United Nations Human Rights Council

Acronym: UNHRC

Address: Palais Wilson 52, rue des Pâquis, CH-1201 Geneva, Switzerland

Website: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/Pages/HRCIndex.aspx

Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations

The Human Rights Council is a United Nations intergovernmental body whose mandate is to strengthen the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe, and to make recommendations on cases of human rights violations. The Council is made up of 47 member states, as elected by the UN General Assembly.

The Council works closely with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), headed by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, who is the principal human rights official of the United Nation.

Freedom of expression and privacy in the online space are two of the issues covered by the Council in its activities. These have been discussed at UNHRC sessions, and covered in resolutions adopted by the Council, as well as in reports elaborated by the special rapporteurs appointed by the Council. The Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression has issued reports on issues such as: the use of encryption and anonymity to exercise the rights to freedom of opinion and expression in the digital age; states’ surveillance of communications on the exercise of the human rights to privacy and to freedom of opinion and expression; the right to freedom of opinion and expression exercised through the Internet; etc. The Special Rapporteur on the righ to privacy has within its mandate the responsibility to make recommendations for the promotion and protection of the right to privacy, including in connection with challenges arising from new technologies.

International Telecommunication Union

Acronym: ITU

Address: Pl. des Nations 1211, 1202 Genève, Switzerland

Website: https://itu.int

Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is a UN specialised agency for information and communication technologies (ICTs) with a membership of 193 member states and over 900 companies, universities, and international and regional organisations. In general terms, the ITU focuses on three main areas of activity: Radiocommunications (harmonisation of the global radio-frequency spectrum and satellite orbits) through the ITU Radiocommunication Sector (ITU-R); standardisation (development of international technical standards for the interconnection and interoperability of networks, devices, and services) through the ITU Telecommunication Standardization Sector (ITU-T); and development (working on, among a range of policy areas, improving secure access to ICTs in underserved communities worldwide) through the ITU Telecommunication Development Sector (ITU-D). The General Secretariat manages the intersectoral co-ordination functions, strategic planning, and corporate functions, as well as the administrative and financial aspects of the ITU’s activities. The ITU is also the organiser of the ITU Telecom events, leading tech events convening governments, major corporates, and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to debate and share knowledge on key issues of the digital age, showcase innovation in exhibitions, and network and reward progress through an awards programme.

The ITU co-ordinates and organises the annual World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Forum (www.wsis.org.forum) that serves as a platform for stakeholders to co-ordinate, partner, and share the implementation of the WSIS Action Lines for achieving the sustainable development goals (SDGs).

Digital Activities

Some of the ITU’s key areas of action include: radiocommunication services (such as satellite services, fixed, mobile, and broadcasting services), developing telecommunications networks (including next generation networks and future networks), and ensuring access to bridge the digital divide and addressing challenges in ICT accessibility. The ITU’s work supports: emerging technologies in fields such as 5G, artificial intelligence (AI), and the Internet of Things (IoT); access and digital inclusion; the accessibility of ICTs to persons with disabilities; digital health; ICTs and climate change; cybersecurity, gender equality; and child online protection, among others. These and many more ICT topics are covered both within the framework of radiocommunication, standardisation, and development work, through various projects, initiatives, and studies carried out by the organisation.

Digital policy issues

Telecommunications infrastructure 

Information and communication infrastructure development is one of the ITU’s priority areas. The organisation seeks to assist member states in the implementation and development of broadband networks, wired and wireless technologies, international mobile telecommunications (IMT), satellite communications,  the IoT, and smart grids, including next generation networks, as well as in the provision of telecommunication networks in rural areas.

Through the IITU-R, the ITU is involved in the global management of the radio frequency spectrum and satellite orbits, used for telecommunications services, in line with the Radio Regulations. The ITU’s International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs) have as an overall aim the facilitation of global interconnection and interoperability of telecommunication facilities.

The international standards developed by the ITU-T enable the interconnection and interoperability of ICT networks, devices, and services worldwide.

The ITU-D establishes an enabling environment and provides evidence-based policy-making through ICT indicators, and implements a host of telecommunications/ICT projects.

In the immediate aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ITU-D launched the Global Network Resiliency Platform (REG4COVID) to address the strain experienced by telecommunication networks, which are vital to the health and safety of people. The platform ​pools experiences and innovative policy and regulatory measures.​

The impact statement for the Telecommunications Development Bureau’s (BDT) thematic priority on ’Network and Digital Infrastructure’ is: ‘Reliable Connectivity to Everyone’.

ITU-D Study Group 1 also focuses on various aspects related to telecommunication infrastructure, in particular: Question 1/1 on ‘Strategies and policies for the deployment of broadband in developing countries’; Question 2/1 on ‘Strategies, policies, regulations, and methods of migration and adoption of digital broadcasting and implementation of new services’; Question 4/1 on ‘Economic policies and methods of determining the costs of services related to national telecommunication/ICT networks’;  Question 5/1 on ‘Telecommunications/ICTs for rural and remote areas’; and Question 6/1 on ‘Consumer information, protection and rights: Laws, regulation, economic bases, consumer networks’.

5G

The ITU plays a key role in managing the radio spectrum and developing international standards for 5G networks, devices, and services, within the framework of the so-called IMT-2020 activities. The ITU-R study groups together with the mobile broadband industry and a wide range of stakeholders are finalising the development of 5G standards. The Detailed specifications of the radio interfaces of IMT-2020 are expected to be completed by 2020.

The activities in the field include the organisation of intergovernmental and multistakeholder dialogues, and the development and implementation of standards and regulations to ensure that 5G networks are secure, interoperable, and that they operate without interference.

The upcoming Sixth World Telecommunication/Information and Communication Technology Policy Forum (WTPF-21) will discuss how new and emerging digital technologies and trends are enablers of the global transition to the digital economy. 5G is one of the themes for consideration.

