In case you missed it Vol 23, No. 12 - December 2019

Tearing down the walls online

Thirty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, there is a dangerous tendency to build new divides, but this time, the walls are virtual and used to separate people online. The 14th Internet Governance Forum in Berlin gathered more than 6,000 participants from 168 countries – in person and online – to discuss ways of tearing down these barriers and improving governance of the Internet to make it a force for good.

“An accessible, free, secure and open Internet is at risk of fracturing along three intersectional lines,” warned UN Secretary-General António Guterres addressing the Forum. “There is a profound digital divide, a social divide and a political divide. If we do not work together to address these divides, we will be remembered as the generation that ruined the early promise of the Internet,” he said.

The Secretary-General also stressed that the growing frequency and severity of cyber-attacks are undermining trust and encouraging States to adopt offensive postures for the hostile use of cyberspace. He called for collective responsibility to face these challenges of nefarious use of digital technology.

Held from 25 to 29 November, this year’s Internet Governance Forum was the largest and most geographically diverse to date. Representatives from governments, the private sector, civil society, the technical community, and international organizations, gathered under the umbrella theme of ‘One World. One Net. One Vision’ to discuss ways to elevate global cooperation and how to build a safe, stable and secure internet.

With 3.6 billion people in the world lacking affordable Internet access, and with more than 80 per cent of the population in least developed countries still offline, inequalities were a big topic of discussion at the Forum. The Secretary-General stated that connecting all the world’s people by 2030 must be our shared priority, not only for sustainable development but for gender equality, citing that only 2 per cent of women in Latin America and the Caribbean and in East Asia and the Pacific owned a mobile phone with Internet access.

Mr. Guterres recommended ways to elevate the Internet Governance Forum as the foremost global platform where actors could meet to discuss how to address these global challenges: taking up the recommendations from the High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation, and announcing that he would soon appoint a technological envoy to work with governments, industry, and civil society to help advance international frameworks.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said multilateralism should be the basic principle for any further development of new technologies.  “We all need to preserve the core of the Internet as a global public good, and this will only be possible if we rethink the structures of this governance of the Internet”. She further stressed that the Internet cannot be shaped only by states and governments alone, because of its impact on people’s everyday life.

UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs and head of UN DESA, Liu Zhenmin, said that “the future governance of the Internet should be one that takes care of multi-stakeholder concerns, that safeguards global Internet connectivity and cybersecurity, that facilitates sustainable development of all countries, and accelerates human progress.”

Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web and founder of the World Wide Web Foundation stated that “the web is at a tipping point. If it’s to be a force for the good, we must act now. If we fail to tackle the threats that we face we risk a digital dystopia.”

Vint Cerf, credited as a “father of the internet” also called for our collective responsibility saying that “cyberspace is a global space and we need global solutions to our shared challenges.”

For more information: Internet Governance Forum

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