Opening Ceremony

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[Read more session reports and updates from the 14th Internet Governance Forum]

The overarching theme of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) this year is 'One World One Net One Vision'. IGF 2019 is focusing on data governance, safety and security, and digital inclusion. One core question will be kept in mind during the week: How to ensure an open and free Internet in the future?

At the Opening Ceremony in Berlin, the speakers - UN Secretary-General Mr Antรณnio Guterres and German Chancellor Ms Angela Merkel - addressed over 2400 participants.

Guterres started his speech by drawing parallels between himself and the German Chancellor and their scientific backgrounds. Guterres remarked that technological developments are unfolding at a historically unparalleled speed. Today, an accessible, free, secure, and open Internet is at risk of fracturing along three intersecting lines. Guterres stated that there are still 3.6 billion people without affordable access to the Internet. Most alarmingly, among the world's 47 least-developed countries, where the Internet could have a truly transformative impact, more than 80% of the population is still offline. Moreover, the gender gap in connectivity continues to widen.

IGF2019 opening

Guterres also addressed the lack of equal access to Internet based on gender, digital divide aggravating the social divide, and issues of human rights related to the new technologies.

Guterres stated that: 'Today there is a real risk of geopolitical rupture, a great fracture of trade security and Internet systems. We all are familiar with the politics surrounding 5G technologies. We are also aware of the growing efforts of some states to construct ever harder borders in cyberspace on the one hand, and the ever-increasing number of cross border cyber-attacks on the other,' adding that, 'there is an absence of technical expertise among policymakers even in the most developed countries.'

He further called for building platforms for governments, companies, technical experts, and civil society to come together to share policy expertise, debate emerging technology issues, and agree on some basic common principles. Guterres pointed out the recommendations of the High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation on global commitment on digital trust and security, stating that it will be brought forward next September as member states mark the 75th anniversary of the United Nations.

Merkel welcomed IGF participants stating that the IGF is valuable because it is a forum where all of the stakeholders of Internet governance come together to exchange experiences, ideas, and basically this is where the analogue and the digital worlds merge.

'... the attack on the Internet connectivity, which is the basic freedom of the free, open Internet, has become a dangerous tool for politics,' said Merkel, adding that protecting the Internet's core as a 'global public good' only works if we rethink 'the governance structures of this global network, that connects all of us'.

Merkel called for a revision of Internet governance, i.e. the regulatory framework. The traditional multilateral approach as co-operation between governments must be expanded. The Internet must not and cannot be shaped by governments alone, because the issues surrounding the Internet have an impact on virtually everything - this is why we need a comprehensive dialogue with representatives from all groups, stated Merkel.

The participants then took a moment to remember their colleagues Mr Tarek Kamel (Internet Pioneer, Former Minister of Communication and Information Technology of Egypt) who passed away in October, and Mr Jimmy Schulz (Member of the Bundestag) who worked on systematic changes in the IGF, who passed away on 25 November.

By Mili Semlani

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