The ITU-R is co-ordinating international standardisation and identification of spectrum for 5G mobile development.

The ITU-T is playing a similar convening role for the technologies and architectures of non-radio elements of 5G systems. For example, ITU standards address 5G transport, with Passive Optical Network (PON), Carrier Ethernet, and Optical Transport Network (OTN), among the technologies standardised by ITU-T expected to support 5G systems. ITU standards for 5G networking address topics including network virtualisation, network orchestration and management, and fixed-mobile convergence. ITU standards also address machine learning for 5G and future networks, the environmental requirements of 5G, security and trust in 5G, and the assessment of 5G quality of service (QoS) and quality of experience (QoE).

Satellite

The ITU-R manages the detailed co-ordination and recording procedures for space systems and earth stations. Its main role is to process and publish data and to carry out the examination of frequency assignment notices submitted by administrations for inclusion in the formal co-ordination procedures or recording in the Master International Frequency Register.

The ITU-R also develops and manages space-related assignment or allotment plans and provides mechanisms for the development of new satellite services by locating suitable orbital slots.

Currently, the rapid pace of satellite innovation is driving an increase in the deployment of non-geostationary satellite systems (NGSO). With the availability of launch vehicles capable of supporting multiple satellite launches, mega-constellations consisting of hundreds to thousands of spacecraft are becoming a popular solution for global telecommunications.

To this end, during the last World Radiocommunication Conference in 2019 (WRC-19), the ITU established regulatory procedures for the deployment of NGSOs, including mega-constellations in low Earth orbit.

Regarding climate change, satellite data is today an indispensable input for weather prediction models and forecast systems used to produce safety warnings and other information in support of public and private decision-making.

The ITU develops international standards contributing to the environmental sustainability of the ICT sector, as well as other industry sectors applying ICTs as enabling technologies to increase efficiency and innovate their service offerings. The latest ITU standards in this domain address sustainable power feeding solutions for IMT-2020/5G networks, energy-efficient data centres capitalising on big data and AI, and smart energy management for telecom base stations.

Emergency Telecommunications

Emergency telecommunications is an integral part of the ITU’s mandate. In order to mitigate the impact of disasters, timely dissemination of authoritative information before, during, and after disasters is critical.

Emergency telecommunications play a critical role in disaster risk reduction and management. ICTs are essential for monitoring the underlying hazards and for delivering vital information to all stakeholders, including those most vulnerable, as well as in the immediate aftermath of disasters for ensuring timely flow of vital information that is needed to co-ordinate response efforts and save lives.

The ITU supports its member states in the four phases of disaster management:

1.  Design and implementation of national emergency telecommunications plans (NETPs), which include national policies and procedures as well as governance to support and enable the continued use of reliable and resilient ICT networks, services, and platforms for disaster management and risk reduction.

2. Development of tabletop simulation exercises to help build capacity at a national level to improve the speed, quality, and effectiveness of emergency preparedness and response, allowing stakeholders to test and refine emergency telecommunication plans, policies and procedures, and to verify whether ICT networks, redundant telecommunications capacities, personnel, as well as other telecommunication systems are in place and ready to be used for disaster response.

3. Design and implementation of multi-hazard early warning systems (MHEWS), including the common alerting protocol (CAP), which monitor the underlying hazards and exchange emergency alerts and public warnings over all kinds of ICT networks, allowing a consistent warning message to be disseminated simultaneously over many different warning systems, providing communities at risk with crucial information to take urgent actions to save their lives and livelihoods.

4. Development of guidelines and other reports on the use of ICTs for disaster management to help countries be better prepared for disaster response at a time when the frequency, intensity, and human and economic impact of disasters is on the rise worldwide.

The ITU’s activities in the field of radiocommunications make an invaluable contribution to disaster management. They facilitate the prediction, detection, and alerting through the co-ordinated and effective use of the radio-frequency spectrum and the establishment of radio standards and guidelines concerning the usage of radiocommunication systems in disaster mitigation and relief operations.

ITU standards offer common formats for the exchange of all-hazard information over public networks. They ensure that networks prioritise emergency communications. And they have a long history of protecting ICT infrastructure from lightning and other environmental factors. In response to the increasing severity of extreme weather events, recent years have seen ITU standardisation experts turning their attention to ‘disaster relief, network resilience and recovery’. This work goes well beyond traditional protections against environmental factors, focusing technical mechanisms to prepare for disasters and respond effectively when disaster strikes.

ITU standards now offer guidance on network architectures able to contend with sudden losses of substantial volumes of network resources. They describe the network functionality required to make optimal use of the network resources still operational after a disaster. They offer techniques for the rapid repair of damaged ICT infrastructure, such as means to connect the surviving fibres of severed fibre-optic cables. And they provide for ‘movable and deployable ICT resource units’ – emergency containers, vehicles, or hand-held kits housing network resources and a power source – to provide temporary replacements for destroyed ICT infrastructure.

The ITU is also supporting an ambitious project to equip submarine communications cables with climate and hazard-monitoring sensors to create a global real-time ocean observation network. This network would be capable of providing earthquake and tsunami warnings, as well as data on ocean climate change and circulation. This project to equip cable repeaters with climate and hazard-monitoring sensors – creating ‘Science Monitoring And Reliable Telecommunications (SMART) cables’ – is led by the ITU/WMO/UNESCO-IOC Joint Task Force on SMART Cable Systems, a multidisciplinary body established in 2012.

In the ITU-D, a lot of effort is directed at mainstreaming disaster management in telecommunications/information and communication technology projects and activities as part of disaster preparedness. This includes infrastructure development, and the establishment of enabling policy, legal, and regulatory frameworks. The ITU also deploys temporary telecommunications/ICT solutions to assist countries affected by disasters. After providing assistance for disaster relief and response, ITU undertakes assessment missions to affected countries aimed at determining the magnitude of damages to the network through the use of geographical information systems. On the basis of its findings, the ITU and the host country embark on the resuscitation of the infrastructure while ensuring that disaster resilient features are integrated to reduce network vulnerability in the event of disasters striking in the future.

