UN Panel Starts Consultations On Digital Cooperation: Philosophy and Practice 04/10/2018 by Monika Ermert for Intellectual Property Watch Leave a Comment Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)There is a lot of energy and good dynamism, and some worries, too, about the immensity of the task ahead in the United Nations High Level Panel on Digital Cooperation, Jovan Kurbalija, executive director of Panel’s Secretariat, said after the first face-to-face meeting last week and subsequent virtual town hall on 1 October. According to the mandate, the panel shall in less than a year present recommendations on ways and means for cooperation on digital policies and digital risks. UN Secretary General Meets with High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation At least some of the questions during the town hall meeting, which was attended by the rather small number of 150 people, illustrated that the panel convened by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres in July, still needs to get acquainted with the internet governance crowd. No, the 20-member panel is not looking to set up new bodies on digital issues. No, it does not want to duplicate existing fora for cooperation. No, it does not intend to address instruments – treaties or conventions – regarding core aspects from trade to cyber security or human rights. What it will discuss, according to Kurbalija, are “values, principles and mechanisms for improving global cooperation, including cooperation between the silos” on digital issues. With the mainstreaming of these digital issues digital cooperation is, Kurbalija said, entering traditional organisations in the UN and pretty much anywhere. The panel intends to make recommendations about next steps for that and “respond to demands in public to have more cooperation and more interaction when it comes to digital challenges.” In Search of Principles, Working Mechanisms and Governance Stories Some recommendations of the panel might be made also for strengthening the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), the first UN contribution on digital cooperation and multi-stakeholder-governance. Kurbalja said the IGF, while being one big space for the debates on digital life, is by far not the only game in town, especially when it comes to issues like artificial intelligence, blockchain or other new digital technologies. He underlined that the panel is “moving beyond internet governance or any existing discussions on digital issues,” as AI or blockchain are “not necessarily related to the internet.” Beside the search for overarching principles and values as well as methods and mechanisms for digital cooperation, an attempt to touch on concrete developments in digital policymaking is made by the collection of stories on “governance at the edge.” One example presented so far is Rwanda’s regulation of the use of drones. The panel possibly can help to push a more holistic approach in digital governance, said Wolfgang Kleinwächter, professor in international law and an internet governance expert. Especially the panellists could, Kleinwächter told Intellectual Property Watch, add a multi-sector and multi-constituency to the multi-stakeholder approach necessary due to the digital mainstreaming. The growing number of “stakeholders” at the table has to be accommodated, Kleinwächter explained in an analysis of the task before the Panel: “15 years ago, the military people were sitting over disarmament proposals, the police were dealing with traditional crimes, WTO people negotiated trade treaties, the UN Human Rights Commission discussed violations of human rights in failed states.“ Now everybody has to deal with internet-related issues. Innovation in the internet governance policy space is therefore necessary, Kleinwächter wrote in his analysis. “In ICANN-speak you might call it cross-constituency work,” he said to Intellectual Property Watch, referring to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. But he noted that some more tech and civil society participation would have made the High Level Panel more multi-stakeholder itself. Work Ahead, Touching Base The High Level Panel does plan extensive consultations, and participation in a long list of meetings, from an upcoming high-level conference on AI in Amsterdam to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Plenipotentiary Conference later this fall, according to Kurbalija. During the IGF, a plenary meeting, a lunch meeting and dedicated talks with specific communities and organisations are set and on 8 October a questionnaire will be sent out for a global consultation on digital cooperation methods as well as a number of topics like human rights and human agency, data and privacy, finance and other issues. In January 2019, the group will meet in Geneva and start to write its final report which after another round of consultations in February and March will finally result in recommendations for the secretary general and the wider community. The panel’s recommendations at the same time are only one part of the Guterres’ recently published “Strategy on New Technology.” With a view to achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the secretary general outlines in that document a deepening of the UN’s internal capacities and exposure to new technologies, capacity building and advocacy, but also support for a dialogue on normative and cooperation frameworks as main commitments. When opening the 73th General Assembly on 18 September, Guterres called new technologies a main area of concern for the UN, and warned especially against the weaponization of AI and its possibility of triggering a completely new arms race. Yet, as Daniel Forti, a policy analyst in the Center for Peace Operations at the International Peace Institute (IPI), highlighted in an analysis, the new technology strategy left some important questions open, namely how to address the widening digital divide, how the new initiative will be integrated into ongoing work on new technologies in the UN and how the strategy could be aligned within the UN structural reform process started by Guterres. The biggest task, according to Forti, nevertheless is to develop an “agreement about the principles, values, obligations and responsibilities” with regard to “design, development and uses of new technologies.” This is what the High Level Panel wants to deliver in a mere few months’ time. 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