World Health Organization

Acronym: WHO

Established: 1948

Address: Av. Appia 20 1211 Geneva 27, Switzerland

Website: https://www.who.int/en/

Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations

WHO is a specialized agency of the UN whose role is to direct and coordinate2 international health within the UN system. As a member state organization, its main areas of work include health systems, the promotion of health, non-communicable diseases, communicable diseases, corporate services, preparedness, and surveillance and response.

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

Data and digital activities

WHO is harnessing the power of digital technologies and health innovation to accelerate global attainment of health and well-being. It uses digital technology intensively in its development of activities, ranging from building public health infrastructure in developing countries and immunization to dealing with disease outbreaks.

WHO has strengthened its approach to data by ensuring this strategic asset has two divisions: (1) 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 organization and can be adopted by member states. Digital health and innovation are high on WHO’s agenda; it is recognized 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. (2) 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-centred health systems 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 WHO’s digital response, collaboration, and innovation in emergencies. Some examples include collaborating to use artificial intelligence (AI) and data science in analyzing 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.

Digital policy issues

WHO is a leader among Geneva-based international organizations in the use of social media, through its awareness-raising of health-related issues. It 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 (WHO/ITU FG-AI4H) works to establish a standardized assessment framework for the evaluation of AI-based methods for health, diagnosis, triage, or treatment decisions.

Digital standards

Online gaming: Since 2018, gaming disorder has been included in 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 recognized 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.

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 unauthorized 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 organizations may be granted exceptional provisions, as the EU has already done, where health and specialized services enjoy exceptions regarding the principle of net neutrality. Resolution WHA66.24: eHealth Standardization and Interoperability (2013).

WHO has dedicated cybersecurity focal points, who work with legal and licensing colleagues to provide frameworks for the organization to not only protect WHO data from various cyber-risks, but also provide technical advice to WHO and member 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 accelerated during the COVID-19 crisis.

Considering that data is often the main target of cyberattacks, it should come as no surprise that most cybersecurity concerns regarding healthcare are centred on 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.

Data governance

The 2021 Health Data Governance Summit brought together experts to review best practices in data governance, sharing, and use. The result was a call to action to tackle the legal and ethical challenges of sharing data, ensure data is shared during both emergency and non-emergency situations, and encourage data and research stewardship that promotes tangible impact. Key WHO resources include WHO’s Data Sharing Policies, the UN Joint Statement on Data Protection and Privacy in the COVID-19 Response, and GATHER (Guidelines for Accurate and Transparent Health Estimates Reporting).

WHO’s SCORE technical package (Survey, Count, Optimize, Review, and Enable) identifies data gaps and provides countries with tools to precisely address them. SCORE has been developed in partnership with the Bloomberg Data for Health Initiative. As part of SCORE, WHO completed the first ever global assessment of health information systems capacity in 133 countries, covering 87% of the world’s population.

The project Strengthening National Nutrition Information Systems1 is running in five countries in Africa and Asia – Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Laos, Uganda, and Zambia – for a period of four years (2020–2024). Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS), Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS) and national nutrition surveys are the major sources of nutrition data for many countries, but they are complex and expensive undertakings that cannot be implemented with the required frequency. It is, therefore, critical to strengthen or establish integrated nutrition information systems (NIS) of countries to enhance the availability and use of routine nutrition data to better support policy development, programme design and monitoring.

Data-driven delivery approach

A data-driven delivery approach sharpens WHO’s focus to address gaps, close inequalities, and accelerate progress towards national and regional priorities from WHO regions. The WHO Regional Office for the Americas is working to create open data platforms for evidence-based decisions and policymaking. The Core Indicators Portal provides a dataset of around 200 health indicators for 49 countries across the region from 1995 to 2021. The WHO Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean is conducting harmonized health facility assessments and tracking 75 indicators through the Regional Health Observatory (RHO). The WHO Regional Office for Africa has prioritized investments in civil registration and vital statistics (CRVS) and digital health. Its integrated African Health Observatory (iAHO) offers high-quality national and regional health data on a single platform and District Health Information Software (DHIS2) is now implemented in all but four African countries. The WHO Regional Office for South-East Asia is focused on promoting health equity through workshops that introduce member states to WHO’s Health Equity Assessment Toolkit (HEAT). High-quality data on health indicators is available on the Health Information Platform (HIP). The WHO Regional Office for Europe is prioritizing support for countries’ national health information systems (HIS) through more robust data governance frameworks. Member states also have access to the European Health Information Gateway, a one-stop shop for health information and data visualization. The WHO Regional Office for the Western Pacific has released a progress report on each member state’s journey to achieving universal health coverage (UHC). Additionally, the Western Pacific Health Data Platform provides a single destination where countries can easily monitor and compare their progress towards national and global health objectives.