Work includes:

The ITU is also part of the Emergency Telecommunications Cluster (ETC), a global network of organisations that work together to provide shared communications services in humanitarian emergencies.

Artificial intelligence 

The ITU works on the development and use of AI to ensure a sustainable future for everyone. To that end, it convenes intergovernmental and multistakeholder dialogues, develops international standards and frameworks, and helps in capacity building for the use of AI.

AI and machine learning are gaining a larger share of the ITU standardisation work programme in fields such as network orchestration and management, multimedia coding, service quality assessment, operational aspects of service provision and telecom management, cable networks, digital health, environmental efficiency, and autonomous driving.

The ITU organises the annual AI for Good Global Summit, which aims to connect innovators in the field of AI with public and private sector decision-makers to develop AI solutions that could help in achieving the SDGs.

The ITU has launched a global AI repository to identify AI related projects, research initiatives, think-tanks, and organisations that can accelerate progress towards achieving the SDGs.

Open ITU platforms advancing various aspects of AI and machine learning include:

The ITU, through its Development Sector, also holds an annual meeting for all telecommunication regulators on the occasion of the Global Symposium for Regulators (GSR), which discusses and establishes a regulatory framework for all technologies including AI, and addresses this issue at its two Study Groups. Several areas under ITU-D Study Groups 1 and 2 explore applications of AI in various domains to support sustainable development.

Critical internet resources 

Over the years, the ITU has adopted several resolutions that deal with Internet technical resources, such as: Internet Protocol-based networks (Resolution 101 (Rev. Dubai, 2018)), IPv4 to IPv6 transition (Resolution 180 (Rev. Dubai, 2018)), and internationalised domain names (Resolution 133 (Rev. Dubai, 2018)). The ITU has also adopted a resolution on its role in regard to international public policy issues pertaining to the Internet and the management of Internet resources, including domain names and addresses (Resolution 102 (Rev. Dubai, 2018)). In addition, the ITU Council has set up a Working Group on International Internet-related Public Policy Issues, tasked with identifying, studying, and developing matters related to international Internet-related public policy issues. This Working Group also holds regular online open public consultations on specific topics to give all stakeholders from all nations an opportunity to express their views with regard to the topic(s) under discussion.

The ITU is also the facilitator of WSIS Action Line С2 – Information and communication infrastructure.

Digital standards 

International standards provide the technical foundations of the global ICT ecosystem.

Presently, 95% of international traffic runs over optical infrastructure built in conformance with ITU standards. Video now accounts for over 80% of all Internet traffic; this traffic relies on the ITU’s Primetime Emmy winning video-compression standards.

ICTs are enabling innovation in every industry and public-sector body. The digital transformation underway across our economies receives key support from ITU standards for smart cities, energy, transport, healthcare, financial services, agriculture, and AI and machine learning.

ICT networks, devices, and services interconnect and interoperate thanks to the efforts of thousands of experts who come together on the neutral ITU platform to develop international standards known as ITU-T Recommendations.

Standards create efficiencies enjoyed by all market players, efficiencies, and economies of scale that ultimately result in lower costs to producers and lower prices to consumers. Companies developing standards-based products and services gain access to global markets. And by supporting backward compatibility, ITU standards enable next-generation technologies to interwork with previous technology generations; this protects past investments while creating the confidence to continue investing in our digital future.

The ITU standardisation process is contribution-led and consensus-based: Standardisation work is driven by contributions from ITU members and consequent decisions are made by consensus. The ITU standardisation process aims to ensure that all voices are heard and that resulting standards have the consensus-derived support of the diverse and globally representative ITU membership.

ITU members develop standards year-round in ITU-T Study Groups. Over 4000 ITU-T Recommendations are currently in force, and over 300 new or revised ITU-T Recommendations are approved each year.

For more information on the responsibilities of ITU study groups, covering the ITU-T study groups as well as those of ITU’s radiocommunication and development sectors (ITU-R and ITU-D), see the ITU backgrounder on study groups.

The ITU World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly (WTSA) is the governing body of ITU’s standardisation arm (ITU-T). It is held every four years to review the overall direction and structure of the ITU-T. This conference also approves the mandates of the ITU-T Study Groups (WTSA Resolution 2) and appoints the leadership teams of these groups.

Internet of things 

The ITU develops international standards supporting the co-ordinated development and application of IoT technologies, including standards leveraging IoT technologies to address urban-development challenges.

The ITU also facilitates international discussions on the public policy dimensions of smart cities, principally within the United for Smart Sustainable Cities Initiative, an initiative supported by 17 UN bodies with the aim of achieving SDG 11 (sustainable cities and communities).

ITU standards have provided a basis for the development of ‘Key Performance Indicators for Smart Sustainable Cities’. More than 100 cities worldwide have adopted the indicators as part of a collaboration driven by the ITU within the framework of the U4SSC initiative.

U4SSC prizes learning from experience and sharing lessons learnt. The new U4SSC implementation programme supports the new partnerships driving smart city projects. As the implementation arm of U4SSC, the programme aims to enact the lessons learned in U4SSC’s work.

The range of application of the IoT is very broad – extending from smart clothing to smart cities and global monitoring systems. To meet these varied requirements, a variety of technologies, both wired and wireless, are required to provide access to the network.

