Commission on Science and Technology for Development

Acronym: CSTD

Established: 1992

Address: Palais des Nations, 1211 Geneva, Switzerland

Website: https://unctad.org/en/Pages/cstd.aspx

The CSTD is a subsidiary body of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). The Commission met for the first time in April 1993 in New York, USA. Since July 1993, the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has been hosting the CSTD secretariat, which holds an annual intergovernmental session for the discussion of timely and pertinent issues affecting science, technology, and development. CSTD members are national governments, but debates also involve representatives from academia, the private sector, and civil society. Strong links exist with other UN bodies (including the Commission on the Status of Women, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), Regional Commissions, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), United National Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA)). Outcomes of the CSTD include providing the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) and ECOSOC with high-level advice on relevant science and technology issues.

Digital activities

The CSTD reviews progress made in the implementation of and follow-up to the WSIS outcomes at the regional and international levels. It also discusses frontier technologies, which are largely linked with digitalisation. Based on reviews and discussions, the CSTD prepares draft resolutions for ECOSOC. These draft resolutions tackle issues ranging from access to the internet, information and communications technologies (ICTs), and frontier technologies to the use of these technologies in achieving sustainable development, particularly under the 2030 Agenda, including mitigating and adapting to climate change. At each of its annual sessions and intersessional panels, the CSTD addresses two priority themes regarding the use of STI including digital technologies, in different areas, for example, sustainable cities and communities; inclusive social and economic development; good health and well-being; opportunities and challenges associated with blockchain technology; capacity development; Industry 4.0 for inclusive development; and access to safe water and sanitation.

Digital policy issues

Artificial intelligence (1)

As part of its work on assessing the impact of technological change on inclusive and sustainable development, the CSTD is also exploring the role of frontier technologies including AI. At its 22nd session, the CSTD pointed out that AI and other frontier technologies offer significant opportunities to accelerate progress in the SDGs, while also posing new challenges (e.g. disrupting labour markets, exacerbating or creating new inequalities, and raising ethical questions). The CSTD focused its 2019–2020 intersessional work on digital frontier technologies, such as AI, big data, and robotics. For 2021, the CSTD chose another digital technology – blockchain for sustainable development – as a priority theme for its work. In 2022, the CSTD deliberated on Industry 4.0 technologies (such as AI, big data, IoT, and robotics) for inclusive development.

Access (2)

During its annual sessions and intersessional panels, as well as in its draft resolutions for ECOSOC, the CSTD tackles aspects related to the digital divide, and outlines the need for further progress in addressing the impediments that developing countries face in accessing new technologies. It often underlines the need for coordinated efforts among all stakeholders to bridge the digital divide in its various dimensions: access to infrastructure, affordability, quality of access, digital skills, gender gap, and others. To this aim, the CSTD recommends policies and actions to improve connectivity and access to infrastructure, affordability, multilingualism and cultural preservation, digital skills and digital literacy, capacity development, and appropriate financing mechanisms.

Sustainable development

As the UN focal point for STI for development, the CSTD analyses the impact of digital technologies on sustainable development (assessing opportunities, risks, and challenges), including from the perspective of the ‘leaving no one behind’ principle. The CSTD also works to identify strategies, policies, and actions to foster the use of technology to empower people (especially vulnerable individuals and groups) and ensure inclusiveness and equality. In addition, it acts as a forum for strategic planning, sharing of good practices, and providing foresight about emerging and disruptive technologies.

Capacity development

Capacity development is one of the recurring themes that appear in draft resolutions prepared by the CSTD on the implementation of and follow-up to the WSIS outcomes. The CSTD often emphasises the need for countries and other stakeholders to focus on capacity development policies and actions to further enhance the role of the internet as a catalyst for growth and development. Strengthening the capacity of stakeholders to participate in internet governance processes is another objective the CSTD has been calling for, especially in regard to the Internet Governance Forum (IGF).

Digital tools

Interdisciplinary approaches: Internet governance

The CSTD was mandated to review the IGF process and suggest improvements. To this aim, the Working Group on Improvements to the IGF was established and a report recommending several action items regarding the IGF was delivered in 2012. The CSTD was also entrusted with the mandate to initiate discussions about enhanced cooperation in internet governance. It convened two working groups on enhanced cooperation (2013–2014 and 2016–2018); although consensus seemed to emerge on some issues, a divergence of views persisted on others and the Working Group could not find consensus on recommendations on how to further implement enhanced cooperation as envisioned in the Tunis Agenda.

