The 18th annual meeting of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) reflected on risks and opportunities offered by the rapid advancements in information and digital technology, including in relation to data governance, artificial intelligence (AI) acceleration, cybersecurity, and technology’s environmental impacts. The outcomes of the IGF, including from its High-level, Parliamentary, and Youth tracks, will provide a framework for the Global Digital Compact that will be agreed at the 2024 Summit of the Future.
Convened by the UN Secretary-General and hosted by the Government of Japan, the 18th IGF was held in Kyoto from 8 to 12 October 2023. The Forum focused on the theme, ‘The Internet We Want – Empowering All People.’
“Digitalization is a whole-of-society phenomenon, impacting connected and unconnected populations alike, yet the distribution of its benefits remains highly uneven,” a UN news story highlights. While in some countries, technology “is moving at warp speed,” 2.6 billion people, mostly in the Global South and vulnerable communities, are still offline.
Addressing the Forum, UN Secretary-General António Guterres emphasized the need “to keep harnessing digital technologies enabled by the Internet to help deliver on the [SDGs], take climate action, and build a better world.” He identified three areas for action: closing the connectivity gap; closing the governance gap; and reenforcing a human rights and human-centered approach to digital cooperation.
Closing the connectivity gap: To fulfill its mandate of providing strategic guidance, supporting stable funding, and amplifying the impact of the Forum’s work, the Secretary-General-appointed IGF Leadership Panel issued a vision paper during the Forum titled, ‘The Internet We Want.’ The Panel’s vision for the Internet is that it should be: whole and open; universal and inclusive; free-flowing and trustworthy; safe and secure; and rights-respecting. “[T]his requires responsive policies that leverage the benefits of digital technologies while mitigating the risks,” said UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs Li Junhua.
Closing the governance gap: “To help advance the search for concrete governance solutions,” Guterres said he is “appointing a High-Level Advisory Body on Artificial Intelligence.” The Advisory Body will provide preliminary recommendations by the end of 2023.
Reenforcing a human rights and human-centered approach to digital cooperation: The Secretary-General further indicated that the Global Digital Compact, proposed for adoption at the Summit of the Future, “aims to set out principles, objectives, and actions to secure a human-centred digital future.”
The 2023 IGF brought together representatives from governments, international organizations, the private sector, civil society, and the technical community. It featured over 300 sessions, spanning eight sub-themes: (1) AI and emerging technologies; (2) avoiding internet fragmentation; (3) cybersecurity, cybercrime, and online safety; (4) data governance and trust; (5) digital divides and inclusion; (6) global digital governance and cooperation; (7) human rights and freedoms; and (8) sustainability and environment.
Public consultations are underway until 31 October to refine Kyoto IGF Messages – the primary outcome of IGF 2023.
IGF 2023 precedes the 20-year review of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS+20) that led to the establishment of the IGF. The UN General Assembly (UNGA) will discuss the renewal of the IGF’s mandate as part of the WSIS+20 review in 2025.
Framed by the outcomes of the 2023 IGF, the Global Digital Compact will be annexed to the intergovernmentally negotiated Pact for the Future to be adopted at the Summit of the Future in 2024. [IGF 2023 Press Release] [DESA News Story on IGF Closing] [DESA News Story on IGF Opening]
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