Alongside ITU-T studies on the IoT and smart cities, the ITU-R conducts studies on the technical and operational aspects of radiocommunication networks and systems for the IoT. The spectrum requirements and standards for IoT wireless access technologies are being addressed in the ITU-R, as follows:

  • harmonisation of frequency ranges, technical and operating parameters
  • used for the operation of short-range devices
  • standards for wide area sensor and actuator network systems
  • spectrum to support the implementation of narrowband and broadband machine-type communication infrastructures
  • support for massive machine-type communications within the framework of the standards and spectrum for IMT-Advanced (4G) and IMT-2020 (5G)
  • use of fixed-satellite and mobile-satellite communications for the IoT

ITU-D Study Group 2 Question 1/2 (‘Creating smart cities and society: Employing information and communication technologies for sustainable social and economic development’) includes case studies on the application of the IoT, and identifying the trends and best practices implemented by member states as well as the challenges faced, in order to support sustainable development and foster smart societies in developing countries.

Blockchain 

New ITU standards for blockchain and distributed ledger technology (DLT) address the requirements of blockchain in next-generation network evolution and the security requirements of blockchain, both in terms of blockchain’s security capabilities and security threats to blockchain.

The ITU reports provide potential blockchain adopters with a clear view of the technology and how it could best be applied. Developed by the ITU Focus Group on Application of Distributed Ledger Technolog

World Trade Organization

Acronym: WTO

Address: Rue de Lausanne 154, 1202 Genève, Switzerland

Website: https://wto.org

Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations

The World Trade Organization (WTO) is an intergovernmental organisation that deals with the rules of trade among its members. Its main functions include: administering WTO trade agreements; providing a forum for trade negotiations; settling trade disputes; monitoring national trade policies; providing technical assistance and training for developing countries; and ensuring co-operation with other international organisations.

WTO Members have negotiated and agreed upon rules regulating international trade, fostering transparency and predictability in the international trading system. The main agreements are the Marrakesh Agreement Establishing the WTO, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT); the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS); and the Agreement on Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Agreement).

Digital Activities

Several Internet governance and digital trade policy related issues are discussed in the WTO. These include e-commerce, intellectual property (IP), and market access for information and communication technology (ICT) ICT products and services. E-commerce discussions are ongoing under the Work Programme on Electronic Commerce and among a group of members currently negotiating e-commerce rules under the Joint Statement on E-commerce. Discussions focus on several digital issues, including: data flows and data localisation; access to source code; cybersecurity; privacy; consumer protection; and customs duties on electronic transmissions.

As part of its outreach activities, the WTO organises an annual Public Forum, which brings together governments, non-governmental organisations, academics, businesses, and other stakeholders, for discussions on a broad range of issues, including many relating to the digital economy.

Digital policy issues

E-commerce and trade 

The WTO agreements cover a broad spectrum of trade topics, including some related to e-commerce, which has been on the WTO’s agenda since 1998 when the ministers adopted the Declaration on Global Electronic Commerce. The Declaration instructed the General Council to establish a Work Programme on electronic commerce. In that Declaration, members also agreed to continue the practice of not imposing customs duties on electronic transmissions (the ’moratorium’). The Work Programme provides a broad definition of e-commerce and instructs four WTO bodies to explore the relationship between WTO Agreements and e-commerce. The Work Programme and the moratorium have been periodically reviewed and renewed. In December 2019, the General Council agreed to reinvigorate the Work Programme and continue the moratorium until the Twelfth Ministerial Conference. In addition, members agreed to have structured discussions on all trade-related topics of interest brought forward by members, including on the scope, definition, and impact of the moratorium.

At the Eleventh Ministerial Conference in 2017, a group of members issued a Joint Statement on Electronic Commerce (JSI) to explore work towards future WTO negotiations on trade-related aspects of e-commerce. Following the exploratory work, in January 2019, 76 Members confirmed their ’intention to commence WTO negotiations on trade-related aspects of electronic commerce’ and to ’achieve a high standard outcome that builds on existing WTO agreements and frameworks with the participation of as many WTO Members as possible.’ Negotiations are continuing among 85 Members and are structured under 6 broad themes, namely: enabling digital trade/e-commerce; openness and digital trade/e-commerce; trust and digital trade/e-commerce; cross-cutting issues; telecommunications; and market access. Specific issues under discussion include provisions related to customs duties, paperless trading. cross-border transfers of information, spam, cybersecurity, electronic authentication and electronic signatures, location of computing facilities, consumer protection, protection of personal information, and market access.

Taxation 

WTO members agreed to a temporary moratorium on the imposition of customs duties on electronic transmissions at the Second WTO Ministerial Conference in the 1998  Geneva Ministerial Declaration. The moratorium has been extended periodically, including most recently in December 2019. While some WTO members argue that the moratorium should be made permanent, others have noted the need to clarify its scope and for further analysis of its impact; for example on development and customs revenues, especially given concerns that more types of physical goods could be digitised or transmitted digitally in the future. Other members have supported a more holistic approach to the moratorium, beyond the revenue implications.

Access 

Information Technology Agreement (ITA-I and ITA-II)

The ITA-I was concluded by 29 participants in 1996. Through this agreement, participating WTO members eliminated tariffs on several ICT products – including computers and mobile telephones – with the aim to intensify global competition among certain ICT goods allowing for greater access to the Internet and growth of the digital economy, including for least-developed countries. Currently, 82 WTO members are participants in ITA-I, accounting for approximately 97% of world trade in ITA-I products. At the Tenth WTO Ministerial Conference in Nairobi in 2015, over 50 WTO members concluded ITA-II, an agreement expanding the coverage of ITA-I by 201 tariff lines. ICT products such as optical lenses and GPS navigation equipment were added. The rationale of this product expansion was to keep the benefits of tariff elimination in touch with innovation. At present, the ITA-II consists of 55 WTO members, representing approximately 90% of world trade in ITA-II products. The ITA is being discussed in the JSI under the market access focus group.