Access

WHO is working with Facebook and Praekelt.Org to provide  WHO’s  COVID-19  information to the world’s most vulnerable people through Discover and Free Basics in a mobile-friendly format. Though over 85% of the world’s population lives in areas with existing cellular coverage, many people can’t afford to purchase mobile data consistently and others have not yet adopted the internet. This initiative enables underserved communities to access life-saving COVID-19 health information through participating operators in more than 55 countries.

Sustainable development

Good Health and Well-being (SDG 3): To achieve a healthier population, improvements have been made in access to clean fuels, safe water, sanitation (WASH), and tobacco control. Greater focus is being placed on leading indicators for premature mortality and morbidity, such as tobacco, air pollution, road injuries, and obesity. Due to COVID-19, 94% of countries experienced disruption to essential health services. while 92 countries experienced little change or worsening trends in financial protection– exacerbated by the continuing pandemic. Emphasis on primary health care is essential to equitable recovery.

Climate change (SDG 13): The 10 recommendations in the COP26 Special Report on Climate Change and Health propose a set of priority actions from the global health community to governments and policymakers, calling on them to act with urgency on the current climate and health crises. The 2021 Global Conference on Health & Climate Change, with a special focus on Climate Justice and the Healthy and Green Recovery from COVID-19, convened on the margins of the COP26 UN climate change conference.

The SIDS Summit for Health in 2021 brought together small island developing states (SIDS) heads of states, ministers of health, and others to discuss the urgent health challenges and needs they face. It helped amplify SIDS voices, promote collaborative action, and strengthen health and development partnerships and financing. It included steps to advance ongoing health initiatives, and to help drive results at the UN Food Systems Summit in September 2021, the 26th Climate Change Conference (COP26) in November 2021, and the Nutrition for Growth Summits in December 2021 and the years following.

Strengthening Health Information Systems for Refugee- and Migrant-Sensitive Healthcare: Health information and research findings can provide a platform for understanding and responding to the health needs of refugees and migrants and for aligning the efforts of other sectors and sources of international assistance. However, the systematic national data and evidence comparable across countries and over time available for policy- and decision-making on health of refugees and migrants from around the world are inadequate. The WHO Health and Migration Programme (PHM) supports the strengthening of member-state information systems, providing specialized technical assistance, response, and capacity-building.

Human rights principles

Improving access to assistive technology: Assistive technology enables and promotes inclusion and participation, especially of persons with disability, ageing populations, and people with non-communicable diseases. The primary purpose of assistive products is to maintain or improve an individual’s functioning and independence, thereby promoting their well-being. Despite a growing number of people in need of assistive products in every country, only 5%–15%, or one in 10 people has access to assistive products. WHO coordinates the Global Cooperation on Assistive Technology (GATE) as a step towards realizing the SDGs and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), and implementing resolution WHA71.8 on assistive technology. The GATE initiative has the goal to support countries in addressing challenges and improving access to assistive products within their context. To achieve this, the GATE initiative is focusing on five interlinked areas (5Ps): people, policy, products, provision, and personnel.

