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RIPE Cooperation Working Group Interim Session: The Global Digital Compact

WG Co-Chairs: Achilleas Kemos, Johan Helsingius, Desiree Miloshevic

On 19 April 2023 from 12:00 to 13:00 (UTC), the RIPE Cooperation Working Group will hold a remote session via Zoom.


Session Description

There are currently multiple community consultation activities underway to contribute to development of a United Nations Global Digital Compact. The RIPE Cooperation Working Group will host a one-hour remote session to discuss the issues at stake in this process, to hear from the RIPE NCC on its draft response to current consultations, and to consider the RIPE community’s position and role in relation to these processes. 

Background Information

What is the Global Digital Compact?

The Global Digital Compact (GDC) is a document proposed by the Office of the UN Secretary-General's Envoy on Technology, which aims to “outline shared principles for an open, free and secure digital future for all”’. It is planned that it will be finalised in September 2024 at the United Nations Summit of the Future. The GDC represents the latest step in a long policy journey to develop a shared understanding of key digital principles globally and common rules that will guide the development of our digital future.

Why is this relevant? 

The GDC has the potential to inform and guide public policy making at the national and supra-national levels in relation to Internet operations and other technology governance issues. At the same time, the GDC’s development offers an opportunity to strengthen the UN commitment  to the multistakeholder approach to decision-making on Internet governance and digital public policy. Such an approach is critical to ensuring that the Internet technical community (alongside the private sector, civil society, and academia) have a voice in Internet governance processes.

How are we contributing?

The United Nations has an open survey to gather feedback and insight from all GDC stakeholders in a structured way. This survey seeks input on eight general areas, each further divided into core principles and key commitments/pledges/actions.

The RIPE NCC has prepared a contribution to three of these themes most relevant to its work and remit: Connect All People to the Internet, Avoid Internet Fragmentation, and Digital Commons as a Global Public Good. This session will be an opportunity for the RIPE community to comment on the current draft and approach.

Session Minutes

RIPE Cooperation Working Group Interim Session: The Global Digital Compact

19 April 2023 from 12:00 to 13:00 (UTC) 

WG Co-Chairs: Achilleas Kemos, Johan Helsingius, Desiree Miloshevic 

RIPE Cooperation Working Group Co-Chair Desiree Miloshevic introduced the session.

Desiree explained the background of the Global Digital Compact (GDC), which began as a proposal as part of the UN Secretary General’s “Our Common Agenda” that aims for an open, free, secure digital future for all. She shared the timeline and noted that the GDC process would conclude at the Summit of the Future in 2024. In the meantime, people could contribute through the deep dives on various themes and the UN survey. This survey covered eight areas, and the RIPE NCC planned to respond to four of these. She encouraged attendees to get involved at this critical time by sharing what core principles and commitments they wanted for member states.

Desiree then gave an overview of the RIPE NCC’s key messages, the first of which was to connect all people to the Internet through multistakeholder cooperation as well as the deployment of open protocols and best practices to scale the Internet for all. The RIPE NCC was also focused on avoiding Internet fragmentation at the technical and coordination levels. Thirdly, the RIPE NCC was committed to the digital commons as a public good. And finally, the RIPE NCC highlighted the need for healthy Internet governance processes through an inclusive, bottom-up approach.

Desiree noted that the GDC process would be concluded ahead of WSIS+20 and would influence its outcomes. As WSIS laid the groundwork for institutional support of the multistakeholder approach in Internet governance, it was important to contribute to strengthen that support in case WSIS were to be rescinded. With that, she concluded her presentation and opened the floor for discussion.

Konstantinos Komaitis of the Internet Society said that the RIPE NCC’s comments on the GDC so far had been very high-level. It would be beneficial to be more specific and include examples of how these topics would actually affect operations. For instance, what would be the actual effect of Internet fragmentation on the RIPE community? He suggested putting these concepts into a more concrete context for policy makers, as many did not fully understand these topics and the roles different groups played.

Desiree said that for the RIPE community, fragmentation meant the loss of interoperability and a withdrawal from the Internet identifiers system. Though this had not happened yet, it was necessary to be vigilant to protect against fragmentation at the technical level as well as in Internet governance processes.

Julf Helsingius agreed that the community should outline these implications clearly so politicians could understand. 