Telecommunications infrastructure 

In 1997, WTO members successfully concluded negotiations on market access for basic telecommunications services through the GATS Annex on Telecommunications, which contains provisions to guarantee service suppliers access to and use of basic telecommunications needed to supply their services. Through a reference paper on regulatory principles, members also agreed to safeguard against anticompetitive practices by dominant suppliers of basic telecommunications. Since 1997, an increasing number of WTO members have undertaken commitments on telecommunications. Under the JSI negotiations, participants are discussing a proposal focused on telecommunications services, aiming to update provisions of the reference paper.

Digital standards 

International standards are important to the global digital economy as they can enable interconnectivity and interoperability for telecommunications and Internet infrastructures. The WTO Technical Barriers to Trade Agreement (TBT Agreement) aims to ensure that technical regulations, standards, and conformity assessment procedures affecting trade in goods (including telecommunications products) are non-discriminatory and do not create unnecessary obstacles to trade. The TBT Agreement strongly encourages that such regulatory measures be based on relevant international standards.

The TBT Committee serves as a forum where governments discuss and address concerns with specific regulations, including those affecting digital trade. Examples of relevant TBT measures notified to or discussed at the TBT Committee include: (i) measures addressing the Internet of Things (IoT) and related devices in terms of their safety, interoperability, national security/cybersecurity, performance, and quality; (ii) measures regulating 5G cellular network technology for reasons related to, among others, national security and interoperability; (iii) measures regulating 3D printing (additive manufacturing) devices; (iv) measures regulating drones (small unmanned aircraft systems) due to risks for humans/consumers, interoperability problems, and national security risks; and (v) measures dealing with autonomous vehicles, mostly concerned with their safety and performance.

Data governance 

The growth of the global digital economy is fuelled by data. Discussions on how provisions of WTO agreements apply to data flows are ongoing among WTO members. In this context, the GATS is particularly relevant, as it could apply to services such as: (i) data transmission and data processing by any form of technology (e.g. mobile or cloud technologies); (ii) new ICT business models such as infrastructure as a service (IaaS); (iii) online distribution services e.g. (e-commerce market platforms); and (iv) financial services such as mobile payments. The extent to which members can impose restrictions on data or information flows is determined by their GATS schedules of commitments. Under the JSI, proposals on cross-border data flows have been submitted and are being discussed. These proposals envision a general rule establishing free flow of data for the purpose of commercial activities. Proposed exceptions to this general rule are, for the most part, similar to the existing GATS General Exceptions and relate to, for example, protection of personal data, protection of legitimate public policy objectives, national security interests, and exclusion of governmental data. Issues related to data flows have also been raised by members in other contexts at the WTO, especially when national measures adopted for cybersecurity have been considered as trade barriers.

Intellectual property rights 

The TRIPS Agreement is a key international instrument for the protection of IP and is of relevance to e-commerce. The technologies that underpin the Internet and enable digital commerce such as software, routers, networks, switches, and user interfaces are protected by IP. In addition, e-commerce transactions can involve digital products with IP-protected content, such as e-books, software, or blueprints for 3D -printing. As IP licences often regulate the usage rights for such intangible digital products, the TRIPS Agreement and the international IP Conventions provide much of the legal infrastructure for digital trade.

IP-related issues are also being discussed in the JSI. Submitted proposals include text on limiting requests to the access or transfer of source code. The source code or the data analysis used in the operation of programmes or services is often legally protected by IP law through copyright, patent, or trade secret provisions. The main goal of the JSI proposals on access to source code is to prevent members from requiring access or transfer of the source code owned by a national of another member. Some exceptions to this general prohibition have also been proposed. For example, for software that is used for critical infrastructures and public procurement transactions.

Arbitration 
One of the core activities of the WTO is to provide a dispute settlement mechanism through which WTO members can enforce their rights under the WTO agreements. A trade dispute arises when a member considers that another member is violating a legal provision or commitment made under any of the WTO agreements. Disputes under this mechanism have involved Internet-related issues, telecommunications services, electronic payment services, IP rights, ICT products, and online gambling. The US – Gambling case concerning the cross-border supply of online gambling and betting services is particularly relevant to e-commerce.
Cybersecurity 

Cybersecurity issues have been addressed in several WTO bodies. For example, the TBT Committee has discussed national cybersecurity regulations applicable to ICT products and their potential impact on trade. In the TBT Committee, to date, WTO members have raised over 15 specific trade concerns related to cybersecurity regulations. Some of the specific issues discussed include how cybersecurity regulations discriminating against foreign companies and technologies can have a negative impact on international trade in ICT products. Proposals on cybersecurity have also been tabled in the JSI on e-commerce. Discussions have focused on strengthening national capacities for incident response and collaboration mechanisms; encouraging co-operation; and sharing of information and best practices on addressing incidents. Cybersecurity has also been discussed in the context of cross-border data flows and electronic authentication.

World Health Organization

Acronym: WHO

Address: Avenue Appia 20, 1211 Geneva, Switzerland

Website: https://who.int

Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations

The World Health Organization (WHO) is a specialised agency of the UN whose role is to direct and co-ordinate international health within the UN system.

As a member state organisation, its main areas of work include health systems, the promotion of health, non-communicable diseases, communicable diseases, corporate services, preparedness, and surveillance and response.

The WHO assists countries in co-ordinating multi-sectoral efforts by governments and partners (including bi- and multilateral meetings, funds and foundations, civil society organisations, and the private sector) to attain their health objectives and support their national health policies and strategies.

Digital Activities

The WHO has strengthened its approach to data by ensuring this strategic asset has a dedicated division: the Division of Data, Analytics and Delivery for Impact. This has helped strengthen data governance by promoting sound data principles and accountability mechanisms, as well as ensuring that the necessary policies and tools are in place that can be used by all three levels of the organisation and can be adopted by member states. Digital health and innovation are high on the WHO’s agenda; it is recognised for its role in strengthening health systems through the application of digital health technologies for consumers/people and healthcare providers as part of achieving its vision of health for all.

