyond information sharing, the Internet influences every aspect of human life. It is necessary to encourage proactive participation so everyone can have a say in decision making processes. The ICANN example is a model for multistakeholder participation and ICANN is working to enable the next billion of Internet users to use their own languages and scripts for more inclusive participation. He stated that by connecting billions of people on one global network, something magical happens, which we should never forget.
The session sought to discuss the pressing matters relating to digitisation and to the future evolution of the global digital governance framework. Potential gaps in the current digital governance system were also discussed, as well as suggestions for improving global cooperation among all stakeholders and how to achieve global coordination. All participants emphasised the need for inclusion in every aspect of future digital governance, and while a treaty may not be a universally accepted solution, it was acknowledged as a step to opening talks about the shared responsibility in addressing the need to tackle rising challenges.
By Orok-Tambe Manyi Arrey