Data and privacy protection

WHO supports the adoption of the Joint Statement on Data Protection and Privacy in the COVID-19 Response in line with the UN Personal Data Protection and Privacy Principles adopted by the UN System Organizations to support its use of data and technology in the COVID-19 response in a way that respects the right to privacy and other human rights and promotes economic and social development. Organizations in their operations should, at a minimum:

  • Be lawful, limited in scope and time, and necessary and proportionate to specified and legitimate purposes in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Ensure appropriate confidentiality, security, time-bound retention, and proper destruction or deletion of data in accordance with the aforementioned purposes.
  • Ensure that any data exchange adheres to applicable international law, data protection and privacy principles, and is evaluated based on proper due diligence and risks assessments.
  • Be subject to any applicable mechanisms and procedures to ensure that measures taken with regard to data use are justified by and in accordance with the aforementioned principles and purposes, and cease as soon as the need for such measures is no longer present,
  • Be transparent in order to build trust in the deployment of current and future efforts alike.

Content policy: Infodemics

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 cooperative 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 analyzing the information landscape and social dynamics in digital and analogue environments; delivering messages; supporting fact-checking and countering misinformation; promoting digital health, media, and health literacy; and optimizing the effectiveness of messages and their delivery through real time monitoring and evaluation (M&E), among others.

At the Munich Security Conference 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 1st WHO Infodemiology Conference;

Digital tools and initiatives

developing of a draft research agenda on managing infodemics, cooperating with UN agencies and the AI community; promoting reliable WHO information through a coordinated approach with Google, Facebook, Twitter, and other major tech platforms and services; and campaigning to counter misinformation.

WHO-trained infodemic managers, over 1,300 of them from 142 countries, are already making great strides in member states and together around the globe as a global community of practice. In Serbia, the Laboratory for Infodemiology and Infodemic Management has been established at the Faculty of Medicine, University of Belgrade. With the support of the WHO Country Office in Serbia, two infodemic managers working at the Institute of Social Medicine have gathered a multidisciplinary team that will be conducting research and supporting infodemic management in the country and the region.

Interdisciplinary

Public health challenges are complex and cannot be effectively addressed by one sector alone. A holistic, multi-sectoral, multidisciplinary approach is needed for addressing gaps and advancing coordination for health emergency preparedness and health security and is essential for the implementation of the International Health Regulations (IHR) 2005.

  • WHO Classifications and Terminologies: operates a one-stop shop for WHO classifications and terminologies and delivers and scales use of terminologies and classifications. WHO maintains a portfolio of digital tools and methods for emergency preparedness and response, for example:
  • Go.Data is an outbreak investigation tool for field data collection during public health emergencies. The tool includes functionality for case investigation, contact follow-up, and visualisation of chains of transmission including secure data exchange and is designed for flexibility in the field, to adapt to the wide range of outbreak scenarios. The tool is targeted at any outbreak responder.
  • Epidemic Intelligence from Open Sources (EIOS) is a unique collaboration between various public health stakeholders around the globe. It brings together new and existing initiatives, networks, and systems to create a unified all-hazards, One Health approach to early detection, verification, assessment, and communication of public health threats using publicly available information. Creating a community of practice for public health intelligence (PHI) that includes member states, international organizations,  research institutes, and other partners and collaborators is at the heart of the initiative; saving lives through early detection of threats and subsequent intervention is its ultimate goal. Since January 2022, the lead of the EIOS initiative is hosted within the new WHO Hub for Pandemic and Epidemic Intelligence. As one of the Hub’s flagship initiatives, EIOS is one of the main vehicles for building a strong PHI community of practice, as well as a multidisciplinary network supporting it.
  • Digital proximity tracking technologies have been identified as a potential tool to support contact tracing for COVID-19. However, these technologies raise ethical and privacy concerns. This document
  • Ethical Considerations to Guide the Use of Digital Proximity Tracking Technologies for COVID-19 Contact Tracing – provides policymakers and other stakeholders with guidance as to the ethical and appropriate use of digital proximity tracking technologies for COVID-19.
  • WHO Digital and Innovation for Health Online Community to Fight COVID-19 is a platform for discussion and sharing experiences and innovative responses related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The new Survey Count Optimize Review Enable (SCORE) for Health Data Technical Package was 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.
  • WHO Hub for Pandemic and Epidemic Intelligence supports countries, and regional and global actors in addressing future pandemic and epidemic risks with better access to data, better analytical capacities, and better tools and insights for decision-making.

