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IGF 2023 – Daily 2

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IGF Daily Summary for

Monday, 9 October 2023

Dear reader, 

Welcome to the IGF2023 Daily #2, your daily newspaper dedicated to the 18th Internet Governance Forum (IGF) discussions. 

AI and data were two keywords echoing during the kick-off day of IGF2023. Parliamentarians gathered for their now-traditional roundtable, and tens of workshops discussed development, human rights and other pillar themes. We noticed three main trends in yesterday’s debates.

First, many traditional narratives have been rehearsed, including the need ‘to manage both the opportunities and the risks that digital technologies bring’. Less repetition of common points could free more space for fostering new ideas through critical and engaging debates.

Second, existing initiatives were amplified in the debate, including a fresh focus on the G7 Hiroshima AI process and the G20 New Delhi initiative of digital public infrastructure.

Third, some new insights were brought into the debate, including a call for a ‘fourth way’- beyond EU, China, the USA approaches – which will help developing countries to leverage data as a strategic asset for socio-economic development, amplified by cross-border exchanges. 

As you can read below, our reporting aims to identify new insights, ideas, and initiatives in the IGF debates. You can also dive deeper into summary reports generated just in time by DiploAI.

The Digital Watch team, with support from DiploAI

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The summary of the discussions
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The day’s top picks

  • The need to move from general debates on data as a public good for development to operational use 
  • Calls for a ‘4th way’ in data governance, in addition to the EU, China, and the USA approach
  • The role of parliamentarians in shaping a trusted internet 
  • Call for a judiciary track at the IGF

Leveraging the multistakeholder approach to build the Internet We Want

It is trite to speak, or indeed, in this case, write, about the impact that digital technologies have had on our everyday lives. However, it’s worth noting that these technologies now occupy a prominent position on the global stage, evident in G7, G20, G77, and UNGA discussions. Moreover, there’s a growing realisation that their potential extends far beyond what we’ve witnessed so far: They could help us achieve the SDGs, address climate change, and create a better world.

For instance, AI has emerged as a technology with the potential to enhance the impact of digital technology on the SDGs. Data show that 70% of the SDGs can benefit directly from digital technologies, highlighting their potential to positively impact global development.

UN Secretary-General Guterres outlined three key areas where we need to act:

  1. Bridging the connectivity gap by bringing the last 2.6 billion people online, especially the women and girls in underdeveloped regions
  2. Addressing the governance gap by improving the coordination and alignment of the IGF and other digital policy/governance entities within and beyond the UN system
  3. Prioritising human rights and a human-centred approach to digital cooperation
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UN SG Antonio Guterres speaks during the opening of IGF2023. Credit: IGF Flick

The internet must remain open, secure, and accessible. This requires increased support for long-established multistakeholder institutions. Guterres emphasised: ‘We cannot afford another retreat into silos.’ Following this approach, he said, we can maximise the benefits of the internet while reducing its risks, and build the internet we want.

The IGF has a role to play: It should strengthen its position as a global digital policy forum in finding points of convergence and consensus.

But as the IGF crosses the threshold of adulthood, the community can look back and ask: has it delivered on its mandate and purpose? And the community can look forward and ask: How can the IGF better support preparations for and the follow-up to the Global Digital Compact and Summit of the Future?

The role of parliamentarians in shaping a trusted internet 

In the headlines, dwindling trust in politics, underscored by compelling polling data, has raised alarm bells. In the background, this negative trend threatens the legitimacy and effectiveness of political institutions, necessitating concerted efforts to rebuild trust. According to the Day 1 discussions, the integrity of democratic elections is in danger, in light of the widespread interference seen globally. It was noted that 70 democracies are scheduled to hold elections in 2024, and these elections are at a higher risk than ever before, given the growing misuse of digital technology for disinformation and election interference. 

Trust, a key phrase in this session, is further eroded as online violence, particularly against women in politics, remains a serious challenge. It not only jeopardises individual well-being but also undermines democratic processes. And then, there’s the enigma of AI – holding the promise of unprecedented opportunities while posing new challenges such as the micro-targeting of voting audiences, bias, or new, old, and changing privacy concerns. 

