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UN Calls For Urgent Action To Enable Opportunities, Mitigate Risks For Information And Digital Technology

From Internet governance to digital governance, Forum pivots to UN Summit of the Future

Kyoto, Japan, 12 October 2023 – Recognizing both the opportunities and risks offered by rapid advancements in information and digital technology, the 18th Internet Governance Forum (IGF) wrapped up its series of high-level discussions and multistakeholder dialogues in Kyoto, Japan today.

In his closing message to the Forum, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Li Junhua reminded delegates of the 18-year contribution of the IGF, that is bottom-up, inclusive multistakeholder participation and engagement on information and digital technologies. He concluded with a call for collective action to “do more -- empowering more countries and all stakeholders for an inclusive and equitable digital future for all -- optimizing opportunities and managing risks.”

Key issues discussed during the week of rich exchanges, included the acceleration in artificial intelligence (AI) beyond generative AI. While AI offers opportunities to address the off-track SDGs, it also poses new risks, threatening to increase disinformation and exacerbate inequalities. Urgent action is needed to mitigate these risks, while maximizing its promise. The fact that a third of the world’s population is not yet online, and is losing out as a result, shows how digital divides can increase inequalities between developed and developing countries, men and women, young and elderly, rich and poor, urban and rural areas.

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Other important themes covered during the week included data governance – how to ensure that the immense volume of data generated by digital technology can be used for the common good, while respecting individual privacy; cybersecurity – how to protect countries, communities and individuals from malicious use of the Internet and digital technology; and the environment – how to maximize the contribution that technology makes to environmental sustainability and the fight against climate change, while minimizing its own environmental footprint, for example, in e-consumption and e-waste.

This year’s IGF took place within the framework of wider discussions about the future role of information and communication technologies within the UN system including two UN processes to which the IGF brings its unique multistakeholder perspective. First, the Global Digital Compact – a comprehensive new approach to digitalization’s impact on the world community which will form part of the UN’s Summit of the Future in 2024; and second, the 20-year review of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS+20) that led to the establishment of the IGF. The renewal of the IGF’s mandate will be discussed by the UN General Assembly as part of the WSIS+20 review in 2025.

As a key outcome, the Kyoto IGF Messages are sourced directly from Forum sessions and provide a high-level overview for decision-makers of the most current thinking on key Internet governance and digital policy issues. 

The Internet We Want vision paper was released at the IGF by the UN Secretary-General appointed IGF Leadership Panel Chair, Vint Cerf and Vice-Chair Maria Ressa. The paper reiterated that digital governance is critical for economic, social and environmental development, and is a crucial enabler of sustainable development. It further elaborated what it means for the Internet to be whole and open, universal and inclusive, free-flowing and trustworthy, safe and secure and rights-respecting. 

The UN Global Digital Compact which aims to set out principles, objectives and actions to secure a human-centred digital future received robust discussion and review. The outcomes of the IGF, including from its High-level, Parliamentary and Youth tracks, will also serve as a concrete framework for the Compact that will be agreed on at the UN Summit of the Future next year. 

The Government of Japan also announced their plans at the Forum for an Artificial Intelligence accord that would see G7 nations agree on international guidelines and codes of conduct for the developers of generative AI.

About the Internet Governance Forum (IGF)
The Internet Governance Forum, convened by the United Nations Secretary-General and hosted this year by the Government of Japan, is the global multistakeholder forum concerned with the Internet and the rapid transformation of society that results from digital development. Each year, the IGF annual meeting brings together stakeholders from around the world to discuss the most pressing Internet governance trends and challenges. The IGF meetings facilitate the exchange of information and the sharing of good policies and practices related to key elements of Internet governance in order to foster the sustainability, robustness, security, stability and development of the Internet.

Held from 8 to 12 October, this year’s IGF brought together close to 9,000 registered participants, from 178 countries (92% of UN Member States), with 5,500 joining on-site with others participating online in a fully hybrid interactive mode, making it the largest and most geographically diverse Forum to date. Representatives from governments, the private sector, civil society, the technical community and international organizations, gathered under the umbrella theme of ‘The Internet We Want - Empowering All People’. Over 160 national, regional, and youth IGF initiatives, and 35 IGF remote hubs also allowed hundreds if not thousands more online participants to contribute to the Forum.

The programme featured over 300 sessions, with eight sub-themes: (1) AI & Emerging Technologies; (2) Avoiding Internet Fragmentation; (3) Cybersecurity, Cybercrime & Online Safety; (4) Data Governance & Trust; (5) Digital Divides & Inclusion; (6) Global Digital Governance & Cooperation; (7) Human Rights & Freedoms; and (8) Sustainability & Environment.

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