IGF 2022 Themes: Descriptions

1. Connecting All People and Safeguarding Human Rights

The UN Secretary-General’s proposed Global Digital Compact (GDC) has as its first principle to “Connect all people to the Internet, including all schools”. This recognizes that Internet connectivity and access have become prerequisites for ensuring the livelihoods, safety and education of people the world over – and that Internet in schools provides crucial points of access, makes informational resources available to all students, and builds digital literacy from the earliest stages of life. Yet 2.9 billion remain unconnected, with those in least developed countries and rural communities most affected.

Meaningful access, at the same time, is inextricable from the safeguarding of human rights online. Access that contributes to the wellbeing of societies must have human rights at its centre. This includes, among many others, the ability for users to express themselves freely, for the unfettered exercise of democratic and political participation, for persons of all backgrounds to experience the Internet without fear of harassment or discrimination, and for children to enjoy the same rights and protections online as they do offline. The Internet is both an enabler of rights and must seamlessly incorporate established human rights, as we increase our digital dependence for routine functions, and boundaries between life “online” and “offline” no longer apply.

Example issues relating to this theme could include but are not limited to: Access and connectivity; Accessibility; Community networks; Capacity development; Education; Libraries; Digital inclusion; Gender inclusion; Gender rights and freedoms; Marginalised and vulnerable groups; Children’s rights online; Civil and political rights; Economic, social and cultural rights; Democracy.

2. Avoiding Internet Fragmentation

A core value of the IGF is the maintenance of an open, free and interoperable Internet. This implies that the entirety of the Internet’s content is open and free to users, and that common technical standards and protocols continue to be deployed to achieve a network of interconnected networks across countries and regions. This call – applying a framework to the Internet that prioritises the rights and freedoms of users as well as and through infrastructural, end-to-end coherence – has been echoed in the GDC.

The risk of fragmentation is real and mounting, in particular intentional fragmentation as a matter of policy. While technical and commercial fragmentation, where the functioning of the Internet is impacted by a mix of voluntary and involuntary conditions and business practices, need to be addressed, fragmentation by government policy that limits uses of the Internet or affects the open and interoperable character of the Internet is of specific concern.

Example issues relating to this theme could include but are not limited to: Open Internet; Interoperability; Internet shutdowns; Content blocking; DNS; IXP; IP.

3. Governing Data and Protecting Privacy

Data is the key resource of the globalised digital age. Its movement drives economies, and its analysis, particularly big data analytics, has been the basis for remarkable innovations across disciplines, from finance, to health and law enforcement.

But for its widespread use, routine flow across borders, and fungibility, data remains a sensitive and unresolved topic. As a transnational, commercial asset, it operates in a largely unregulated environment, one with little consistency between national legal regimes. The privacy of personal data is too often sacrificed over the course of data exchanges, from the point of collection, to application, and then storage, with deep consequences for trust and security.

In order to harness the significant promise of data, economically and for research purposes, discussions need to be relaunched around governance, integrity and the protection of citizens’ privacy.

Example issues relating to this theme could include but are not limited to: Big Data; Cross-border data flows; Data privacy and protection; Data services; Regulation.

4. Enabling Safety, Security and Accountability

The security of the Internet is under threat in a number of ways from various actors. Traditional cybersecurity deals with the protection of networks, devices and data from unauthorised access or criminal use. This encompasses the ongoing problem of cyber attacks, whether they are perpetrated by individuals or state-sanctioned, and whether the targets are civic, commercial or governmental, and which so far has been compounded by the absence of broad and binding cybersecurity agreements. Insufficiently secure networks also contribute to lost opportunities for developing countries to fully capitalise on the economic benefits of digital technologies.

Our understanding of safety and security should be widened to include the persistent challenge of online misinformation and disinformation. In recent years, both have been factors in aggravating the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and have posed significant risks to electoral processes around the world. This has made clear the need for accountability criteria for misleading content.

‘Safety’ may be further widened to include environmental safety, considering efforts to ‘green’ the Internet and reduce carbon emissions associated with digital consumption. Similarly, how can technology companies be held accountable for maintaining low energy consumption standards?

Example issues relating to this theme could include but are not limited to: Cybersecurity practices; Cyber attacks and cyber conflict; Child online safety; Disinformation; Environmental safety; Illegal and harmful content; Trust and accountability measures.

5. Addressing Advanced Technologies, including AI

Advanced digital technologies increasingly shape our economy and society, from artificial intelligence (AI) systems which guide our online experiences, power smart devices, and influence our own decisions, as well as decisions others take about us, to robotics and Internet of things applications which are deployed in areas as diverse as manufacturing, healthcare, and agriculture. Beyond their promises, these technologies come with pitfalls. For instance, algorithmic decision-making could result in bias, discrimination, harmful stereotypes and wider social inequality, while AI-based systems may pose risks to human safety and human rights. Internet of things devices come with privacy and cybersecurity challenges. Augmented and virtual reality raises issues of public safety, data protection, and consumer protection.

Taking advantage of the opportunities offered by advanced technologies, while addressing related challenges and risks is a task that no one actor can take up on its own. Multistakeholder dialogue and cooperation – among governments, intergovernmental organisations, tech companies, civil society, etc. – are required to ensure that these technologies are developed and deployed in a human-centric and human rights-based manner.

Example issues relating to this theme could include but are not limited to: Artificial Intelligence; Robotics; Internet of Things; Smart devices; Blockchain; Augmented and virtual reality; Quantum computing; Regulation; Self-regulation; Human rights.