Amid these substantial concerns, the role of parliamentarians becomes pivotal. They are the cornerstones of our political system, entrusted with crafting the legal framework that governs our digital lives. Some speakers in this year’s parliamentary track pointed out that parliaments are the only branch of government that remains in touch with the individual daily digital lives of citizens. Thus, their active involvement in establishing robust frameworks for the governance of digital technologies rooted in transparency, accountability, and fairness is urgently needed. Contextualisation of global frameworks is another key point emphasised by the speakers. They argued that countries should adapt global frameworks to their specific needs and local requirements.

The need for agile governance was reiterated throughout the discussion: Sustainable, innovative, and future-proof regulations should be used to effectively and efficiently respond to the ever-changing digital technology landscape. 

The session was a call to action to reestablish trust, combat online violence, safeguard electoral integrity, and navigate the complex realm of AI. Above all, it underscored the indispensable role of parliamentarians in the global digital governance. 

Almost-empty plenary hall at the IGF2023.
The plenary hall of IGF2023 in Kyoto | Credit: SasaVK


In September, the G7 Hiroshima Leaders agreed to develop an international code of conduct for AI. This mirrors the European Commission’s approach to developing voluntary AI guardrails ahead of its actual AI law and the approaches adopted or drafted in the USA and Canada. The High-Level Leaders Session V: Artificial Intelligence reiterated these calls and the need for international guiding principles, research and investment, awareness of the local context, and stakeholder engagement in achieving safe and trustworthy AI.  

The trajectory of AI systems is anticipated to evolve towards multimodal capabilities, seamlessly integrating text and visual content with fluency in multiple languages, extending its global impact beyond English. Generative AI, expected to be as transformative as the internet was, emerged as a central discussion point, poised to etch its mark on history. However, consumers need to know what is AI-generated content and what is human-generated content, particularly ahead of global elections.

The spotlight was on the alarming proliferation of AI-amplified misinformation and disinformation and the profound impact of technology on human emotions and rationality. In this context, there emerged a resounding call for truth, trust, and shared reality, reaffirming the pivotal role of journalism in upholding democratic values. Simultaneously, it was also recognised that the deployment of AI can help address pressing global challenges –  highlighting disaster management, climate crises, global health, and education as high-risk domains.

Transparency and collaboration emerged as linchpins for solutions. Transparency was analysed in the context of technical development and the governance of AI systems. Singapore’s effort in launching the open-source AI Verify Foundation was mentioned as an example of the commitment to open discourse and robust governance. Collaboration, particularly in a multistakeholder fashion, was highlighted, and the private sector was recognised as a force driving AI innovation and, thereby, a necessary partner to governments in governing AI.

Looking ahead, the session heralded the Hiroshima AI Process and the plans for an AI expert support centre under the Global Partnership on AI (GPAI) as signifiers of a proactive approach to addressing AI challenges. Forums such as the Frontier Model Forum, the Partnership on AI, and the ML Commons also represent similar forward-looking efforts. The UN, ITU and the OECD were asked to be more prominent in advancing AI initiatives. 

An AI shield icon hovers over a person’s hand

Internet fragmentation

As expected, internet fragmentation was on the agenda of the IGF. As a network of networks, the internet is inherently fragmented, yet, concerns are looming about harmful fragmentation, which would hindes the intended function of the internet. 

Geopolitical developments are changing internet governance. States increasingly seek to achieve digital sovereignty to exert control over their respective internet spheres. This comes as a response to the adverse effects of internet weaponisation, digital interference,  disinformation, misinformation, and campaigns embracing violence outside their national borders. Such regulatory tendencies, however, can lead to internet fragmentation with negative consequences, including restrictions on access to certain services, internet shutdowns and censorship, and exacerbation of the digital divide in underdeveloped regions. The internet as we know it cannot be taken for granted any more.