Health data

  • WHO Health Data Hub (WHDH) is a single repository of health data in WHO and establishes a data governance mechanism for member states.
  • Civil Registration and Vital Statistics (CRVS) registers 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.
  • The open-access WHO Snakebite Envenoming Information and Data Platform is already working to shorten the time between a snakebite and receiving antivenom. It does this by mapping the distribution of venomous snakes, known antivenoms, and the proximity to health facilities that stock them.

Public health strategy, planning and monitoring

  • The Triple Billion Dashboard is the foundation of WHO’s Thirteenth General Programme of Work (GPW 13) acting as both a measurement and a policy strategy. It is an integral part of the GPW 13’s Results
  • Framework, a new tool designed to measure and improve WHO’s impact on health at the country level. Measurement of these targets is closely aligned with those of the SDGs, to reduce country burden in data collection and streamline efforts to accelerate progress towards achieving key targets.
  • The organization also integrates digital health interventions in its strategies for certain diseases. WHO’s Global Observatory for e-Health (GOe) aims to assist member states with information and guidance on practices and standards in the field of e-health.
  • The newly established Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Centre for Health enables spatial representation of data to support better public health planning and decision-making.
  • The Health Equity Monitor is a platform for health inequality monitoring, which includes datatabases of disaggregated data, a handbook on health inequality monitoring, and step-by-step manuals for national health inequality monitoring (generally and specifically for immunization inequality monitoring).
  • The Health Assessment Toolkit is a software application that facilitates the assessment of health inequalities in countries. Inequality data can be visualized through a variety of interactive graphs, maps, and tables. Results can be exported and used for priority-setting and policymaking.

Health facilities data

Digital health solutions

  • 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, coordinating, 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.
  • Be He@lthy, Be Mobile (BHBM) helps users access the right information when they need it. In support of national governments, BHBM is helping millions of people quit tobacco, and control diabetes and cervical cancer. It helps people at risk of asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and those who care for older people.
  • WHO features a new in-game character on Goodville named Florence, along with exciting expeditions and in-game events to help players better understand themselves by providing advice for achieving and maintaining physical and emotional well-being.
  • WHO has launched a women’s health chatbot with messaging on breast cancer. The new chatbot uses the Viber platform to deliver health information directly to subscribers’ mobile phones. People subscribing to the new chatbot will find information on how to reduce the risk of breast cancer, symptoms and treatment options.

Resources

Resolutions and deliberations on eHealth

  • Resolution WHA58.28 eHealth
  • Resolution WHA71.7 (2018): The resolution urges member states to prioritize the development and greater use of digital technologies in health as a means of promoting Universal Health Coverage and advancing the SDGs.
  • Report EB 142/20 (2018): The Executive Board in January 2018 considered the updated report ‘mHealth: Use of appropriate digital technologies for public health’. This updated version of the report also includes the use of other digital technologies for public health.
  • Report EB139/8 (2016): The Executive Board considered ‘mHealth: Use of mobile wireless technologies for public health,’ reflecting the increasing importance of this resource for health services delivery and public health, given their ease of use, broad reach and wide acceptance.
  • Resolution WHA66.24 (2013): The World Health Assembly recognized the need for health data standardization to be part of eHealth systems and services, and the importance of proper governance and operation of health-related global top-level Internet domain names, including ‘.health’.
  • Joint Statement on Data Protection and Privacy in the COVID-19 Response (2020) is developed by the UN Privacy Policy Group, an inter-agency group on data privacy and data protection, to support the privacy protective use of data and technology by the UN in fighting the current pandemic.
  • The purpose of a Global Strategy on Digital Health (2020-2025) is to promote healthy lives and well- being for everyone, everywhere, at all ages. To deliver its potential, national or regional digital health initiatives must be guided by a robust strategy that integrates financial, organzsational, human, and technological resources.

For detailed coverage of WHO resources, tools, and programmes visit dig.watch/actors and giplatform.org/actors/world-health-organization.

