Multi-stakeholder governance to secure the digital future | Internet fragmentation | DW | 07.12.2023
  1. Inhalt
  2. Navigation
  3. Weitere Inhalte
  4. Metanavigation
  5. Suche
  6. Choose from 30 Languages

Internet fragmentation

Multi-stakeholder governance to secure the digital future

Amandeep Singh Gill, UN's Envoy on Technology, shares insights on media, freedom of expression, and the quest for a secure digital future. 🌐🎙️ #DigitalCompact #UNInsights

“We need to invest more in media and more in media literacy. We need to value the institutions that we have and make sure they are fit for the future.” 

We talked with Amandeep Singh Gill,United Nations Secretary-General's Envoy on Technology, about why the fragmentation of the Internet is part of the eight key topics the United Nations recently defined for the Global Digital Compact (GDC).


Why is the topic of Internet fragmentation now urgent for the UN? 

USG Amandeep Singh Gill: First, we see an increased reliance on the Internet, from economic activity and the growth of the digital economy, to social connectivity. Activists and human rights defenders also want to reach the public online. The Internet is an indispensable tool.  

And for the UN, the Internet is increasingly critical to our day-to-day sustainable development and humanitarian work.  

The other factor of course is geopolitical tensions and the role of technology here, which drives the need to protect the global public good. 


Why is this topic so important for media development  and especially for freedom of expression?  

Civil society, human rights defenders, and journalists are all using digital tools. At the same time, authorities around the world are restricting access, including shutdowns.  

This attempt to shut down debate and confiscate digital tools has a direct impact on our freedom of expression. That's a fundamental aspect of democracy. And these rights are also protected in the UN’s International Civil and Political Rights Convention, and other relevant instruments.  

Digital platforms have played a key role in an emerging global consciousness, on issues such as climate change or racism. For the sake of this global exchange, we need to make sure that the Internet is available. It must be open, free, secure, and inclusive.  


How can international organizations, especially the UN, address this issue?  

The Global Digital Compact is a process led by two co-facilitators, Sweden and Rwanda, on behalf of all UN Member States. The UN is the secretariat for that process. 

Internet governance – including the avoidance of Internet fragmentation – was one of the 8 thematic issues chosen. This led to a vibrant, multi-stakeholder discussion between civil society, the private sector, the tech community, and academia. Next, Sweden and Rwanda will share their assessment of these discussions in September which will allow us to move to the next stage: negotiating the global digital compact. We need agreement on certain approaches, principles, and also objectives leading to concrete actions. The UN Secretary-General’s policy brief is really useful here, in which he emphasized making the online space open and safe for all.   


What is the most pressing point to prevent further fragmentation?  

Maintaining a consensus on the multi-stakeholder governance of the Internet. This is the most important. You don't want countries or regions erecting walls around their own Internet by setting up root servers, for instance.  

But there are other factors too. These include Internet shutdowns, and the physical infrastructure that underpins the Internet. In particular, undersea cables carry over 90% of the data around the world and are crucial for transcontinental connectivity. Making sure that they are not damaged in the current geopolitical tensions is very important.  

Fragmentation will be political rather than technical: the Internet is very well governed thanks to institutions such as ICCAN, who have ensured the sustainability of the protocol system that underpins the global internet, and address challenges as they arise.  


What is the particular role of tech companies? 

They definitely have a very important role. The Internet means the applications produced by tech companies, who have a responsibility to ensure that Internet access remains open, free, and secure. Moving from one application to another online can be like moving from one exclusive access area to the next, a peculiar form of access fragmentation.  

And the tech companies are now increasingly involved in the physical infrastructure too, including undersea cables and satellites. Their responsibility now has another dimension, which is ensuring that data flows to keep the Internet universal and accessible. 


And what is the role of journalists here? 

It's the same role as with climate change, to tell the truth, encourage debate, bring transparency and accountability to discussions, and to contribute to policy implementation. And there are the challenges, including misinformation and disinformation, resource constraints of traditional media, and competition from generative AI in terms of content creation, some of which may be false and actually intensify the misinformation/disinformation problem. But some of it may move into mainstream news making.  

So, all this means that we need to invest more in media and more in media literacy. We need to value the institutions that we have and make sure they are fit for the future, which also means embracing digital transformation and seeing how these tools can be used responsibly, to fulfil the original mission. 

And it's important to reinforce inclusion in the governance of these new technologies. This is not just an issue for a few countries, companies, or geographic areas, we need to have an inclusive platform and that's where the UN comes in. We also need to base these discussions in fundamental human rights and shared principles, which are captured in the UN Charter.  


Amandeep Singh Gill, currently holds the position of United Nations Secretary-General's Envoy on Technology, appointed in June 2022 by Secretary-General António Guterres. We talked with him about why the fragmentation of the Internet is part of the eight key topics the United Nations recently defined for the Global Digital Compact (GDC), the UN multistakeholder initiative aimed at developing shared principles and rules for a secure, open, and inclusive digital future.

Interview: Bahia Albrecht