International norms are critical to reduce the risks of fragmentation. International dialogue in forums like the IGF is a valuable tool for inclusive discussions and contributions from diverse stakeholders. It is important to acknowledge different perspectives about fragmentation between the Global North and Global South. National regulations must, therefore, consider different contexts and allow countries to pursue their own policies. However, they should maintain a comprehensive approach to internet governance. Of particular relevance are the regulatory frameworks with extraterritorial implications – like those of the EU, China, and India – due to their economic powers and the global nature of the internet.

In developing national and regional regulatory frameworks, it is important to consider multistakeholder input, because the internet – and its critical resources – are not used, owned, or managed solely by states. It can be difficult to establish a central authority responsible for shaping internet policy requirements. Inclusivity and user empowerment are also important, particularly considering the perspectives of marginalised and vulnerable communities. At the same time, there is a significant risk in leaving public policy functions in the hands of private corporations. The industry should accept that it is not exempt from regulations.

A particular concern about harmful fragmentation is related to state control over the public core of the internet and its application layer. Different technologies operate at several layers of the internet, and those distinct layers are managed by different entities. Disruptions in the application layer could lead to disruptions in the entire internet. Therefore, governance of the public core calls for careful consideration, a clear understanding of these distinctions, and deep technical knowledge. 

Accountability for the governance of the public core of the internet should be dealt with on an international level. Regulations related to the technical layers should follow a layered policy approach, in which different regulations may be required for each layer (following approaches embraced in Japan and The Netherlands, for instance). By considering the specificities of different layers, policymakers can create a cohesive and comprehensive regulatory approach that does not lead to internet fragmentation (for instance, a layered approach to sanctions can help prevent unintended consequences like hampering internet access).

Subsea internet cables.
Subsea internet cables. Credit: Airtel Business

Human rights

Looking specifically at the intersection of gender and youth online to achieve a safer and more inclusive digital environment, the workshop BeingDigital Me: Being youth, women, and/or gender-diverse online presented different perspectives in addressing this matter. The speakers highlighted several initiatives that address gender and gender-based violence online, such as the Global Partnership for Action on Gender-Based Online Harassment and Abuse, the work of the Internet Society’s Gender Standing Group, and recent initiatives in Colombia. Speaking about the need for inclusivity and collaboration to combat tech-facilitated gender-based violence and gendered disinformation, the speakers pointed out the role of education and skill development in fostering increased youth participation. In addition, they spoke about the positive impacts of online platforms that promote gender-related initiatives and the need for a specific framework to address digital violence. 

The session on advocacy with Big Tech in restrictive regimes discussed a complex set of issues related to advocating and implementing human rights policies in countries with regimes restricting digital rights. From the perspective of civil society, in addition to engaging with governments on these issues, a challenge lies in understanding the ecosystem, the complexity of regulation and policies, and the fast-paced changes taking place. In restrictive regimes, tech companies that have human rights policies in place must address the dilemma of whether to comply with restrictive national rules or uphold their human rights policies and, as a consequence, limit their business activities within those jurisdictions. Also discussed was the specific role of platforms and their responsibility when it comes to content moderation (particularly AI-moderated content), addressing disinformation, and enhancing transparency. 

In addition, the speakers addressed the imbalance in capacity between civil society and tech companies, the challenges of sudden structural changes in tech companies that impact human rights corporate policies, and the imperative that civil society advocates for implementing human rights policies and contingency strategies by tech companies.

The participants discussed the examples of Russia, Vietnam, Türkiye, Syria, and Pakistan.

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Data governance

The Data Free Flow with Trust (DFFT), one of the pillar themes of IGF2023, was the focus of the session on the development aspects of free data flows, Opportunities of cross-border data flow – DFFT for development. Data is a recurrent topic at the IGF, with many narratives based on the need to balance the flow of data with trust and privacy, the extraction of value from data, data transparency, private-public partnerships, and others. 