UNCTAD is in charge of servicing the CSTD. As such, digital tools used by UNCTAD, for example, platform for online meetings, and social media for communications purposes are also employed for CSTD-related purposes. For instance, the 23rd and 24th CSTD annual sessions as well as the intersessional panel of the 24th CSTD were purely virtual, using the Interprefy platform. The intersessional panel and the annual session of the 25th CSTD were hybrid, combining online and in-person participation. The online platforms used were Interprefy and Zoom, respectively.

Social media channels

Facebook @UNCTAD

Flickr @UNCTAD

Instagram @unctad

LinkedIn @UNCTAD

Twitter @UNCTAD

YouTube @UNCTADOnline

1-Within the work of the CSTD, AI is placed under the term ‘frontier technologies’, which also includes big data analytics, biotech and genome editing, and IoT, https://unctad.org/en/Pages/CSTD/CSTDAbout.aspx

2-In the CSTD’s work, disparities related to access to the internet are referred to as the ‘digital divide’.

World Meteorological Organization

Acronym: WMO

Established: 1950

Address: Av. de la Paix 7 bis, 1211 Geneva 2, Switzerland

Website: https://www.wmo.int/pages/index_en.html

Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations

WMO is a specialised agency of the United Nations dedicated to international cooperation and coordination on the state and behaviour of the Earth’s atmosphere, its interaction with the land and oceans, the weather and climate it produces, and the resulting distribution of water resources. It boasts a membership of 193 member states and territories. Weather, climate, and water respect no national boundaries, and so cooperation is key.

National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHSs) work around the clock to provide early and reliable warnings of severe weather. WMO also measures and forecasts air quality and monitors and projects climate change. The overriding priority is to save life and property, protect resources and the environment, and support socio-economic growth. With this work, WMO supports NMHSs and meets their international commitments in disaster risk reduction, climate change mitigation and adaptation, and sustainable development.

Digital activities

Data is in WMO’s DNA. Data is gathered from one of the most diverse data-gathering systems worldwide, consisting of more than 10,000 manned and automatic surface weather stations, national radar networks, ocean observing stations, and weather satellite constellations. Data exchange underpins all WMO core functions from weather forecasting to climate,  hydrological, and ocean monitoring. Supercomputers and global telecommunication systems power the ever-growing appetite for data.

WMO also explores the role of new technologies and their relevance for public weather services including the use of AI approaches. AI complements complex numerical weather prediction algorithms that process vast amounts of data and calculate the behaviour of weather patterns, providing short-term weather forecasts and long-term climate predictions.

Digital policy issues

Artificial intelligence

To use its gathered data, WMO makes weather-related predictions via an observation system such as the Numerical Weather Prediction (NWP). With more attention being paid to AI, WMO’s decades-long experience with the NWP can help understand both the potential and limitations of AI in dealing with nature, which is the most complex logical system.

Digital standards

WMO maintains one of the most comprehensive standardisation systems with a detailed explanation of each step in the data cycle. WMO guidelines range from issues such as the position or the type of surface (e.g. grass) over which weather observation stations should be placed to uniform and structured standards on data sharing.

Data governance

WMO Unified Data Policy

The 2021 Extraordinary World Meteorological Congress approved the WMO Unified Data Policy to dramatically strengthen the world’s weather and climate services through a  systematic increase in much-needed observational data and data products across the globe.

The Unified Data Policy was painstakingly developed through extensive consultation with thousands of experts and other global stakeholders to meet the explosive growth in demand for weather, climate, and water data products and services from all sectors of society.

Approval of the Unified Data Policy provides a comprehensive update of the policies guiding the international exchange of weather, climate, and related Earth system data between the 193 WMO member states and territories. The new policy reaffirms the commitment to the free and unrestricted exchange of data, which has been the bedrock of WMO since it was established more than 70 years ago.

Why has WMO updated its data policy?

Recent decades have seen explosive growth in the demand for weather, climate, and water monitoring and prediction data to support essential services needed by all sectors of society, as they face issues such as climate change, increasing frequency and impact of extreme weather, and implications for food security.

