Secretary-General: Advocates Internet Access for All by 2030, Technology Must Be Used to Protect Public Good
Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks to the virtual high-level event on “The State of The Digital World and Implementation of the Road Map for Digital Cooperation”, in New York on 11 June:
The world is shifting from analogue to digital technology at a faster pace than we could ever have predicted. This creates both vast promise — and some peril.
The COVID pandemic has magnified the many benefits and harms of the digital world.
Technology is enabling the lifesaving work of health-care providers, allowing businesses to operate remotely, educating our children and connecting us with friends and family. But we also have seen technology gravely misused. Hate speech, discrimination and abuse are on the march in digital spaces.
Misinformation campaigns put health and lives at risk. In response, the United Nations has launched the Verified initiative, to increase the volume and reach of accurate information on the crisis.
Life-threatening cyberattacks on hospital systems threaten to disrupt life-saving care. We are at a critical point for technology governance. Digital connectivity is indispensable, both to overcome the pandemic and for a sustainable and inclusive recovery.
But we cannot let technology trends get ahead of our ability to steer them and protect the public good. If we do not come together now around using digital technology for good, we will lose a significant opportunity to manage its impact, and we could see further fragmentation of the Internet, to the detriment of all.
This is the backdrop to the Roadmap for Digital Cooperation that we are launching today. The Roadmap is a guide for a multilateral, multi-stakeholder way forward in the age of digital interdependence. Building on the report of the High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation, it sets out eight areas where we can come together and pursue the imperative for global action on digital cooperation.
The overriding aim of the Roadmap is to connect, respect, and protect people in the digital age. The United Nations will be a facilitator and a platform, mobilizing partnerships and coalitions between Governments, citizens, civil society, academia and industry. This diverse panel of distinguished speakers exemplifies the inclusive approach we need.
Allow me to suggest what some of the first steps could be.
First, on universal connectivity. We must convene leaders in connectivity to establish baselines, targets and metrics for connectivity and affordability, and then to support emerging efforts and develop new financing models. Together, we can achieve the target of ensuring that every person has safe and affordable access to the Internet by 2030.
Second, digital public goods. We need a concerted global effort from Member States, the United Nations system, private sectors and others to promote open source software, open data, open artificial intelligence models, open standards and open content that adhere to privacy, applicable laws and do no harm. These have vast potential to help us achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
Third, digital inclusion efforts that reach all, including the most vulnerable. The proposed digital inclusion coalition will help develop metrics and scorecards to accelerate an inclusive digital ecosystem that addresses the growing digital gender gap and reaches the most vulnerable, including migrants, refugees and others.
Fourth, digital capacity-building through expanded training programmes and support. The United Nations system stands ready to work with national Governments on efforts to meet these global needs, which will require greater coherence and coordination.
Fifth, digital human rights. The Roadmap addresses issues including data protection and privacy; digital identities; surveillance technology; as well as online harassment and abuse. It calls for human rights to be put at the centre of regulatory frameworks and legislation on the development and use of digital technologies.
Sixth, artificial intelligence — an area that poses some of the greatest challenges to ethics, policy and governance. We need to ensure that all perspectives, particularly those of developing countries, are part of the conversation. The Roadmap offers the United Nations as a platform to strengthen global cooperation on artificial intelligence so that it is trustworthy, human-rights-based, sustainable and safe, and promotes peace.
Seventh, digital trust and security. The international community must come together at the highest levels to prioritize and safeguard the digital technologies that underpin core societal functions and critical infrastructure, such as access to food, water, housing, energy, health care and transportation.
I urge you to continue exploring the value of a universal statement which acknowledges the strong linkage between the principles of digital trust and security and our ability to realize the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Finally, global digital cooperation. I will work with all of you to implement the proposals to enhance the Internet Governance Forum so that it can guide efforts to build a more effective architecture for digital cooperation. I also intend to appoint an envoy on technology to push forward the United Nations work on these issues.
Today’s digital landscape offers us an opportunity. But if we don’t take that opportunity, it could quickly turn into a threat. Unless we address digital instability and inequality, they will continue to exacerbate physical instability and inequality. We will risk the physical and economic health of people and infrastructure, as digital divides become the new face of insecurity and conflict. We cannot afford that to happen.
I urge you to be unswerving in your commitment to connect, respect, and protect people in the digital age. I encourage you to take bold, broad, innovative and collective action.
The greatest risk we face is not that we will go too far. It is that we will go not far enough. The United Nations cannot solve these problems alone.