A few novel highlights in this year’s discussions included: 

  • a call for a ‘fourth way’ for data governance (in addition to the approaches taken by the USA, the EU, and China) in which data would feature as a strategic asset of developing countries, used for socio-economic development 
  • the centrality of digital public infrastructure (DPI) as an infrastructure for inclusive, open, effective use of data 
  • a more operational and practical concept of data as a public good (see the session on African AI: Digital Public Goods for Inclusive Development
  • strengthened voices of developing and least-developed countries in emerging global data governance frameworks
  • mainstreamed Data Free-Flow with Trust in development assistance projects and initiatives

Tackling the issue of balancing the operationalisation of Data Free Flow with Trust, the speakers in a dedicated session discussed the main challenges in ensuring that privacy, security and intellectual property are safeguarded in the promotion of the free flow of data. The speakers highlighted the challenges related to access to data, the need for redress mechanisms, and the impacts of restricted data flow on the fragmentation of the internet. They also addressed the responsibilities of different stakeholders – including governments and the private sector (be it internet companies or the telecom sector, for instance) – in safeguarding the privacy and security of data. A human rights-based approach to data and the involvement of civil society in the relevant policy processes were mentioned as a must for ethical and responsible data governance. 

It was also emphasised that applying the rule of law in the digital space is as crucial as in the physical world. A proposal was made to establish a judiciary track at the IGF to include judges and other professionals in the judiciary field in discussions related to digital governance. This would provide them with a specific platform to engage with experts, share insights, and gather more knowledge about digital governance.

Visualizing data - abstract purple background with motion blur, digital data analysis concept

Digital and environment

Green and digital are two pillars of many policy approaches and strategies worldwide. The workshop Cooperation for a green digital future highlighted the potential of AI and the internet of things in reporting and gathering accurate information about climate change. Yet, without common measurement standards, the impact of new technologies will be limited. The new societal dynamism of youth in the climate field has much potential for accelerating the multistakeholder approach in advancing an interplay between digital and green policy dynamics.

Because Japan, the host of IGF 2023, has been a leader in robotics for decades, it is not surprising that robots are featured in the IGF debate. This was the case, for instance, in the session Robot symbiosis cafe, where several examples of using robots to assist people with disabilities were given. But beyond highlighting the potential for good, the debate also raised significant concerns, including the need to deal with the hype surrounding the use of robots in society and the risk of new forms of divides emerging because developing countries might not have the resources and know-how to develop robotics. One solution for making robots more affordable is to foster agile, innovative enterprises to streamline the process of robot design and production, ultimately lowering costs and reducing development time.

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Diplo/GIP at IGF2023

Follow our just-in-time reporting!

Unable to attend all the sessions you’re interested in? DiploAI and the team of experts have you covered with just-in-time reporting from IGF2023. Read summaries of the sessions and the main arguments raised during discussions, available only a few hours after the sessions conclude. View knowledge graphs as visual mapping of debates. Bookmark our dedicated IGF2023 page on the Digital Watch observatory, or download the app to read the reports.

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We’re also present at the IGF2023 Village! 

If you’re attending IGF2023 in Kyoto in person, come visit us at booth 56! If you’re joining the meeting online, we have a virtual booth you can swing by!

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Diplo’s director Jovan Kurbalija with Indonesia’s delegation at Diplo/GIP booth at the IGF | Credit: SasaVK

Don’t miss our sessions today! 

We supported the IGF Secretariat in organising a session on unlocking the IGF’s knowledge, where Jovan Kurbalija and Sorina Teleanu will discuss the power of epistemic communities, organising data, and harnessing AI insights for our digital future. When and where? Tuesday, 10 October, at 12:30 – 13:15 local time (03:30 – 04:15 UTC), in Room K.

Pavlina Ittelson will moderate an open forum on ways to enhance in-depth long-term participation and efficient cooperation of CSOs in multilateral- and multistakeholder- internet governance fora. When and where? Tuesday, 10 October, at 14:45 – 16:15 local time (05:45 – 07:15 UTC), in Room K.