Chris Buckridge, speaking from his role as a member of the Multistakeholder Advisory Group (MAG) for the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), said that most stakeholders in the RIR system had been very supportive of the IGF, and it was important to maintain that support to ensure the IGF remained the UN’s venue for Internet governance. One big question about the GDC process was whether it would only be multistakeholder during the consultation stage, with the ultimate decision made by governments. The IGF and other groups were working to keep all stakeholders involved throughout. Tn fact, the IGF 2022 was structured around the GDC goals to contribute to the discussion, and the 2023 IGF would also cover a lot of these topics. The IGF therefore helped demonstrate how multistakeholder discussions generated substantive input in the process. The RIPE NCC and others should also demonstrate through their participation that many stakeholders want to be involved.

Veni Markovski of ICANN noted that there were no recordings or transcriptions of the thematic deep dives. He advised participants to also be aware they would have a speaking time limited to three minutes. While the deep dives were a good way to learn more about other stakeholders’ perspectives, as statements were not for the record, it was not clear how they would actually be used for the GDC. It was important to closely monitor how the GDC process might influence WSIS+20.

Oksana Prykhodko of ICANN asked what roles stakeholders can play to address the risk of digital genocide. Desiree said if this term meant a lack of access to digital connectivity, then it was being addressed as part of the RIPE NCC’s submission to the GDC, and the next IGF could be the venue to follow up on the GDC.

Monika Ermert, freelance journalist, asked how the GDC process could be enhanced. Desiree said it might be worth sending a comment to the GDC that the process would be improved by maintaining recordings or summaries of the deep dives and other interventions.

Chris Buckridge noted that these deep dives were initially structured around the UN Secretary General’s main themes, but they had evolved to focus on Internet governance. This related to ongoing disagreement about what role the UN should play in Internet governance and how other stakeholders should be involved. The IGF’s role in the GDC discussion was complicated by the need to follow many ongoing processes, including WSIS, the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and other initiatives. Governments of member states also found it hard to understand how all of these were connected, and it was even harder for non-governmental stakeholders. This was a challenge for the multistakeholder model, as lack of understanding reduced different groups’ ability to contribute. If the GDC were to establish the IGF as the venue to follow up on its principles and commitments, this would not only strengthen the IGF but also build on processes people already understood, increasing their potential contributions.

Monika Ermert asked if the IGF would make the case that it should be the platform to take on the fallout of the GDC. Chris said this was possible, but there was no formal proposal yet.

Carsten Schiefner of Instra Corporation asked whether the GDC was feeding off of the IGF and setting up parallel processes. Chris said the two were distinct, but there was indeed little clarity about how they related to each other, which was another obstacle for multistakeholder involvement in both.

Bernard Benhamou of the Institut de la Souveraineté Numérique said that, from his experience working on WSIS’s Tunis Agenda, most of the people involved in its creation were not happy with the low levels of cooperation afterward. Many urgent topics, from AI to security and privacy, were supposed to be addressed on a global level after WSIS but were not. We now need to talk about important issues like fragmentation and the digital cold war. We must maintain Internet unicity and neutrality and protect it from centralisation.

Konstantinos Komaitis said it was important to remember that the GDC was part of a larger plan for the UN, and by itself, it had opened up conversations that member states wanted to have in the deep dives. Processes were becoming more centralised under the UN. The community needed to pay attention to this, or it could lose its voice.

Veni Markovski pointed to the Tunis Agenda and noted that enhanced cooperation was listed as being important in the future, but there was no deadline set for this. The IGF could also be extended at the WSIS+20. The GDC, however, had an end date set. Additionally, while the IGF was created by member states, the GDC was created by the secretariat. This meant that if the secretariat chose not to provide the funding for the outcomes of the GDC, it could be left behind.

Eliot Lear of Cisco noted that despite the conflicting value systems in Internet governance, the Internet was still succeeding with regard to technical operations. The real struggle was with the values, so that was where the UN should focus on resolving conflicts.

Desiree Miloshevic agreed that the technical community worked well, but fragmentation of discussions was another issue they were facing. We must therefore consider capacity when proposing new governance venues. We must also consider how the GDC could be more cooperative. She encouraged everyone to submit their comments to the Cooperation WG about any of the areas the RIPE NCC was focusing on or about the other topic areas.