Geneva – A hub for Internet Governance and a Digital Home for Humanity

Niniane Paeffgen • September 2020

In Geneva, internet governance traditionally enjoyed a high relevance. With issues such as an increasing digital divide, a crisis of trust, concerns regarding cyber threats and infodemics – just to name a few – there is an urgency to promote digital trust and ensure digital rights through a functioning internet governance.

Geneva is not only a historical hub for internet governance but can position itself as a major contributor to future issues, states a report published last week.

This blog article aims to highlight the key takeaways from the Report and its launch event at the Graduate Institute this week. Addressing the challenges mentioned in the report is one of the main objectives of the Swiss Digital Initiative.

Key Takeaways from the Report « Internet Governance in International Geneva »

The « Fondation pour Genève » released a report by Michael Kende on the state-of-the-art Internet Governance in Geneva and asked how the different, existing and newly-emerging organisations, initiatives and stakeholders could better cooperate to place Geneva at the forefront of internet governance.

Today, the hub is centred on three clusters of Internet governance in Geneva - Digital for Development, Digital Trust, and Digital Rights - which correspond to the three pillars of the UN. The clusters are strengthened by academic and research institutions and venues for capacity building, all in turn supported by active Swiss policy. The report recognises the many existing strengths in international Geneva with respect to Internet governance, yet, gaps and challenges are identified:

  1. Internet companies play a key role in many aspects of internet governance. They need to be part of the solution. However, only a very limited number are present in Geneva.
  2. A greater focus is needed on digital rights.
  3. Lack of permanent civil society representations focusing on internet issues.
  4. Greater cooperation with regards to Internet Governance

Geneva’s role for the future of Internet Governance

At the report’s launch event, it became clear that an even stronger focus needs to be on collaboration and a multi-stakeholder approach. That’s particularly relevant now in the case of the health sector. The Covid crisis forced UN organizations to be more interconnected. Among UN agencies and other stakeholders, the silos need to break.

In addition to technology and governance, there are very fundamental issues about values. SDI President Doris Leuthard: “The priority in Geneva was always on human rights, human values, peace, transparency, cooperation. Values which count not only in the old analogue world, but even more in the digital world. The role to serve as a international hub for Internet governance is therefore in the DNA of Geneva.”

Building on its strength and historical role in the development of the internet, Geneva has an opportunity to push for a holistic approach amongst governments to think about digital rights across sectors and organizations.

The role for the SDI

What can the Swiss Digital Initiative do to address the key challenges raised by the Report on Internet Governance?

  1. We can build bridges: Bridges between the Romandie and Swiss-German part of Switzerland, between the national and international initiatives, between countries and blocs when interests are fragmented and between the policy and corporate world.

    The founding organisation of the SDI, digitalswitzerland, already connects the different stakeholders in Switzerland, a broad network which could be of benefit to the Geneva ecosystem. Especially regarding the internet companies.

  2. We provide a neutral platform: In times of polarisation and fragmentation of the internet, SDI can provide a neutral platform for dialogue and collaboration through concrete and cross-collaborative projects.

  3. We aim to foster inclusion and a multi stakeholder dialogue: From the very beginning, SDI wanted to create a multi stakeholder-dialogue to advance responsible behavior in the digital realm and address challenges such as the lack of trust or cybersecurity. Yet, we are not fully there yet. We especially invite civil society stakeholders from Geneva to become involved in our initiative.

And lastly, multilateralism is weak. Thus, it is even more important to strengthen the already existing ecosystem, to use existing synergies and to live up to SDG 17 – strong multi stakeholder partnerships to achieve the SDGs.