In recent years, the majority of countries have experienced positive growth and development of the internet. In order to expand and sustain the positive trends, countries need to prioritize investments in development and widespread use of the internet as a means of reducing the digital divide through multistakeholder approaches.
The hope is that increased multistakeholder engagements will translate into innovation or expanded knowledge, which would greatly assist to address the most pressing internet governance needs.
Coming at the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, the first phase of the 15th Annual IGF was hosted online with the support of the United Nations from 2-6th November 2020.
The primary goal of the forum which included pre-events, open forums, dynamic coalition sessions, NRIs, thematic introductory sessions, and the first-ever youth IGF 2020 summit was to develop strategies to increase Internet for human resilience and solidarity as part of the 2020 overarching theme, with special focus on developing people-centered approaches and ensuring inclusion in key internet governance conversations.
The forum also provided a platform to showcase the research and best practices taking place across the world, and provided a platform for various stakeholders to network. Some of the key issues were discussed under the thematic tracks of; Trust, Inclusion, Data, and Environment.
Key Session Highlights:
UNESCO’s launch of IGF Dynamic Coalition on Internet Universality ROAM-X Indicators and presentation of national assessments
The Session was opened by Guy Berger, who shared a presentation on improving the Net: Applying UNESCO’s Internet universality ROAM indicators for evidence-based policymaking. Through the session, we learned methodologies used in developing policy for internet universality indicators with Benin, Kenya, and Senegal having finalized their reports and are now available on the UNESCO website for download.
Speakers from Africa and the Asia Pacific and Arab states took to the floor to share their internet universality assessment reports with UNESCO offering to be a partner to implement their recommendations and policy gaps. The session also witnessed the launch of a dynamic coalition of internet universality indicators drawing speakers from the internet society, IGF secretariat and MAG Chair with a multistakeholder approach lauded as the key to its success.
The final report is scheduled to be released at the next IGF and UNESCO is working to create a single portal where all data on internet universality indicators and assessments can be accessed.
Internet Society’s Collaborative Leadership Exchange (CLX)
The session was opened by Alejandra. She highlighted six key internet society projects which formed part of the webinar discussion points namely community networks, encryption, internet, and community development, the internet way of networking, security global routing and time security, and two topics of interest namely the future of IGF and the Internet and COVID-19.
The community network sessions highlighted the importance of the internet as being an essential and a part of our daily lives including connecting the unconnected as soon as possible. Challenges of regulator buy-in and communication infrastructures were highlighted as key impediments to the development of community networks.
Further, the need to develop different approaches to create community networks since there is no size fill all approach for ensuring reliable connectivity was highlighted.
The role of internet society and infrastructure and development in bringing the technical community both in academia and the private sector to discuss key issues and develop collaborative activities to develop access to information and connectivity was also underscored.
The need to organize national and regional forums where experts can share their expertise was also rooted. The need and importance of encryption to protect privacy, information, and the right to online decent without government interventions were also elaborated.
Strengthening Implementation Capacities for AI Ethics
The session was led by UNESCO with participation from the technical community, academia, and civil society and discussed topics on how AI ethics principles can be translated into practice, what kind of human and institutional capacities are needed to govern a responsible and human-centered artificial intelligence.
The voice of the civil society emerged as an important step in filling the gaps in artificial intelligence innovation especially in developing protocols, pathways to an independent audit, and certifications of AI especially on the explainability of algorithms.
The role of open access and the future of AI was also articulated by the panelists. During the session, it also emerged that the multistakeholder process is in deep crisis especially among the political class who do not have the required digital, ecological, and cultural to create new smart governance mechanisms.
Developing new measures of success of AI that is a multidisciplinary and common language through dialogue to build ethics for AI was highlighted by the business community.
‘Continue the dialogue but move to action’ was the closing slogan.
African Union Open Forum
The session was opened by the chair of AU MAG who briefed the participants on the preparations regarding the African IGF scheduled to take place at the end of November. The need to fast track the formation of an African parliamentary network supported by PRIDA was also highlighted to support Internet governance debate among the parliamentarians.
PRIDA has completed the development of the nation IGF toolkit to help countries set up their national IGF meetings and training content to help set up schools of internet governance. The AU committed to leverage on the Africa continental free trade agreement to transform and secure a digital single market by 2030 and ensure all people are digitally empowered and be able to access high-quality internet speed at a reduced cost through devices manufactured in the continent.
The Criticality of the Internet for SIDS in a global crisis
The session was held in a round table discussion bringing together various stakeholders to highlight the key role of the internet during the COVID-19 pandemic especially within the small islands developing states. Collaborative initiatives such as the Pacific IGF, Pacific women in ICT Pacific disability forum, were highlighted as practices that have emerged during the pandemic where discussions such as cybersecurity and other pacific specific issues are underway.
Indeed, the panelists acknowledged that COVID-19 played a key role in accelerating major ICT developments in the region while also highlighting gaps in meaningful connectivity, policy discussions in digital payments, and the development of digital local content.
The Digital transformation created by the pandemic was noted as the new way of life which should be embraced by the governments. Digital literacy and education to create competent class contributors to take a place in the evolving landscape were also discussed as a key pillar to ensuring the full benefits of ICT.
Personal Sovereignty: Digital Trust in the Algorithmic Age -Friday, 6 November 2020
The Session was led by IEEE with the aim of initiating conversations around creating online trustworthy experiences. The panelist highlighted the need to balance between personal sovereignty and privacy of data, especially during the covid-19 pandemic.
The role of GDPR in data protection was also highlighted as a means of protecting user data. Access to personal data by the users was underscored as a means of ensuring trust.
Invisible risks regarding digital technologies need to be put forward for them to be addressed in order to preserve user dignity. The role of standards was highlighted as enablers of making best practices accessible to all different actors.
By Allan Ochola
Edited by Connie Siu M.H.