The WHO also established the new Department of Digital Health and Innovation in 2019 within its Science Division. Particular attention is paid to: Promoting global collaboration and advancing the transfer of knowledge on digital health; advancing the implementation of national digital health strategies; strengthening the governance for digital health at the global, regional, and national levels; and advocating for people-centered health systems that are enabled by digital health.  These strategic objectives have been developed in consultation with member states throughout 2019 and 2020, and will be submitted for adoption to the upcoming 2021 World Health Assembly.

The Division of Data Analytics and Delivery for Impact and the Department of Digital Health and Innovation work closely together to strengthen links between data and digital issues, as well as data governance efforts. Digital health technologies, standards, and protocols enable health systems to integrate the exchange of health data within the health system. Coupled with data governance, ethics, and public health data standards, digital health and innovation enable the generation of new evidence and knowledge through research and innovation and inform health policy through public health analysis.

More recently, the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the WHO’s digital response, collaboration, and innovation in emergencies. Some examples include: Collaborating to use artificial intelligence (AI) and data science in analysing and delivering information in response to the COVID-19 ‘infodemic’ (i.e. overflow of information, including misinformation, in an acute health event which prevents people from accessing reliable information about how to protect themselves);  promoting cybersecurity in the health system, including hospitals and health facilities; learning from using AI, data science, digital health, and innovation in social science research, disease modelling, and simulations, as well as supporting the epidemiological response to the pandemic; and producing vaccines and preparing for the equitable allocation and distribution of vaccines.

The WHO is a leader among Geneva-based international organisations in the use of social media, through its awareness-raising  for health-related issues. The WHO was awarded first prize at the Geneva Engage Awards in 2016, and second prize in 2017.

The WHO/International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Focus Group on artificial intelligence for health (FG-AI4H) works to establish a standardised assessment framework for the evaluation of AI-based methods for health, diagnosis, triage, or treatment decisions. https://www.itu.int/en/ITU-T/focusgroups/ai4h/

Be He@lthy, Be Mobile: Accessing the right information, when one needs it, is at the heart of this WHO-ITU initiative. In support of national governments, Be He@lthy, Be Mobile is helping millions of people quit tobacco, control diabetes and cervical cancer, help people at risk of asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and care for older persons.

Digital policy issues

Data and artificial intelligence 

The response to COVID-19 reinforced the centrality of data and AI for the health sector and the WHO’s activities. Data and AI policies are covered by the following instruments.

Digital Standards: Integration of health information exchange (HIE) 

The WHO collaborates with health information exchange standardisation bodies and organisations, such as HIE and HL7 (Health Level 7), to promote sustainable investment into interoperable digital health technologies and systems. Digital health technologies, standards, and protocols enable health systems to integrate the exchange of health data within the health system. Coupled with data governance, ethics, and public health data standards, digital health and innovation enable the generation of new evidence and knowledge through research and innovation, and inform health policy through public health analysis.

Digital Accelerator Kits and computable guidelines: Ensure countries can effectively benefit from investments in digital systems, ‘digital accelerator kits’ are designed to ensure the WHO’s evidence-based guideline content is accurately reflected in the systems countries are adopting. Digital Accelerator Kits distill WHO guidelines and operational resources into a standardised format that can be more easily incorporated into digital tracking and decision support systems. This in turn enables standardised health information exchange within the health system.

WHO Guideline: recommendations on digital interventions for health system strengthening: Recommendations based on a critical evaluation of the evidence on emerging digital health interventions that are contributing to health system improvements, based on an assessment of the benefits, harms, acceptability, feasibility, resource use, and equity considerations.

Classification of digital health interventions v1.0 – A shared language to describe the uses of digital technology for health: The classification of digital health interventions categorises the different ways in which digital and mobile technologies are being used to support health system needs. A shared and standardised vocabulary was recognised as necessary to identify gaps and duplication, evaluate effectiveness, and facilitate alignment across different digital health implementations

Electromagnetic field and health protection 

As the digital reality moves from ‘cable’ to wireless traffic (wi-fi and mobile), a growing number of concerns are emerging on the impact of electromagnetic fields on human health. This technology has become part of the wider public debate and has given rise to conspiracy theories such as those that claim 5G spreads COVID-19. These concerns increase the importance of the WHO’s research and policy-making within a broader evidence-based discussion on the impact of wi-fi and mobile devices on health.

Model legislation for electromagnetic field protection (2006)

Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ (IEEE) Standard for Safety Levels with Respect to Human Exposure to Radio Frequency Electromagnetic Fields, 3 kHz to 300 GHz

Online gaming 

Since 2018, gaming disorder has been included in the WHO’s International Classification of Diseases (ICD). While the negative impacts of online gaming on health are being increasingly addressed by national health policies, it has been recognised by some authorities, such as the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), that some game-based devices could have a therapeutic effect. Given the fast growth of online gaming and its benefits and disadvantages, the implications on health are expected to become more relevant.

International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) (2018)

Domain names: The .health top-level domain name 

Health-related generic top-level domain (gTLD) names, in all languages, including ‘.health’, ‘.doctor’, and ‘.surgery’, should be operated in a way that protects public health and includes the prevention of further development of illicit markets of medicines, medical devices, and unauthorised health products and services.

Resolution WHA66.24: eHealth standardization and interoperability (2013)

Net neutrality 

The issue of net neutrality (the equal treatment of Internet traffic) could affect bandwidth and the stability of digital connections, especially for high-risk activities such as online surgical interventions. Thus, health organisations may be granted exceptional provisions, as the EU has already done, where health and specialised services enjoy exceptions regarding the principle of net neutrality.

