UN Secretary General Publishes report of High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation

António Guterres, UN, Secretary-General
António Guterres, UN, Secretary-General

The United Nations Secretary General, António Guterres, has published the final report of a High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation titled, “The Age of Digital Interdependence: Report of the UN Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation.”

Against the background of the benefits and challenges of rapid developments in digital technologies which at the same time create growing opportunities as well as paralleled by stark abuses and unintended consequences; digital dividends and digital divides etc. and the attendant inability of the mechanisms for cooperation and governance of this landscape to keep pace, the Secretary General in July 2018 appointed the High Level Panel to address these and related issues.

Specifically, the Panel was asked to consider the question of “digital cooperation” – the ways we work together to address the social, ethical, legal and economic impact of digital technologies in order to maximise their benefits and minimise their harm and to consider how digital cooperation can contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) among other things.

The Panel said in its consultations – both internally and with other stakeholders – “it quickly became clear that our dynamic digital world urgently needs improved digital cooperation and that we live in an age of digital interdependence.”

It added that “such cooperation must be grounded in common human values such as inclusiveness, respect, human-centredness, human rights, international law, transparency and sustainability.”

The report also points out that “effective digital cooperation requires that multilateralism, despite current strains, be strengthened. It also requires that multilateralism be complemented by multi-stakeholderism – cooperation that involves not only governments but a far more diverse spectrum of other stakeholders such as civil society, academics, technologists and the private sector.”

It added there is need to bring far more diverse voices to the table, particularly from developing countries and traditionally marginalised groups, such as women, youth, indigenous people, rural populations and older people.

The report in its introduction which is also Chapter 1, highlights the urgency of improved digital cooperation and invites readers to commit to a Declaration of Digital Interdependence. It thereafter focuses on three broad sets of interlocking issues, each discussed in one subsequent chapter. The fifth and last chapter contains the recommendations.

In Chapter 2, Leaving No One Behind, the report argues that digital technologies will only help progress towards the full sweep of the SDGs if we think more broadly than the important issue of access to the internet and digital technologies.

Chapter 3 titled, Individuals, Societies and Digital Technologies, underscores the fact that universal human rights apply equally online as offline, but however noted that there is an urgent need to examine how time-honoured human rights frameworks and conventions should guide digital cooperation and digital technology. It adds that the world needs society-wide conversations about the boundaries, norms and shared aspirations for the uses of digital technologies, including complicated issues like privacy, human agency and security in order to achieve inclusive and equitable outcomes.

Chapter 4 which looks at Mechanisms for Global Digital Cooperation points out that No single approach to digital cooperation can address the diverse spectrum of issues raised in the report, and that as technologies evolve, so will the issues, and the most effective ways to cooperate. It recommended approaching digital cooperation using all available tools, and making dynamic choices about the best approach based on specific circumstances.

The report makes recommendations in five issue areas: an inclusive digital economy and society; human and institutional capacity; human rights and human agency; trust, security and stability; and global digital cooperation.

The Panel was co-chaired by Melinda Gates (USA), Co-Chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Jack Ma (China), Executive Chairman, Alibaba Group.