Multistakeholder voices and the UN cyber dialogues

13 Nov 2020 16:10h - 17:40h

Event report

Mr Raj Burli (Global Ambassador, Digital Peace Now Society) moderated the roundtable discussion on multistakeholder engagement in UN cyber dialogues, mainly in the UN Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) and the Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) and other related initiatives.

Opening the discussion, Mr Fabrizio Hochschild (Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General) stated that we cannot think of cybersecurity solely in the context of armed conflict between states, but also in the areas of sustainable development and economic prosperity. Furthermore, the 2030 Agenda also requires improving universal trust and technological co-operation in an ever-more digitised world.

Mr Gerardo Isaac Morales Tenorio (Coordinator for Multidimensional Security, Multilateral Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Mexico, participant of the 6th UN GGE) shared his perspective on the preliminary outcomes of the GGE and OEWG, highlighting that both formats have represented some elements of success at this stage. Then he brought into focus the continuity of norms elaborated by the GGE that are discussed in the OEWG. He highlighted a positive trend that the two formats increased states’ attention and involvement in the process. Finally, there are already many concrete proposals on the table at both the GGE and OEWG like international repositories of best practices, implementation guidelines, the Programme of Action submitted by France and partners, and mechanisms to follow up on the implementation of norms and other agreements.

Mr Raman Jit Singh Chima, (Asia Policy Director, Access Now) talked about the impact of the pandemic on digital rights as increasingly more people rely on digital infrastructure. He mentioned the Civil CERT – Civil Society Computer Response Team, which shows that the watchdogs that protect our societies also need to watch over themselves. Chima also noted that in some cases, COVID-19 tracing programs were used to conduct surveillance rather than reduce the spread of the virus, and fake news laws were used to target free speech and expression rather than suppress fake news related to the pandemic. He concluded saying that we need to connect the technical community and the human rights community to strengthen our capabilities.

When asked whether there is a greater need to protect vulnerable institutions from cyber-attacks, Ms Kaja Ciglic (Senior Director, Digital Diplomacy, Microsoft) stated that the notion of critical infrastructure is now shifting: ‘Currently there is a lot of working online, schooling online, and obviously the attacks on health have been really prominent.’ She followed up by stating that governments have started to pay more attention to these problems and are thinking about ensuring cybersecurity in new sectors.

When asked whether there are official protections in place to safeguard health institutions, Mr Chris Painter (Chair, Global Forum on Cyber Expertise) responded that there are not as it has just recently become a priority, especially looking at the recent attacks on hospitals in the UK during the pandemic. Ciglic added that there is also a human component to implementing such protections, as people have to know how to use protective technologies.

After a question about multistakeholder input to UN dialogues, Ciglic said that discussions in the UN about state security focused on big tech, but at the same time a lot of the associated infrastructure and technologies are operated by the private sector, which is why they should have their say. She noted a strong desire from states like Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, and Mexico for consultations with the private sector. As for civil society, Chima highlighted the obstacles to gaining accreditation to participate in OEWG consultations. He also noted that it is difficult to get states to agree to talk about issues they are not always happy to discuss, like digital human rights.

Burli noted that historically, GGE dialogues have included a very limited number of states, especially when compared to the OEWG which is open to all UN member states. That being said, he asked the panel how to ensure that all states are equipped to ensure a strong voice in the dialogues? Ciglic agreed that the problem lies not only in technical capacity building and the development of domestic policies, but also in diplomatic staff. She mentioned good training initiatives by Estonia, DiploFoundation courses, and UNODA events, but also concluded that this is not enough. Another problem is that people rotate regularly in roles and positions, which makes it even more difficult to maintain a sufficient level of expertise to participate in the negotiations. Hochschild also noted a great shift in the expertise of diplomats over the past five years; while the diplomatic sector has a lot to learn from the technical sector, the latter has to understand how politics and diplomacy work too.

Hochschild then added that his office co-ordinates the UN roundtable discussions on digital trust and security and they are complementary to what is happening in the 1st Committee of the United Nations General Assembly. While his office discusses the topic from a national security standpoint, their work is aimed at broadening the notion of digital security to human rights and economy.

The final remarks touched upon the need for more interregional dialogues on cybersecurity. Tenorio shared some outcomes of the work of the Organization of American States (OAS) Council in cybersecurity, as well as Mexican initiatives regarding cyber norms in the Council.