Executive Summary

Digital technologies are rapidly transforming society, simultaneously allowing for unprecedented advances in the human condition and ‎giving rise to profound new challenges. Growing opportunities created by the application of digital technologies are paralleled by stark ‎abuses and unintended consequences. Digital dividends co-exist with digital divides. And, as technological change has accelerated, ‎the mechanisms for cooperation and governance of this landscape have failed to keep pace. Divergent approaches and ad hoc ‎responses threaten to fragment the interconnectedness that defines the digital age, leading to competing standards and approaches, ‎lessening trust and discouraging cooperation. ‎

Sensing the urgency of the moment, in July 2018 the Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN) appointed this Panel 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. In particular, the Secretary-General asked us to consider how ‎digital cooperation can contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – the ambitious agenda to protect ‎people and the planet endorsed by 193 UN member states in 2015. He also asked us to consider models of digital cooperation to ‎advance the debate surrounding governance in the digital sphere. ‎

In our 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. Such cooperation must be grounded in common ‎human values – such as inclusiveness, respect, human-centredness, human rights, international law, transparency and sustainability. ‎In periods of rapid change and uncertainty such as today, these shared values must be a common light which helps guide us. ‎

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. We 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. ‎

After an introduction which highlights the urgency of improved digital cooperation and invites readers to commit to a Declaration of ‎Digital Interdependence, our report focuses on three broad sets of interlocking issues, each of which is discussed in one subsequent ‎chapter. As a panel, we strove for consensus, but we did not always agree. We have noted areas where our views differed and tried to ‎give a balanced summary of our debates and perspectives. While there was not unanimity of opinion among the Panel members ‎regarding all of the recommendations, the Panel does endorse the full report in the spirit of promoting digital cooperation. ‎

Chapter 2, Leaving No One Behind, 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. Access is a necessary, but insufficient, ‎step forward. To capture the power of digital technologies we need to cooperate on the broader ecosystems that enable digital ‎technologies to be used in an inclusive manner. This will require policy frameworks that directly support economic and social inclusion, ‎special efforts to bring traditionally marginalised groups to the fore, important investments in both human capital and infrastructure, ‎smart regulatory environments, and significant efforts to assist workers facing disruption from technology’s impact on their livelihoods. ‎This chapter also addresses financial inclusion – including mobile money, digital identification and e-commerce –, affordable and ‎meaningful access to the internet, digital public goods, the future of education, and the need for regional and global economic policy ‎cooperation. ‎

Chapter 3, Individuals, Societies and Digital Technologies, underscores the fact that universal human rights apply equally online as ‎offline, but that there is an urgent need to examine how time-honoured human rights frameworks and conventions should guide digital ‎cooperation and digital technology. We need 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. This chapter also discusses the right to privacy, the need for clear human accountability for autonomous systems, ‎and calls for strengthening efforts to develop and implement global norms on cybersecurity. ‎

To take significant steps toward the vision identified in Chapters 2 and 3, we feel the following priority actions deserve immediate ‎attention: ‎

AN INCLUSIVE DIGITAL ECONOMY AND SOCIETY ‎

1A: We recommend that by 2030, every adult should have affordable access to digital networks, as well as digitally-enabled ‎financial and health services, as a means to make a substantial contribution to achieving the SDGs. Provision of these services ‎should guard against abuse by building on emerging principles and best practices, one example of which is providing the ability to ‎opt in and opt out, and by encouraging informed public discourse. ‎

1B: We recommend that a broad, multi-stakeholder alliance, involving the UN, create a platform for sharing digital public goods, ‎engaging talent and pooling data sets, in a manner that respects privacy, in areas related to attaining the SDGs. ‎

1C: We call on the private sector, civil society, national governments, multilateral banks and the UN to adopt specific policies to ‎support full digital inclusion and digital equality for women and traditionally marginalised groups. International organisations such as ‎the World Bank and the UN ‎ should strengthen research and promote action on barriers women and marginalised groups face to digital inclusion and digital ‎equality. ‎

1D: We believe that a set of metrics for digital inclusiveness should be urgently agreed, measured worldwide and detailed with sex ‎disaggregated data in the annual reports of institutions such as the UN, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, other ‎multilateral development banks and the OECD. From this, strategies and plans of action could be developed.‎