The free and unrestricted exchange of observational data from all parts of the world and of other data products among all WMO members must be updated and strengthened to accommodate this growing demand. As the responsibilities of NMHSs continue to expand, a growing list of application areas beyond the traditional weather, climate, and water activities needs to be supported by WMO observing and data exchange and modelling systems. WMO data policy must evolve to accommodate atmospheric composition, oceans, the cryosphere, and space weather.

What are the benefits of updating the WMO data policy?

The new WMO Unified Data Policy will help the WMO community to strengthen and better sustain monitoring and predicting all Earth-system components, resulting in massive socio-economic benefits. It will lead to an additional exchange of all types of environmental data, enabling all WMO members to deliver better, more accurate, timely weather- and climate-related services to their constituencies.

In addition to data sharing, the overall importance of data has been further highlighted by the WMO’s Guidelines on Climate Data Rescue, published in 2004. The document tackles why data rescue (i.e. preservation of vast amounts of collected climate data and digitalisation of current and past datasets for easy access) is crucial. It explains that practitioners of data rescue might encounter obstacles such as the high cost of data rescue operations and the lack of digital skills and competencies to use the necessary tools in data preservation. The Guidelines were updated in 2016 to reflect the changes in digital technologies since they were first published. They now outline some of the necessary steps in the data rescue process, such as creating digital inventories and digitising data values.

Over the years, WMO has also engaged in the following data governance developments:

  • Cooperation on data in scientific circles through cooperation between the International Science Council (ISC) and the WMO World Data Centres and discussion on data at the World Conference on Science.
  • Cooperation with the International Oceanographic Commission (IOC), whose Resolution 6 specifies that ‘member states shall provide timely, free, and unrestricted access to all data, associated metadata, and products generated under the auspices of IOC programmes.’
  • Discussion with the World Trade Organization (WTO) on WMO datasets and competition provisions in the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS).
  • Cooperation with the Intergovernmental Group on Earth Observations (GEO), which was established in 2003 to derive data policies for the Global Earth

Observation System of Systems based on the WMO

data exchange system.

Sustainable development

Climate change is an increasingly recognised global threat. But what risks does it pose exactly? And how will climate change and its impacts affect sustainable development? The complexity of the global climate system often contributes to significant gaps between scientific and policy-oriented understandings of how climate-change-related risks cascade through environmental, social, and economic systems.

WMO has addressed these gaps by connecting changes in the global climate system, as measured by the state of the climate indicators, to the SDGs based on extensive data collection. The aim is to improve risk-informed decision-making by aiding policymakers, the scientific community, and the public to grasp the interconnected and complex nature of climate change threats to sustainable development, thereby encouraging more comprehensive and immediate climate action.

Digital technologies have also played an essential role in the advancement of the World Weather Watch, a flagship WMO programme that allows for the development and improvement of global systems for observing and exchanging meteorological observations. The programme has evolved thanks to developments in remote sensing; private internet-type networks; supercomputing systems for data analysis; and weather, climate, and water (environmental) prediction models.

World Weather Watch consists of the following main building blocks:

  • National Meteorological Services collect data on land, water, and air worldwide. The WMO Information System (WIS) coordinates the data collection and transmission through its national, regional, and global centres.
  • Regional organisations that act as global hubs include, for example, the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) and the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT).

To produce a successful weather forecast, it is essential to ensure the timely delivery of observational data from as many stations worldwide as possible in the shortest time. What follows is an example of the Global Basic Observing Network (GBON) showing a map of observation stations worldwide.

Digital tools and initiatives

The Global Telecommunication System (GTS), as part of the WIS, carries data from observation stations to national, regional, and global actors. Most of the data is exchanged via the GTS in real time. Given the critical relevance of this data in dealing with crises, the GTS must be highly reliable and secure.

Smart data for evidence-based decision-making

In recent years, WMO has digitised its performance monitoring through the development of strategic and thematic dashboards as well as through the increased use of infographics and story maps, all tools conducive to evidence-based decision-making. In addition to a Key Performance Indicators Dashboard, WMO has launched a Hydro Dashboard, which provides valuable information on operational hydrological services worldwide. It is developing similar thematic dashboards on climate services and global data processing and forecasting. Internally, WMO has created a centralised data repository that brings together data from various systems, surveys, and sources, providing easy access to reliable data and related data analytics. The data repository is essential to facilitating the flow of objective, evidence-based, timely performance information.

