Digital cooperation the need of the hour; UN Internet Forum

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COVID-19 pandemic has clearly demonstrated the importance of digital technology but it has also led to exacerbated inequalities and digital divide. The UN has already warned that nearly half the people worldwide are denied opportunities to communicate, work study, shop and even participate in much of modern life. It was at this juncture that the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) met recently and endorsed the commitment to support global digital cooperation through concrete action and various projects to connect the unconnected.

In his address to the meet, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said the pandemic has “shone a spotlight on the importance of digital technologies and transformation”. He also stressed the urgent need to enhance the role of the IGF as a platform for dialogue on proposed solutions.

The year of the pandemic has brought new evidence of the benefits of connectivity. Though Internet was protecting jobs, healthcare and lives, Guterres said that it has also raised much inequality of all kinds, including the digital divide. He also pointed out that half a billion children are affected by school closures and at least 11 million girls are at high risk of never returning to school.

The UN Chief also mentioned that Internet Governance Forum gains significance when hate speech and discrimination are running riot in digital spaces. Noting that risk of a fragmented internet was greater than ever, he said the critical areas mentioned in the “Roadmap for Digital Cooperation” has set out a way forward.

About 6,000 participants from 173 countries participated in the meet. They deliberated on building a people centered Internet. The Forum also underlined the importance of global unity in achieving inclusive and meaningful access for everyone and bridging the digital divide. They also looked into online safety and security, especially in the face of growing cyber-attacks. The Internet Governance Forum for the first time also took up environmental issues as a thematic focus. The participants opined that digital technologies should be made use of to serve the planet’s wellbeing and tackle the emergencies.

The United Nations established the IGF in 2006 as a Forum for multi-stakeholder dialogue on public policy issues related to key elements of Internet governance. The Forum meets annually and discusses Internet governance issues.

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