HUMAN AND INSTITUTIONAL CAPACITY

 2: We recommend the establishment of regional and global digital help desks to help governments, civil society and the private ‎sector to understand digital issues and develop capacity to steer cooperation related to social and economic impacts of digital ‎technologies. ‎

HUMAN RIGHTS AND HUMAN AGENCY

3A: Given that human rights apply fully in the digital world, we urge the UN Secretary-General to institute an agencies-wide review of ‎how existing international human rights accords and standards apply to new and emerging digital technologies. Civil society, ‎governments, the private sector and the public should be invited to submit their views on how to apply existing human rights ‎instruments in the digital age in a proactive and transparent process. ‎ ‎

3B: In the face of growing threats to human rights and safety, including those of children, we call on social media enterprises to work ‎with governments, international and local civil society organisations and human rights experts around the world to fully understand ‎and respond to concerns about existing or potential human rights violations. ‎

‎3C: We believe that autonomous intelligent systems should be designed in ways that enable their decisions to be explained and ‎humans to be accountable for their use. Audits and certification schemes should monitor compliance of artificial intelligence (AI) ‎systems with engineering and ethical standards, which should be developed using multi-stakeholder and multilateral approaches. ‎Life and death decisions should not be delegated to machines. We call for enhanced digital cooperation with multiple stakeholders ‎to think through the design and application of these standards and principles such as transparency and non-bias in autonomous ‎intelligent systems in different social settings. 

TRUST, SECURITY AND STABILITY ‎

4. We recommend the development of a Global Commitment on Digital Trust and Security to shape a shared vision, identify ‎attributes of digital stability, elucidate and strengthen the implementation of norms for responsible uses of technology, and propose ‎priorities for action. ‎
If we are to deliver on the promise of digital technologies for the SDGs, including the above-mentioned priority action areas, and avoid ‎the risks of their misuse, we need purposeful digital cooperation arrangements. To this end, in Chapter 4, Mechanisms for Global ‎Digital Cooperation, we analyse gaps in the current mechanisms of global digital cooperation, identify the functions of global digital ‎cooperation needed to address them, and outline three sets of modalities on how to improve our global digital cooperation architecture ‎‎– which build on existing structures and arrangements in ways consistent with our shared values and principles. ‎
Given the wide spectrum of issues, there will of necessity be many forms of digital cooperation; some may be led by the private sector ‎or civil society rather than government or international organisations. Moreover, special efforts are needed to ensure inclusive ‎participation by women and other traditionally marginalised groups in all new or updated methods of global digital cooperation. ‎
The three proposed digital cooperation architectures presented are intended to ignite focused, agile and open multi-stakeholder ‎consultations in order to quickly develop updated digital governance mechanisms. The 75th Anniversary of the UN in 2020 presents an ‎opportunity for an early harvest in the form of a “Global Commitment for Digital Cooperation” enshrining goals, principles, and priority ‎actions. ‎
The chapter also discusses the role of the UN, both in adapting to the digital age and in contributing to improved global digital ‎cooperation. ‎
We feel the following steps are warranted to update digital governance: ‎

GLOBAL DIGITAL COOPERATION ‎

5A: We recommend that, as a matter of urgency, the UN Secretary- General facilitate an agile and open consultation process to ‎develop updated mechanisms for global digital cooperation, with the options discussed in Chapter 4 as a starting point. We suggest ‎an initial goal of marking the UN's 75th anniversary in 2020 with a “Global Commitment for Digital Cooperation” to enshrine shared ‎values, principles, understandings and objectives for an improved global digital cooperation architecture. As part of this process, we ‎understand that the UN Secretary-General may appoint a Technology Envoy. ‎

5B: We support a multi-stakeholder “systems” approach for cooperation and regulation that is adaptive, agile, inclusive and fit for ‎purpose for the fast-changing digital age. ‎

We hope this report and its recommendations will form part of the building blocks of an inclusive and interdependent digital world, with ‎a fit-for-purpose new governance architecture. We believe in a future in which improved digital cooperation can support the ‎achievement of the SDGs, reduce inequalities, bring people together, enhance international peace and security, and promote ‎economic opportunity and environmental sustainability.‎