Digital WMO community

WMO established the WMO Community Platform, which consists of several digital tools that allow for cross-analysis and visualisation of information from all WMO member states regarding weather, climate, and water to provide better insights into the work and needs of the community and to contribute to greater participation in good governance. The WMO e-Library is another tool that gathers and maintains different publications, including reports and WMO standards.

Green WMO

WMO has both virtual and in-person events. WMO experts are also working to reduce the impact of global observing systems and other operations on the environment. WMO is among the first UN organisations to do completely paperless sessions (all governance meeting documentation has been digital for many years). We experimented at the latest Executive Council meeting (EC-75) with translating the INF documents (information documents) using AI tools. It may also be relevant to mention that the draft Strategic Plan 2024-2027 has a new strategic objective (SO) targeted at environmental sustainability, including green IT and green meetings.

Useful documents where you can find many links:

Social media channels

Facebook @World Meteorological Organization

Flicker @World Meteorological Organization

Instagram @wmo_omm

LinkedIn @world-meteorological-organization

Twitter @WMO

YouTube @worldmetorg

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

Acronym: OHCHR

Address: Palais Wilson 52, Rue des Pâquis, 1201 Geneva, Switzerland

Website: https://www.ohchr.org/

Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and other related UN human rights entities, namely the United Nations Human Rights Council, the Special Procedures, and the Treaty Bodies are considered together under this section.

The UN Human Rights Office is headed by the OHCHR and is the principal UN entity on human rights. Also known as UN Human Rights, it is part of the UN Secretariat. UN Human Rights has been mandated by the UN General Assembly (UNGA) to promote and protect all human rights. As such, it plays a crucial role in supporting the three fundamental pillars of the UN: peace and security, human rights, and development. UN Human Rights provides technical expertise and capacity development in regard to the implementation of human rights, and in this capacity assists governments in fulfilling their obligations.

UN Human Rights is associated with a number of other UN human rights entities. To illustrate, it serves as the secretariat for the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and the Treaty Bodies. The UNHRC is a body of the UN that aims to promote the respect of human rights worldwide. It discusses thematic issues, and in addition to its ordinary session, it has the ability to hold special sessions on serious human rights violations and emergencies. The ten Treaty Bodies are committees of independent experts that monitor the implementation of the core international human rights treaties.

The UNHRC established the Special Procedures, which are made up of UN Special Rapporteurs (i.e. independent experts or working groups) working on a variety of human rights thematic issues and country situations to assist the efforts of the UNHRC through regular reporting and advice. The Universal Periodic Review (UPR), under the auspices of the UNHRC, is a unique process that involves a review of the human rights records of all UN member states, providing the opportunity for each state to declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situations in their countries. UN Human Rights also serves as the secretariat to the UPR process.

Certain non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and national human rights institutions participate as observers in UNHRC sessions after receiving the necessary accreditation.

Digital activities

Digital issues are increasingly gaining prominence in the work of UN Human Rights, the UNHRC, the Special Procedures, the UPR, and the Treaty Bodies.

A landmark document that provides a blueprint for digital human rights is the UNHRC resolution (A/HRC/20/8) on the promotion, protection, and enjoyment of human rights on the internet, which was first adopted in 2012, starting a string of regular resolutions with the same name addressing a growing number of issues. All resolutions affirm that the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online. Numerous other resolutions and reports from UN human rights entities and experts considered in this overview tackle an ever-growing range of other digital issues including the right to privacy in the digital age; freedom of expression and opinion; freedom of association and peaceful assembly; the rights of older persons; racial discrimination; the rights of women and girls; human rights in the context of violent extremism online; economic, social, and cultural rights; human rights and technical standard-setting; business and human rights; and the safety of journalists.

Digital policy issues

Artificial intelligence

In 2018, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression presented a report to the UNGA on Artificial Intelligence (AI) Technologies and Implications for the Information Environment. Among other things, the document addresses the role of AI in the enjoyment of freedom of opinion and expression including ‘access to the rules of the game when it comes to AI-driven platforms and websites’ and therefore urges for a human rights-based approach to AI.