Resolution WHA66.24: eHealth standardization and interoperability (2013)

Access 

The WHO uses digital technology intensively in its development of activities, ranging from building public health infrastructure in developing countries and immunisation to dealing with disease outbreaks. The organisation also integrates digital health interventions in its strategies for certain diseases. The WHO’s Global Observatory for e-Health[BRC2] aims to assist member states with information and guidance on practices and standards in the field of e-health. 

Cybersecurity 

The WHO has dedicated cybersecurity focal points, who are able to work with legal and licensing colleagues, that provide frameworks for the organisation to not only protect WHO data from various cyber-risks, but also provide technical advice to the WHO and members states on the secure collection, storage, and dissemination of data. Health facilities and health data have always been the target of cybercriminals; however, the COVID-19 crisis has brought into sharp focus the cybersecurity aspects of digital health.

Ransomware attacks threaten the proper functioning of hospitals and other healthcare providers. The global Wannacry ransomware attack in May 2017 was the first major attack on hospitals and disrupted a significant part of the UK’s National Health System (NHS). Ransomware attacks on hospitals and health research facilities have accelerated during the COVID-19 crisis.

Considering that data is often the main target of cyber-attacks, it should come as no surprise that most cybersecurity concerns regarding healthcare are centered around the protection of data. Encryption is thus crucial for the safety of health data: It both protects data from prying eyes and helps assuage the fears patients and consumers may have about sharing or storing sensitive information through the Internet.

Content policy: Infodemic 

An infodemic is an overflow of information, including misinformation, that prevents people from accessing reliable information; in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, it hampers the ability of people to know how to protect themselves. Our current infodemic cannot be eliminated, but it can be managed by: producing engaging reliable content and using digital, traditional media, and offline tools to disseminate it; engaging key stakeholder groups in co-operative content creation and dissemination; empowering communities to protect themselves; and promoting community and individual resilience against misinformation. Digital health technologies and data science can support these activities by: analysing the information landscape and social dynamics in digital and analog environments; to deliver messages; supporting fact-checking and countering misinformation; promoting digital health, media, and health literacy; and optimising the effectiveness of messages and their delivery through real time monitoring and evaluation (M&E), among others.

At the Munich Security Conference (15 February 2020), WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stated: ‘We’re not just fighting an epidemic; we’re fighting an infodemic.’ This translated into many WHO initiatives to counter the infodemic, such as working with the public and the scientific community to develop a framework for managing infodemics; bringing the scientific community together for the first WHO infodemiology conference; the development of a draft research agenda on managing infodemics, co-operation with UN agencies and the AI community; promoting reliable WHO information through a co-ordinated approach with Google, Facebook, Twitter, and other major tech platforms and services; and campaigns to counter misinformation.

Digital tools

  • Emergency preparedness and response: The WHO maintains a portfolio of digital tools and methods for emergency preparedness and response, for example: GoData, Epidemic Intelligence from Open Sources (EIOS), and Ethical considerations to guide the use of digital proximity tracking technologies for COVID-19 contact tracing.
  • WHO Digital and Innovation for Health online community to fight COVID-19: a platform for discussion and sharing experiences and innovative responses related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Health Equity Monitor: a platform for health inequality monitoring which includes datatabases of disaggregated data; a handbook on health inequality monitoring; step-by-step manuals for national health inequality monitoring (generally and specifically for immunisation inequality monitoring);
  • Health Assessment Toolkit: software application that facilitates the assessment of health inequalities in countries. Inequality data can be visualised through a variety of interactive graphs, maps, and tables. Results can be exported and used for priority-setting and policy-making.
  • Harmonised Health Facility Assessment (HHFA): a comprehensive, external review tool for assessing whether health facilities have the appropriate systems in place to deliver services at required standards of quality.
  • District Health Information Software & Toolkit for Analysis and Use of Routine Health Facility Data: open source, web-based health management information system (HMIS) platform. The toolkit provides  standards and guidance for the analysis of Routine Health Information Surveys (RHIS) data for individual health programmes, as well as integrated analysis for general health service management.
  • WHO Health Data Hub (under development): a single repository of health data in the WHO and establish a data governance mechanism for member states.

Resources

  • Digital Health Atlas: The Digital Health Atlas is a global registry of implemented digital health solutions. It is open and available to anyone to register and contribute information about digital implementations. The registry provides a consistent way to document digital solutions, and offers functionalities in a web platform to assist technologists, implementers, governments, and donors for inventory, planning, co-ordinating, and using digital systems for health. The Digital Health Atlas includes a special focus on listing digital technologies related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The repository of information is open to all users to register projects, download project information, and connect with digital health practitioners globally. 
  •  Civil Registration and Vital Statistics (CRVS): registering all births and deaths, issues birth and death certificates, and compiles and disseminates vital statistics, including cause of death information. It may also record marriages and divorces.
  • WHO Classifications and Terminologies: operates a ‘one-stop-shop’ for WHO classifications and terminologies and is delivering and scaling use of terminologies and classifications.

The new Survey Count Optimise Review Enable (SCORE) for Health Data Technical Package:  published during one of the most data-strained public health crisis responses ever – that of the COVID-19 pandemic, score can guide countries to take action by providing a one-stop shop for best technical practices that strengthen health information systems, using universally accepted standards and tools.

The WHO has numerous platforms, instruments and monitoring mechanisms involving data exchanges and classification among its member states.

Monitoring health inequalities

The WHO’s digital and data efforts contributing to both sustainable development goal (SDG) 3 and Universal Health Coverage focus on identifying, understanding, and tracking progress in communities left behind. Measuring inequalities is crucial to identify differences in health between different population subgroups, which provides evidence for policies, programmes, and practices that tackle health inequities. Recognising this, the WHO has developed a number of tools and resources to build capacity for health inequality monitoring at global and national levels.

