Following is UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ address to the Internet Governance Forum, in Paris today:
Nous sommes réunis aujourd’hui à Paris, en France, où la créativité et le génie humains ont toujours prospéré. C’est ici même, en 1805, que le télégraphe mécanique a été utilisé pour la première fois. Dans les années 70, le Minitel, invention française, a accompagné les débuts de l’internet.
Grâce à son datagramme, Louis Pouzin a rendu possible la commutation par paquets et, par la suite, l’internet. C’est ici en France qu’ont été jetées plusieurs des fonctions et des fondations de l’ère numérique. Le Président [Emmanuel] Macron s’inscrit dans cette riche tradition en traçant lui-aussi de nouvelles voies. Je tiens à le remercier de nous accueillir aujourd’hui et, en particulier, de faire se rencontrer ainsi, de façon inédite, l’histoire, la technologie et la philosophie.
C’est en connaissant l’histoire que nous pouvons nous projeter dans l’avenir. L’heure est venue de réfléchir aux moyens de mettre les technologies et leur formidable pouvoir émancipateur au service des valeurs fondamentales de l’humanité. Le dialogue national qui s’ouvre en France aborde des questions déterminantes pour notre avenir numérique. Dans les amphithéâtres et les cafés parisiens, philosophes et écrivains réfléchissent depuis des siècles à l’impact de la technologie sur la condition humaine.
Cette quête de la sagesse et de l’innovation nous amène aujourd’hui à l’Organisation des Nations unis pour l’éducation, la science et la culture(UNESCO), qui a l’amabilité et la générosité de nous inviter, et dont les murs résonnent chaque jour des débats sur l’éthique, l’intelligence artificielle et la connaissance numérique. Et je vous félicite d’ailleurs de votre initiative sur l’éthique et l’intelligence artificielle. C’est là, à la confluence du passé et du futur, que s’ouvre aujourd’hui le 13e Forum sur la gouvernance de l’internet.
The Internet Governance Forum (IGF) has made a long journey since the World Summit on the Information Society in 2005 in Tunisia. At that time, Facebook was welcoming its first followers and the first Tweet had not yet been sent.
In 13 short years, the digital world has changed profoundly. New pathways of opportunity have opened. Digital solutions are transforming lives and can turbocharge our work to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
But alongside the tremendous benefits that it can bring, new issues have emerged around cybersecurity, data and artificial intelligence. We see the Internet being used as a platform for hate speech, for repression, censorship, and control. We need look no further than the headlines to see how the Internet and social media can be used to divide and even radicalize people — feeding distrust, reinforcing tribalism and breeding hatred. Over time, new forums have been established to discuss these and other issues and the IGF must consider how it will adapt.
Today, one of our most important questions is how do we keep relevant? The good news is that France, this year’s host, and Germany, next year’s host, are investing a lot of time, energy, and planning into the IGF. And I am particularly pleased to learn that the United Nations High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation, which I launched in July, is working closely with the IGF.
These discussions will reflect on the ways that digital cooperation can be improved. As you discuss how to enhance the relevance of the IGF, I would like to make a few suggestions that I have also proposed to the High-Level Panel.
First, we must be more than a multi-stakeholder, we must also be multidisciplinary. Cooperation among actors in the digital space has not kept pace with new technologies. Digital technologies are transversal, yet discussions are still siloed. For example, data is addressed across policy spaces from technological, economic, human rights, standardization, and jurisdiction viewpoints.
The more silos there are, the higher is the risk for conflicting and sub-optimal policies for industries, for Governments, and for users. When you discuss data and artificial intelligence, you might want to invite philosophers to consider ethics. You might want to bring in anthropologists and other specialists who are not typically included in technology gatherings. When you discuss social media, you need to include political and social scientists. We need the wide range of expertise, experience and ideas to strike the right policy balances. For example, to find the right interplay between protection of privacy and security.
Second, we need to create shared language and references. I ask you, as I asked the Panel, to inspire new thinking and language on digital cooperation: create shared references, propose new approaches, and look for possible ways to reframe existing problems, be they in trade, security, or human rights. We need to make sure that the most competent forums are dealing with the most consequential questions and that they can benefit from cross-cutting resources. The answers to these questions should weave stories of digital cooperation from around the world into a global narrative.
Third, you will need a dedicated effort to include and amplify the weak and the missing voices. A great strength of the IGF is its multi-stakeholder approach, but I urge your digital discussions to move beyond the so-called ‘usual suspects’. Digital growth affects everyone — and traditionally unheard and marginalized voices should be more visibly involved in the IGF’s work.
Reach out to local communities that have many fascinating stories and insights on leveraging digital technology for business and inclusion. Get stories from people with disabilities, who are among the most creative users of digital technology. And spare no effort to bring in the voices of women who have been under-represented both at the design and end-use level and subject to deep gender gaps in access to digital technologies.
Actively seek out networks of the elderly who are increasingly active users of digital and robotics technology. For youth, the digital economy is transforming the labour market — creating new jobs while simultaneously destroying old ones. How do we support a culture and education system that encourages lifelong learning? And do not forget that more than half the world’s population still does not have meaningful access to the Internet. How can the IGF help to bridge this digital divide both between and within countries?
I encourage you to reach out to Governments, in particular from developing countries. Let us listen to their concerns and their ideas on how the IGF can be more important and productive for them. Do they suggest more discussion on Internet public policy issues? How can the IGF provide help to Governments, and the private sector, in dealing with pressing issues on data, security, and infrastructure?
Lastly and most importantly, we need to make sure that these discussions and this forum have greater impact. New technologies are transforming every aspect of our lives. Our understanding of the transformations and the disruption they cause is inadequate. Technology should empower not overpower us and, as with past transformative inventions, we need to set policies that contain unintended consequences or malicious use.
Discussions on Internet governance cannot just remain discussions. Policy, and where relevant normative frameworks, must be developed to ensure impact. We cannot leave our fate in the digital era to the invisible hand of market forces. But classical forms of regulation do not apply to many of this new generation of challenges. Non-traditional, multilateral and multi-stakeholder cooperation will be crucial, including governments, private sector, research centres and civil society.
The IGF needs to reflect on how it can have greater impact in Internet governance. Over the next three days I encourage you to focus especially on innovative solutions that can increase trust on the Internet. There are many digital risks, but some of them could be turned into digital opportunities.
You have support from United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs and from a wide community of regional and national IGFs. You also have support from your Multistakeholder Advisory Group. I want to congratulate you on having full gender parity on the Multistakeholder Advisory Group this year and for the diverse age and geographic representation you have been able to achieve.
The World Summit on the Information Society provisions that established the IGF provide us with enough space to improve current mechanisms. It is important to gather and consider the proposals that have been advanced about strengthening the IGF. In addition, discussions with the High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation can generate new ideas.
Make the most of this unique opportunity. When it comes to governance, we must be as creative and bold as those who first built the Internet. You can count on my support in this journey towards a prosperous, safe and fair digital future. And most of all, know that you are making a difference. I wish you a very successful Internet Governance Forum.