Future of meetings

The World Health Summit is the world’s leading global health conference where science, politics, the private sector and civil society meet for inspiring talks, enhanced co-operation and new solutions [16 to 18 October 2022, Berlin, #WHS2022].

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World Trade Organization

Acronym: WTO

Established: 1995

Address: Centre William Rappard, Rue de Lausanne 154, 1211 Geneva 21, Switzerland

Website: https://www.wto.org/

Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations

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 cooperation 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 WTO. E-commerce discussions are ongoing under the Work Programme on Electronic Commerce and among a group of 87 WTO members currently negotiating e-commerce rules under the Joint Statement Initiative (JSI) on E-commerce. Discussions focus on several digital issues, including data flows and data localisation, source code, cybersecurity, privacy, consumer protection, capacity building, and customs duties on electronic transmissions.

As part of its outreach activities, WTO organises numerous events such as the Aid for Trade Global Review and an annual Public Forum, which brings together governments, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), academics, businesses, and other stakeholders for discussions on a broad range of issues, including many relating to the digital economy.

Digital policy issues

Telecommunications

In 1997, WTO members successfully concluded negotiations on market access for basic telecommunications services, which resulted in new specific commitments in the sector for a significant part of  WTO  membership.  These negotiations also resulted in the Reference Paper, a set of regulatory principles for basic telecommunication services that various members have inscribed in their schedules of commitments. Since 1997, the number of members that have undertaken market access commitments on telecommunications and subscribed to the Reference Paper has continued to increase as a result of new governments joining WTO through the process of accession. Under the JSI negotiations, participants are discussing a proposal that seeks to update the provisions of the Reference Paper.

Digital standards (1)

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 (1) measures addressing the internet of things (IoT) and related devices in terms of their safety, interoperability, national security/cybersecurity, performance, and quality; (2) measures regulating 5G cellular network technology for reasons related to, among others, national security and interoperability; (3) measures regulating 3D printing (additive manufacturing) devices; (4) measures regulating drones (small unmanned aircraft systems) due to risks for humans/consumers, interoperability problems, and national security risks; and (5) measures dealing with autonomous vehicles, mostly concerned with their safety and performance.

Cybersecurity

Cybersecurity issues have been addressed in several WTO bodies. For example, the TBT Committee has discussed national cybersecurity regulations applicable to information and communications technology (ICT) products and their potential impact on trade. In the TBT Committee, WTO members have raised specific trade concerns related to cybersecurity regulations. Some of the specific issues discussed include how cybersecurity regulations discriminating against foreign companies and technologies can negatively impact international trade in ICT products. Proposals on cybersecurity have also been tabled in the JSI on e-commerce where negotiations are ongoing.

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, is particularly relevant, as it applies to trade in services such as (1) data transmission and data processing by any form of technology (e.g. mobile or cloud technologies); (2) new ICT business models such as infrastructure as a service (IaaS); (3) online distribution services e.g. (e-commerce market platforms); and (4) financial services such as mobile payments. The extent to which members can impose restrictions on data or information flows affecting trade in services 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 the free flow of data for commercial activities. Proposed exceptions to this general rule are, to a large extent, similar to the existing GATS General and Security 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, such as in the Council for Trade in Services, for instance, when national cybersecurity measures adopted have been considered by some members 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.

These conventions include:

The role of IP in promoting innovation and trade in the digital age has been highlighted in recent WTO World Trade Reports.

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 state as a condition for market access. Some exceptions to this general prohibition have also been proposed. For example, for software that is used for critical infrastructures and public procurement transactions.

Electronic commerce

WTO agreements cover a broad spectrum of trade topics, including some related to e-commerce, which has been on the WTO 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 (Council for Trade in Goods; Council for Trade in Services; TRIPS Council; and the Committee on Trade and Development) to explore the relationship between WTO Agreements and e-commerce. The Work Programme and the moratorium on customs duties on electronic transmissions have been periodically reviewed and renewed. At its recently concluded 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) in June 2022, WTO members agreed to reinvigorate the Work Programme, particularly in line with its development dimension, and to intensify discussions on the moratorium, including on its scope, definition, and impact. Furthermore, members agreed to extend the moratorium on customs duties on electronic transmissions until MC13 (2).