 All materials are publicly available through the WHO Health Equity Monitor, the WHO’s platform for health inequality monitoring, and include:

  • A large database of disaggregated data;
  • A handbook on health inequality monitoring;
  • Step-by-step manuals for national health inequality monitoring (generally and specifically for immunisation inequality monitoring);
  • Statistical codes for calculating disaggregated data using household survey data; and
  • A software application for assessing health inequalities (HEAT and HEAT Plus).

Building on these materials, the WHO delivers regular training workshops to build capacity for health inequality monitoring in WHO member states and regions.

The Health Equity Assessment Toolkit is a software application that facilitates the assessment of health inequalities in countries. Inequality data can be visualised through a variety of interactive graphs, maps, and tables. Results can be exported and used for priority-setting and policy-making.

There are two editions of this toolkit and further references are below:

  1. HEAT, the Built-In Database Edition, which contains the Health Equity Monitor database and
  2. HEAT Plus, the Upload Database Edition, which allows users to upload and work with their own databases.

Health Equity Monitor database: http://apps.who.int/gho/data/node.main.nHE-1540?lang=en

Health inequality monitoring handbook: https://www.who.int/data/gho/health-equity/handbook

Manual for health inequality monitoring: https://www.who.int/data/gho/health-equity/manual

Manual for health inequality monitoring in immunisation: https://www.who.int/data/gho/health-equity/manual_immunization

Statistical codes: https://www.who.int/data/gho/health-equity/statistical_codes

Health Equity Assessment Toolkit: https://www.who.int/data/gho/health-equity/assessment_toolkit

Capacity building: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/16549716.2017.1419739

Global and national reports: https://www.who.int/data/gho/health-equity/publications

Harmonized Health Facility Assessment modules – digital data collection and analysis of health service quality

The Harmonised Health Facility Assessment (HHFA) modules represent a comprehensive, external review tool for assessing whether health facilities have the appropriate systems in place to deliver services at required standards of quality.

Availability and quality of health services are integral to universal health coverage (UHC) and contribute to achieving the SDGs. The HHFA modules provide an in-depth assessment of facility service availability and quality, based on global health service standards, and using standardised indicators, questionnaires, and methodologies. HHFA data contribute to health sector reviews, planning, and policy-making and enable evidence-based decision-making to support the strengthening of health service delivery in a country.

There are four HHFA modules: 1) service availability, 2) service readiness, 3) quality and safety of care, and 4) management and finance. A module is defined as a set of questions (in questionnaire format) that aim to collect information for a defined set of indicators for a specific disease, programme, or service management area.

The standardisation of indicators and data collection methods promotes the alignment of health facility survey approaches among partners and enables comparability of results over time and among geographic areas.

The modular approach enables countries to adapt the HHFA to their needs based on the selection of core and additional indicators and targeting of various health facility levels. The implementation of the HHFA requires health facility visits to collect data through a variety of methods including facility audits, record reviews, provider interviews, observation, and client interviews. The HHFA can be carried out as a census of all facilities or as a representative sample of facilities.

Data collection is conducted using hand-held devices and questionnaires configured in the Census and Survey Processing System (CSPro), a software package for entering, editing, tabulating, and disseminating data from censuses and surveys. A comprehensive digital data analysis platform is in development to enable the efficient and secure analysis of data and the calculation of indicators with automated visualisation and report-creation functions.

The HHFA modules comprise a comprehensive package of downloadable tools: reference manual, questionnaires, indicator inventory, CSPro data collection tool, data analysis platform, implementation guide, and training materials.

Civil Registration and Vital Statistics (CRVS)

Monitoring health trends often requires numerators and denominators, and where possible in real time. Key denominators include birth and death registrations, and data from censuses. This type of monitoring is increasingly using digital technologies.

Move information not people: The WHO advocates for the use of electronic devices for the notification of vital events (births and deaths). Local informants (community health workers or village chiefs) can use mobile devices (phones or tablets) to notify the health facility or civil registration office of a birth or death in the community.  However, the registration of a birth or death is more a legal act that must be done in the presence of the next of kin and/or with witnesses in some count

Geneva Internet Platform

Acronym: GIP

Address: WMO Building, 7bis, Avenue de la Paix, CH-1202 Geneva, Switzerland

Website: https://giplatform.org

Stakeholder group: NGOs and associations

The Geneva Internet Plaform (GIP) is a Swiss initiative operated by DiploFoundation that strives to engage digital actors, foster digital governance, and monitor digital policies.

It aims to provide a neutral and inclusive space for digital policy debates, strengthen the participation of small and developing countries in Geneva-based digital policy processes, support activities of Geneva-based Internet governance (IG) and ICT institutions and initiatives, facilitate research for an evidence-based, multidisciplinary digital policy, bridge various policy silos, and provide tools and methods for in situ and online engagement that could be used by other policy spaces in International Geneva and worldwide. The GIP’s activities are implemented based on three pillars: a physical platform in Geneva, an online platform and observatory, and a dialogue lab.

DiploFoundation

Address: 7bis, Avenue De La Paix, CH-1202 Geneva, Switzerland

Website: https://diplomacy.edu

Stakeholder group: Academia & think tanks

DiploFoundation is a leading global capacity development organisation in the field of Internet governance.

Diplo was established by the governments of Switzerland and Malta with the goal of providing low cost, effective courses and training programmes in contemporary diplomacy and digital affairs, in particular for developing countries. Its main thematic focuses are on Internet governance (IG), e-diplomacy, e-participation, and cybersecurity.

Diplo’s flagship publication ‘An Introduction to Internet governance’ is among the most widely used texts on IG, translated into all the UN languages and several more. Its online and in situ IG courses and training programmes have gathered more than 1500 alumni from 163 countries. Diplo also hosts the Geneva Internet Platform (GIP).

Diplo also provides customised courses and training both online and in situ.