Digital Peace Needs to Be a Priority for the United Nations

In recent years, nation-sponsored cyberattack targets have included governments, critical infrastructure, medical facilities, and private businesses throughout the world. Governments have struggled to reach an international “rules of the road” agreement that would clearly define parameters for nation-backed online hostilities. The last few weeks have shown that we are still far from bridging diverging perspectives and unifying around commitments to stability online.  

The fact is people around the world, irrespective if they live in the United States, India, or France, are clearly very concerned about online threats. The International Cyberawareness Report we commissioned over the summer revealed that 9 in 10 interviewees agreed that our way of life is at risk if nothing is done to address the threat of cyberwarfare. Indeed, there is widespread support for a global cyberwarfare agreement. It is time that governments stood up and listened to their citizens.  

This is why in September, we joined over 80 international leaders and organizations in signing a letter to His Excellency Volkan Bozkir, the new President of the United Nations General Assembly, urging him to make digital trust and security a priority for his presidency. Other signees included Madeleine Albright, Former United States Secretary of State, Andrus Ansip, Member of the European Parliament and former European Commissioner for Digital, the CyberPeace Institute, the EastWest Institute, the Global Cyber Alliance, and the World Wide Web Foundation, among others. 

The letter calls for a global statement on digital trust and security to be endorsed by the United Nations member states. We believe this action will send a clear signal that world leaders in government, industry, and civil society are committed to closing the trust deficit in the digital age and securing progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals. We hope our signal will be noticed.  

Please find the full letter reproduced below: 

His Excellency Volkan Bozkir, President, United Nations General Assembly 

We – the undersigned – call on the United Nations to promote and safeguard the digital technologies that now underpin society. As the world faces a historic challenge it is now more critical than ever that technology is both available to all as a matter of social and economic justice but also used in the right way and in pursuit of common good. 

The UN General Assembly—representing the collective conscience and will of the international community—has a responsibility to take the steps necessary to ensure the digital domain is universal, safe, meaningful and trustworthy so it can promote social and economic progress for all. 

As you usher in the historic 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly, we urge you to make digital trust and security a central pillar of your presidency. We commend the historic achievement of the Declaration on the Commemoration of the Seventy-Fifth Anniversary of the United Nations. For the first time, all member states committed to improve digital cooperation and ensure safe and affordable digital access for all citizens. Progress must not stop there. At a time of crisis it is essential that the world steps up efforts in this space, not least to support the development and delivery of the Sustainable Development Goals, an endeavor on which the role of digital technology is fundamental. 

We call on your leadership therefore to advance the digital agenda, and we call on all member states to reinforce and expand upon these commitments in a global statement on digital trust and security as called for by the Secretary-General in his Roadmap for Digital Cooperation. Our daily lives, economic prosperity, security, and social progress hinge on a safe and secure digital environment that is affordable, accessible, and reliable. ICTs increasingly underpin access to nearly all essential services, including food, water, energy, and healthcare, as well as critical government functions, such as issuing identification and conducting elections. This statement would send a clear signal that world leaders in government, industry, and civil society are committed to closing the trust deficit in the digital age, bridging the digital divides, promoting digital rights and equality and securing progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals. 

Prioritizing digital trust and security will provide more visibility and energy to the UN processes already underway aimed at advancing a rules-based digital order, including the Group of Governmental Experts in the Field of Information and Telecommunications and the Open-Ended Working Group. We eagerly await the results of their work and hope to support their efforts to advance global cyber norms. As those and other processes advance, we encourage leadership at the United Nations to abide by the language in the 75th anniversary declaration to “provide a platform for all stakeholders to participate in such deliberations.” 

We must learn from the lessons of history not to let one crisis breed another. Progress towards a safe, open, and secure cyberspace is needed now more than ever to meet and surmount the challenges we face. Civil society, technical communities, Think tanks, industry and eminent digital personalities have found common ground on the need for global action on digital trust and security. Surely governments can join our call, endorse a global statement, and ensure a safe and secure digital future for everybody. 

In his Roadmap for Digital Cooperation, the Secretary General makes clear that, “future generations will judge whether the present generation seized the opportunities presented by the age of digital interdependence.” The undersigned organizations stand willing to join governments and other stakeholders to advance this global imperative. Together, we can deliver a digital future that is safe, secure, and inclusive. 

For a complete list of signatories, please see the World Wide Web’s Foundation website.