At MC11 in 2017, a group of members issued the Joint Statement Initiative (JSI) on E-Commerce 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 out- come that builds on existing WTO agreements and frameworks with the participation of as many WTO members as possible’. Negotiations are continuing among 87 members (3) and are structured under 6 broad themes, namely enabling e-commerce, openness and e-commerce, trust and e-commerce, cross-cutting issues, telecommunications, and market access. JSI participants have reached a high degree of convergence on e-authentication and e-signatures, e-contracts, open government data, online consumer protection, unsolicited commercial electronic messages (spam), transparency, open internet access and paperless trading. Negotiations on electronic transactions frameworks, source code, cybersecurity, electronic invoicing, privacy, telecommunications, and customs duties on electronic transmissions continue. On the margins of the MC12, the co-convenors of the JSI (Australia, Japan, and Singapore), issued a statement underlining the importance of developing global rules on e-commerce and, together with Switzerland, launched the E-commerce Capacity Building Framework to strengthen digital inclusion and to help developing and least developed countries to harness the opportunities of digital trade.

Access (4)

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 and other duties and charges (ODCs) on hundreds of ICT products – including computers, laptops, servers, routers, communication devices (i.e. mobile telephones),  semiconductors, semiconductor manufacturing equipment and parts thereof – to foster the development of ICT global value chains and facilitate greater adoption of the ICT products that lie at the core of a global digital economy and power the downstream innovative and competitive capacity of every industry that deploys them. Currently, 83 WTO members are participants in ITA-I, accounting for approximately 97% of world trade in ITA-I products. As technology continues to evolve, ICT is found at the core of an ever-increasing range of products. At the MC10 in Nairobi in 2015, over 50 WTO members concluded ITA-II negotiations and agreed to expand the ITA product coverage by around 200 products. ICT products such as GPS navigation equipment, satellites, and medical equipment were included and tariffs on these products have been eliminated among ITA-II participants. At present, the ITA-II consists of 55 WTO members, representing over 90% of world trade in ITA-II products. The ITA is being discussed in the JSI under the market access focus group.

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1-The issue of digital standards is addressed as ‘standards and regulations’ within the work of WTO.

2-WT/MIN(22)/32; WT/L/1143

3-87 Members as of end of September 2022: Albania; Argentina; Australia; Austria; Bahrain, Kingdom of; Belgium; Benin; Brazil; Brunei Darussalam; Bulgaria; Burkina Faso; Cameroon; Canada; Chile; China; Colombia; Costa Rica; Côte D’Ivoire; Croatia; Cyprus; Czech Republic; Denmark; Ecuador; El Salvador; Estonia; Finland; France; Georgia; Germany; Greece; Guatemala;Honduras; Hong Kong, China; Hungary; Iceland; Indonesia; Ireland; Israel; Italy; Japan; Kazakhstan; Kenya; Korea, Republic of; Kuwait, the State of; Latvia; Lao People’s Democratic Republic; Liechtenstein; Lithuania; Luxembourg; Malaysia; Malta; Mauritius; Mexico; Moldova, Republic of; Mongolia; Montenegro; Myanmar; Netherlands; New Zealand; Nicaragua; Nigeria; North Macedonia; Norway; Panama; Paraguay; Peru; Philippines; Poland; Portugal; Qatar; Romania; Russian Federation; Saudi Arabia, Kingdom of; Singapore; Slovak Republic; Slovenia; Spain; Sweden; Switzerland; Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu; Thailand; Turkey; Ukraine; United Arab Emirates; United Kingdom; United States; and Uruguay

4-The issue of arbitration is referred to under the issue of ‘market access’ within the work of WTO.



International Committee of the Red Cross

Acronym: ICRC

Established: 1863

Address: 19 Avenue de la paix, 1202 Geneva, Switzerland

Website: https://www.icrc.org

Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations

Established in 1863, the ICRC is an independent international humanitarian organisation headquartered in Geneva. It defends and promotes the respect of international humanitarian law (IHL) and is dedicated to protecting the lives and dignity of victims of war and to providing assistance. Along these lines, it cooperates with governments, the private sector, and other entities affected by international and internal armed conflict and violence.

