It's time to strengthen global digital cooperation

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Digital cooperation should take a human-centred, inclusive approach, embracing human rights Image:

Doris Leuthard
Federal Councillor of Switzerland (2006-2018); Chairwoman, Swiss Digital Initiative
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Digitalization transforms, pervades and affects all aspects of our social, economic and political lives. These impacts span a wide range of issues, which through digitalization become increasingly interconnected and interdependent. However, at the global level, these issues are addressed by institutions that were founded in the 19th and 20th centuries, and which are often incapable of ensuring effective cooperation between the relevant international actors.

At the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS, 2003 and 2005), governments adopted a first set of principles on what was called “internet governance”. The WSIS also saw the creation of the UN Internet Governance Forum (IGF), which has played an essential role in identifying emerging topics and creating fertile ground for hundreds of formal and informal networks of cooperation to flourish. Those principles and the IGF have served us well over the last decade. But they no longer appear to be fully appropriate to the task of effectively and globally connecting the wide range of new issues and actors now taking part in the digital transformation.

In fact, the need to strengthen cooperation has been identified in different ways in recent years. From a general point of view, we have witnessed various initiatives, including the NetMundial Conference and the Global Commission on Internet Governance. In addition, other initiatives have emerged with more specific remits, which endeavour to connect actors and processes focused on specific issues, such as the Internet & Jurisdiction Project, or, in the field of cybersecurity, the Global Commission on Stability of Cyberspace (GCSC), the “Tech Accord” and the “Charter of Trust for a Secure Digital World”.

The 12th IGF, held in Geneva in December 2017, devoted a high-level session to the hot topic of strengthening digital cooperation. The broad room consensus was captured by the “Geneva Messages”:

“There was broad support for the notion that as the internet and digital technologies continue to evolve, better coordinated digital governance systems are needed to maximize the opportunities offered by these technologies, and address the challenges they bring.”

Only six months after the IGF, the UN Secretary General established the High Level Panel on Digital Cooperation (HLPDC). The Panel has the task of identifying and recommending concrete improvements in relation to global digital cooperation. The Panel therefore has the great opportunity and responsibility of acting as a catalyzer to ensure better ways and means for all stakeholders to work together in a digital environment.

We now need to identify and address gaps. We should craft smart specific mechanisms for strengthening cooperation on digital issues. I strongly believe that any such next level of cooperation should build on existing institutions, processes and arrangements. In my view, this should take a human-centred, inclusive approach which embraces human rights. These are fundamental prerequisites for improved digital trust and stability.

Furthermore, I am convinced that the main principles for structuring and further optimizing our cooperation must be based on our shared experience and the best practices of:

- consensus-oriented decision-making among all stakeholders

- the full inclusion of all interested parties

- peer cooperation and a federated approach

- leaving scope for innovation at the grassroots level and at the edges

In order to accomplish this challenging task, the Panel needs the active engagement of all digital cooperation stakeholders worldwide. This is why I would like to call upon all of you to engage actively with the Panel and to contribute to the ongoing public consultation regarding the values, principles and mechanisms of digital cooperation.

2019 should see the dawn of an era of updated, strengthened digital cooperation that meets the needs of the digital revolution.

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