IGF 2021: UN supports creating a better online environment

M. Kmieciński/PAP

Determining clear principles protecting human rights online, fighting disinformation and hate speech, and ensuring access to the Internet for all people by 2030 - these are the most important goals faced by the United Nations now. On Tuesday, 7 December, the UN Digital Summit - IGF 2021 officially started in Katowice, Poland.  

The opening ceremony began with a short speech given by UN Under-Secretary-General Liu Zhenmin. "Today more than ever, we recognize how the COVID-19 pandemic has changed our lives. It has affected the way we live, work, interact. It has also stressed how people who are not connected to the Internet are lagging behind these changes," said Liu Zhenmin.


According to Liu Zhenmin, IGF 2021 can help shape the world's new digital future during the pandemic crisis. "Of course, it is easier said than done, but if we act together, we can succeed," said the UN Under-Secretary-General.

Mr. Zhenmin was followed by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, who observed that the COVID-19 pandemic "highlighted the life-changing power of the Internet."  According to the Secretary-General, digital technologies have helped save lives by enabling millions of people to work, study and socialize safely online. The pandemic has also increased digital inequalities and exposed the dark side of the web, such as the instant spread of misinformation and the manipulation of people's behavior. 

 "Only together can we address these challenges. By establishing clear rules to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms, taking back control of our data, fighting disinformation and hate speech, and ensuring access to the Internet for all by 2030," noted the UN Secretary-General.

President Andrzej Duda, in turn, drew attention to the global aspect of opportunities and challenges accompanying the dynamic development of the Internet. In a video addressed to the participants of the UN Digital Summit, President Duda recapped that making the virtual world a key tool for economic development and interpersonal communication comes with an enormous responsibility of governments and international institutions for the security of its users. 

"Such a large presence of guests from around the world at the Digital Summit in Katowice is a proof that we are aware of the importance of the issues discussed here. Today we face the need to answer fundamental questions about the vision of the digital society emerging before our eyes. How to find a balance between privacy protection and online security? How to redefine many areas of our lives, for example education, which are gradually shifted online?" Andrzej Duda asked.

The President also remarked that Poland, hosting the UN Digital Summit for the first time, has been raising similar questions on the international arena for years. In this matter, Poland is an ambassador of the entire region, which, although for decades it remained on the periphery of global technological changes, today is consistently building a position of innovation leadership.

"Central Europe is the heart of the digital world. The region stretching between the Baltic Sea and the Adriatic Sea has a huge intellectual and economic potential resulting from the passion and talents of scientists and experts working here. The successes achieved by the Europeans from this part of the continent may serve as a model for the entire global community," emphasized the President. 

As Prime Minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, noted during the IGF opening ceremony, "it’s been a long time since the virtual world and the real world have begun to intertwine."

"First in literature, and today we observe the merging of these two worlds in our everyday life, matters related to the economy, social media or public administration and local government," said Mateusz Morawiecki.

According to the Prime Minister, during the COVID-19 pandemic the Internet played an important role. For example, in Poland it facilitated the implementation of e-prescription, e-referral and electronic sick leave. These solutions "saved many lives," which confirms that there are also good sides to the Internet.

Mateusz Morawiecki also noted that it is necessary to "work out global solutions in relation to the Internet" and assessed that this is "one of the biggest challenges faced by the United Nations."

"Just as it was founded after World War II to make the world a better place, to ensure peace, stability, development in the 20th century, I think that today the United Nations will also meet the challenges of the 21st century," he said.

According to the Prime Minister, one of the biggest challenges is "to develop best practices, a model and responsibilities for all countries around the world" in how we manage the Internet, which, he assessed, is "a wonderful tool that creates many new risks."

"However, I am convinced that this conference, here in Katowice, Poland, will contribute to the development of new solutions, and at the same time will contribute to the implementation of these solutions in all countries around the world” concluded the Prime Minister.

During a press conference held right after the official opening ceremony of the UN-IGF 2021 Digital Summit, Krzysztof Szubert, Plenipotentiary of the Prime Minister for the European Digital Policy, outlined the main thematic areas of over 200 panels and discussions that will take place during the event. 

"Representatives of governments of almost all countries in the world, representatives of international organizations, NGOs and universities are meeting this week in Katowice to work out concrete solutions regarding digital infrastructure and services, cyber security, legal regulations relating to the Internet and rules behind financing innovative technologies. We focus not only on the present challenges, but also on the future. That is why for the first time, on the initiative of the Polish government, the Digital Summit is accompanied by a separate event dedicated to young people" explained Krzysztof Szubert.

Liu Zhenmin, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations, also emphasized the key role of international cooperation in promoting and fostering digitization throughout the world. He reminded that when discussing digitization and digital technologies, it is worth remembering that there are still nearly 800 million people in the world without access to electricity.

"To talk about global access to the Internet, we need to make a concerted effort over the next few years to ensure that poor countries have access to basic resources enabling them development.  Half of the world's population still fails to have access to the Internet. Digitization is an important element in the larger process of global equalization of opportunities," Mr. Zhenmin explained.

The UN postulate is to eliminate the problem of digital exclusion by 2030. Janusz Cieszyński, government Plenipotentiary for Cybersecurity, acknowledged that these ambitious plans require the full commitment of all participants in the Digital Summit and the institutions they represent. 

"Now, at the official opening of the UN-IGF 2021 Digital Summit, we can say that we have been very successful. The record number of participants, both here in Katowice and connecting with us online, makes the event an international. Therefore, the solutions worked out here may really change the reality around us for the better," emphasized Janusz Cieszyński.