Together with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and 192 individual national societies, the ICRC makes up the so-called International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.

Digital activities

Digitalisation is increasingly present in the context of armed conflict and violence. On one hand, affected populations are in demand for digital tools, which humanitarian organisations need to provide in a responsible manner.

On the other hand, states use cyber operations as part of warfare with humans affected by the consequences of such operations and other digital risks.

To this end, humanitarian organisations also use digital tools to improve their operations. The ICRC addresses the implications of technology, which are multifold and range from data protection for humanitarian actions to the application of IHL to cyber operations in armed conflict.

It hosts expert and intergovernmental discussions and has developed a number of (digital) tools to help improve awareness and understanding of IHL and relevant standards.

The ICRC co-operates with other organisations on digital policy issues.

Digital policy issues

Artificial intelligence

The ICRC has explored the role of artificial intelligence (AI) tools in armed conflict. In a document titled Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning in Armed Conflict: A Human-Centred Approach published in 2019, it argues that ‘any new technology of warfare must be used, and must be capable of being used, in compliance with existing rules of international humanitarian law.’ It also touches on the use of AI and machine learning (ML) technologies capable of controlling physical military hardware. It argues that from a humanitarian perspective, autonomous weapon systems (AWS) are of particular concern given that humans may not be able to exert control over such weapons or the resulting use of force. While the ICRC recognises that not all weapon systems incorporate AI or ML, it emphasises that such software components could eventually give way to future AWS. It also emphasises the potential misuse of AI and ML in the development of cyber weapons and capabilities. The ICRC calls for a human control-based approach to the application of AI and ML in AWS.

The question of AI has been further explored in other reports such as its Autonomy, Artificial Intelligence, Robotics: Technical Aspects of Human Control.

Cyber operations during armed conflict

The use of cyber operations during armed conflicts is a reality today and their use is likely to increase in future. Through bilateral confidential dialogue, expert discussions, participation in intergovernmental processes, and constant monitoring and analysis, the ICRC is raising awareness of the potential human cost of cyber operations and the application of IHL to cyber operations during armed conflict. Its efforts on this matter date back over two decades. Ever since, the ICRC has held the view that IHL limits cyber operations during armed conflict just as it limits the use of any other weapon, means and methods of warfare in an armed conflict, whether new or old.

Over the years, the ICRC has been actively involved in global policy discussions on cyber-related issues, including those held within the UN (various Groups of Governmental Experts (GGEs) and the Open-Ended Working Groups (OEWGs)). In addition, it convenes regional consultations among government experts on how IHL applies to cyber operations, and global expert meetings, such as the potential human cost of cyber operations and on avoiding civilian harm from military cyber operations during armed conflicts. Its legal views on how IHL applies to cyber operations during armed conflict are found in a 2019 position paper that was sent to all UN member states in the context of the different UN- mandated processes on information and communications technology (ICT) security. Finally, the ICRC explores innovative solutions, such as a digital emblem, to protect medical and humanitarian missions in cyberspace. The ICRC’s Law and Policy blog provides a large number of short pieces on cyber operations, featuring tech expert, legal, and policy perspectives.

Privacy and data protection (1)

The ICRC plays an active role in regard to privacy and data protection in the context of humanitarian action. It has a data protection framework compliant with international data protection standards that aims to protect individuals from a humanitarian standpoint. The framework consists of ICRC rules on personal data protection, which were revised in 2020 in response to the rapid development of digital technologies, while supervisory and control mechanisms are overseen by an independent data protection commission and a data protection officer. In 2019, the ICRC spearheaded the adoption of a resolution on Restoring Family Links While Respecting Privacy, Including as it Relates to Personal Data Protection at the International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent. In 2022, it pushed for the adoption of a resolution on Safeguarding Humanitarian Data at the Council of Delegates of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.

