By Jutta Wolf
BERLIN | KATOWICE, Poland (IDN) — Ensuring the protection of human rights and social and economic inclusion in the digital age was front and centre at the five-day discussions. These concluded in Katowice, Poland, on December 10 with a call to urgently connect the 2.9 billion people who still cannot access the Internet and to make the global network an open, free and safe space where everyone’s human rights and basic freedoms are respected.
The Katowice IGF messages and the IGF 2021 summary capture the key recommendations for leaders of governments, businesses and civil society organizations, coming out of five days of intense discussions by over 10,300 participants over the course of over 300 sessions.
“Seventy-three years ago, the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” said Maria Francesca Spatolisano UN Assistant Secretary‑General and Officer in Charge of the Office of the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Technology. “The COVID-19 pandemic, the climate crisis and the expansion of digital technology into all areas of our lives have created new threats to human rights,” she added.
The Forum discussed possible solutions to the human rights risks posed by frontier technologies such as artificial intelligence, facial recognition and other biometric data collection. The recommendations that emerged included a moratorium on certain technologies until they are adequately regulated as well as a possible international, legally binding agreement on technology and human rights.
The participants also encouraged governments and the private sector to perform mutual due diligence to ensure both sides are respecting digital rights.
Janusz Cieszyński, Secretary of State and Plenipotentiary for Cyber Security of the Polish Government wondered whether the 16th Internet Governance Forum would be remembered “for asking ourselves the questions of how human rights can be protected online and how the fact that the pace of changes has accelerated so much, thanks to new technology, will impact us and our future generations”.
Noting that meaningful Internet access is “key for bridging the digital divide, as well as fostering democracy and human rights,”, the Forum participants urged decision-makers to make universal, meaningful access to the Internet a global priority. They called for increased international support and collaboration to resolve the issues of lack of devices, weak infrastructure, low levels of digital literacy and digital skills.
The Forum took place in the midst of a global climate crisis, the Forum also addressed the environmental impact of the digital world, whose carbon footprint is estimated to equal that of the entire aviation industry.
Participants called for a switch to circular economy to tackle e-waste, which they called “the fastest growing waste stream within our already very wasteful society”. In 2020, a record number of 53.6 million tons of electronic waste was released into the environment.
The 16th Internet Governance Forum also saw parliamentarians from over 15 countries exchange views and share good practices on digital policy challenges, including privacy rights, freedom of speech, limiting harmful content and regulating artificial intelligence. [IDN-InDepthNews – 12 December 2021]
Photo credit: UN
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