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High-level government perspectives at CONNECTing the Dots

Published on 04 March 2015
Updated on 05 April 2024

[Update] The Rapporteur’s summary of the panel discussion, including the speakers’ complete interventions, is available.

UNESCO’s CONNECTing the Dots conference is currently under way in Paris (3-4 March). Its aim is to discuss the first draft of the UNESCO Internet Study, entitled Keystones to Foster Inclusive Knowledge Societies, which is aimed at examining current and emerging trends, challenges, and opportunities in four main fields of digital policy: access to information and knowledge, freedom of expression, privacy, and the ethical dimensions of the information society.

High-level government perspectives at CONNECTing the DotsTasked with preparing a comprehensive study of the Internet-related issues within the mandate of UNESCO, the organisation worked with member states and other stakeholders to analyse these four interdependent fields, which were perceived to be central to achieving UNESCO’s vision of universal knowledge societies.

On Day 1, Diplo followed the morning’s High-Level Governmental Dialogue, aimed at seeking visions from high-level governmental representatives on the question: What can UNESCO, as a specific intergovernmental organisation within the wider Internet ecology, do as regards the Internet, that will optimise the realisation of inclusive Knowledge Societies which foster a sustainable and human-rights based development worldwide?

Speaking during the High-Level Governmental Dialogue, Gloria Cadillo, adviser to the minister’s office at the Ministry of Transport and Communications, Peru, said that Peru’s government has begun constructing a national fibre backbone. This was expected to reduce the price of wholesale Internet connections by 90%.

She also said that Peru was one of the few countries in the world to introduce net neutrality principles at the level of national law.

A mention of net neutrality at today’s conference was expected, following the new net neutrality rules established by the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) last week, which, while only applicable in the USA, are expected to have a global impact.

Chafica Haddad, chairperson of the Bureau of the Intergovernmental Council for the Information for All Programme (IFAP) and permanent delegate of Grenada to UNESCO, said that the ethical challenges of the Internet – one of the four dimensions – could be seen everywhere, yet most research comes from North America and the European Union. Research should be diversified.

With regards to multistakeholderism, Haddad said that building multistakeholder participation will enable more robust outcomes. Multistakeholder participation is among the four principles that summarise UNESCO’s normative positions on the Internet: the Internet should be (i) human rights-based, (ii) open, (iii) accessible to all, and (iv) nurtured by multistakeholder participation – summarised as the R-O-A-M principles.

Haddad also said that capacity building, networks of practice and other mechanisms are essential to transform consensus decisions into action.

Philipp Metzger, director general of the Swiss Federal Office of Communications, said that we are confronted with an ecosystem which is complex, and within which there are no simplistic solutions.

UNESCO’s four dimensions are very relevant, according to Metzger:

  • Access: Although there are more than three billion users, with 40% of the world’s population online, this is not enough. The digital divide is being reduced, but can we say the same about the quality of information? States have a responsibility to promote learning how to use the Internet wisely and intelligently.
  • Freedom of expression: Filtering and blocking are obstacles to freedom of expression. In order not to undermine such freedom, one must watch out for issues of slander. We must also combat incitement to hatred or violation. In brief, any violation must not be subject to impunity. The appropriate balance among stakeholders is important.
  • Privacy: Everyone has a right to his or her own personal space. Yet, users are often unable to control the spread of information. Targeted advertising can be a concern, as it is not always in good faith. Proper rules should therefore be in place.
  • Ethical: There needs to be overall global thinking about the objectives of the Internet to sustain development. Self-regulation should be a basic principle, but it has to be associated with some form of monitoring.

Metzger also said that given its experience in the field, UNESCO is the best agency to deal with the humanistic aspect of the Internet, and encourages stakeholders to participate in the Geneva Internet Platform (GIP) discussions on the subject.

Dr Alex Sceberras Trigona, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Malta and current special envoy of the Prime Minister of Malta, made a strong case in favour of proclaiming the Internet as a global public resource. Referring to the successful efforts at the UN by Maltese Ambassador Arvid Pardo, which resulted in the international community declaring the international seabed area as the common heritage of mankind, Dr Sceberras Trigona argued that by analogy, the same argument could also be extended to the Internet.

Sceberras Trigona explained that this model provides us with a template, having a consultative body, an executive body, and a tribunal. Yet, can we transfer what has been done territorially (the sea) to an artefact which is not by its nature territorial (the Internet)?

Linking it to the UNESCO Internet Study, Dr Sceberras Trigona said the analogy was a fifth dimension to the R-O-A-M principles highlighted in the Internet Study.

In addition, Sceberras Trigona continued, the concept that Internet, beyond being a national resource, is a global resource, or a common heritage of mankind, could affect many policy issues. Would this give us a more liberal interpretation of privacy? Would we be interpreting freedom of expression more widely? Would it lead to a greater emphasis on privacy? These questions deserve further research.

Finalising, Dr Sceberras Trigona added that while time is pressing between now and the UN General Assembly meeting, we will soon be able to see where the different institutions have been heading. Speaking from Malta’s experience, he said the country has multiple networks: as part of the European Union, the country has a very detailed and professional approach to the Internet; as part of the Commonwealth, Malta –through the active participation of DiploFoundation – is very active in capacity building.

Christopher Painter, coordinator for cyber issues at the US State Department, said that the US is a strong supporter of the multistakeholder model. The success of the model is reflected in the success of the Internet today. With regards to the multistakeholder mechanism, he stressed that the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) is an important one, and that UNESCO should look for ways to capitalise on the IGF foundation.

On the ethical dimension, Painter said that it has now been recognised by the international community that human rights are to be enjoyed online as they are offline. Ethics are universal, in that they do not vary from country to country. While the Universal Declaration of Human Rights does not limit the enjoyment of rights to what is deemed ethical, a number of countries are suppressing speech that they deem to be unethical.

Albana Shala, chair of the International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC), with a council of 39 member states and a bureau of 8 member states, briefly explained the work of the IPDC on the safety of journalists. The IPDC’s work is the cradle of UN action on the safety of members of the Press. Without safety, freedom of expression cannot be exercised.

She referred to the murder of journalists as the worst possible attack on the press, and said that the recent attacks show that the problem is worldwide. A way of stopping the murder of journalists anywhere is to stop attacks everywhere, she concluded. This issue will be discussed in-depth during an upcoming IPDC bureau meeting.

The High-Level Governmental Dialogue panel was moderated by Indrajit Banerjee, director of the Knowledge Societies Division, UNESCO. Carolina Rossini, vice-president for international policy at Public Knowledge, was rapporteur.

For more updates from UNESCO’s CONNECTing the Dots conference, follow our event webpage.

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