Despite the wide range of data sources employed and dealt with by the ICRC, specific attention is dedicated to biometric data, which is often used in forensics and the restoration of family links. To manage this highly sensitive

information and to ensure the responsible deployment of new technologies (including new biometric identification techniques), the ICRC has adopted a Biometrics Policy, which sets out the roles and responsibilities of the ICRC and defines the legitimate bases and specified purposes for the processing of biometric data.

Data protection is also addressed by the ICRC Handbook on Data Protection in Humanitarian Action. The Handbook provides suggestions as to how existing data protection principles apply to humanitarian organisations and builds on existing regulations, working procedures, and practices. The second edition of the document specifically provides guidance on the technical aspects of data protection by design and by default and covers technological security measures. In addition, through dedicated chapters, it addresses the potential and risks of digital technology such as blockchain, AI, digital identity, and connectivity for data protection in humanitarian action. The ICRC hosted a digital launch event for the second edition of the handbook as well as one event focusing on data protection and COVID-19. It then followed up with the DigitHarium, a one-year outreach initiative to socialise some of the themes linked to data protection in the humanitarian sector as well as to provide a space where humanitarian, diplomatic, academic, and technology practitioners can meet to collaborate to find local and global solutions to today’s digital dilemmas.

The ICRC further explored the issue of data and privacy in a joint report that it published with Privacy International titled  The  Humanitarian  Metadata  Problem:  Doing no Harm in the Digital Era. The report looks into how different types of metadata are derived from internal and external humanitarian exchanges (i.e. exchanges between humanitarian organisations and individuals affected by armed conflict and violence or communication within humanitarian organisations) through telecommunications and messaging; cash transfer programmes; and how social media can be accessed and misused for profiling of individuals, surveillance, repression, or commercial exploitation. In line with the humanitarian ‘do no harm’ principle, the report underscores that the humanitarian community has to consider that there is a risk that it can hinder the safety and the rights of those needing protection when using digital technologies. The ICRC also hosted an event on this topic in London in December 2018, the Digital Risk Symposium. The event explored what organisations can do to ensure they do not create additional vulnerabilities for people already at risk, as well as the potential for collaboration in the sector.

More recently, the ICRC has been involved in the Road to Bern via Geneva dialogues. As part of its contribution, the ICRC collaborated with the World Intellectual Property Organization in the second dialogue dedicated to data collection entitled Protecting Data Against Vulnerabilities: Questions of Trust Security and Privacy of Data. Specific attention was paid to three challenges: data anonymisation, loss of data through cloud processing, and limited use of biometric data.

Digital tools

The ICRC has argued in favour of the digitalisation of the Geneva Conventions and on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of these very treaties and additional protocols, released an IHL digital app. The app provides access to over 75 treaties including the Geneva Conventions and allows users to read through the content and therefore familiarise themselves with the text. The ICRC has a number of databases on IHL including its customary IHL database and the ICRC national implementation database.

Online learning is also used by the ICRC to promote the implementation of IHL. In 2019, it launched an e-learning course entitled Introduction to International Humanitarian Law aimed at non-legal practitioners, policymakers, and other professionals who are interested in the basics of IHL. Other online courses are available through the ICRC training centre as well as e-briefings which are available in its e-briefing library.

The ICRC maintains a digital library and an app with all ICRC publications in English and French.

Research and development

In 2022, the ICRC opened a Delegation for Cyberspace in Luxembourg, which serves as a safe and secure space to do due diligence research and develop and test solutions and ideas to prepare the ground for the support, protection, and deployment of digital services to affected people on a global scale. It will also further explore what it means to be a digital stakeholder in a manner compatible with its mandate; operational modalities; and principles of neutrality, independence, and impartiality.

Social media channels

Facebook @ICRC

Instagram @ICRC

LinkedIn @ICRC

TikTok @ICRC

Twitter @ICRC

YouTube @ICRC

1- The ICRC deals with privacy and data protection within its mandate and context of IHL. In this Atlas, following the Digital Watch Observatory taxonomy, privacy and data protection are part of the human rights basket.

DiploFoundation

Acronym: Diplo

Established: 2002

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

Website: https://www.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.

Geneva Internet Platform

Acronym: GIP

Established: 2014

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

Website: https://www.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.

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