For her 2020 thematic report to the Human Rights Council, the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance analysed different forms of racial discrimination in the design and use of emerging technologies, including the structural and institutional dimensions of this discrimination. She followed up with reports examining how digital technologies, including AI-driven predictive models, deployed in the context of border enforcement and administration reproduce, reinforce, and compound racial discrimination.

In 2020, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination published its General Recommendation No. 36 on preventing and combating racial profiling by law enforcement officials (CERD/C/GC/36), which focuses on algorithmic decision-making and AI in relation to racial profiling by law enforcement officials.

Child safety online (1)

The issue of child safety online has garnered the attention of UN human rights entities for some time. A 2016 resolution on Rights of the Child: Information and Communications Technologies and Child Sexual Exploitation adopted by the UNHRC calls on states to ensure ‘full, equal, inclusive, and safe access […] to information and communications technologies by all children and safeguard the protection of children online and offline’, as well as the legal protection of children from sexual abuse and exploitation online. The Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, including child prostitution, child pornography, and other child sexual abuse material, mandated by the UNHRC to analyse the root causes of sale and sexual exploitation and pro- mote measures to prevent it, also looks at issues related to child abuse, such as the sexual exploitation of children online, which has been addressed in a report (A/ HRC/43/40) published in 2020, but also in earlier reports.

The Committee on the Rights of the Child published its General Comment No. 25 on Children’s Rights in Relation to the Digital Environment (CRC/C/GC/25), which lays out how states parties should implement the convention in relation to the digital environment and provides guidance on relevant legislative, policy, and other measures to ensure full compliance with their obligations under the convention and optional protocols in the light of opportunities, risks, and challenges in promoting, respecting, protecting, and fulfilling all children’s rights in the digital environment.

Data governance

UN Human Rights maintains an online platform consisting of a number of databases on anti-discrimination and jurisprudence, as well as the Universal Human Rights Index (UHRI), which provides access to recommendations issued to countries by Treaty Bodies, Special Procedures, and the UPR of the UNHCR.

UN Human Rights also published a report titled A Human Rights-Based Approach to Data – Leaving no one Behind in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development that specifically focuses on issues of data collection and disaggregation in the context of sustainable development.

UN Human Rights has worked closely with partners across the UN system in contributing to the Secretary-General’s 2020 Data Strategy, and co-leads, with the Office of Legal Affairs and UN Global Pulse, work on the subsequent Data Protection and Privacy Program.

Capacity development

UN Human Rights launched the Guiding Principles in Technology Project (B-Tech Project) to provide guidance and resources to companies operating in the technology space with regard to the implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs on BHR). Following the publication of a B-Tech scoping paper in 2019, several foundational papers have delved into a broad range of business-related issues, from business-model-related human rights risks to access to remedies. At the heart of the B-Tech project lies multistakeholder engagement, informing all of its outputs. The B-Tech project is enhancing its engagement in Africa, working with technology company operators, investors, and other key digital economy stakeholders, including civil society, across Africa in a set of African economies and their tech hubs to create awareness of implementing the UNGPs on BHR.

Following a multistakeholder consultation held on 7–8 March 2022, the High Commissioner presented her report on UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and Technology Companies (A/HRC/50/56), which demonstrated the value and practical application of the UNGPs in preventing and addressing adverse human rights impacts by technology companies.

Extreme poverty (2)

The Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights has in recent years increased his analysis of human rights issues arising in the context of increased digitisation and automation. His 2017 report to the General Assembly tackled the socio-economic challenges in an emerging world where automation and AI threaten traditional sources of income and analysed the promises and possible pitfalls of introducing a universal basic income. His General Assembly report in 2019 addressed worrying trends in connection with the digitisation of the welfare state. Moreover, in his 2022 report to the UNHRC on non-take-up of rights in the context of social protection, the Special Rapporteur highlighted, among other things, the benefits and considerable risks associated with automation of social protection processes.

Content policy

Geneva-based human rights organisations and mechanisms have consistently addressed content policy questions, in particular in the documents referred under Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association. Other contexts where content policy plays an important role include Rights of the Child, Gender Rights Online, and Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Moreover, the use of digital technologies in the context of terrorism and violent extremism is closely associated with content policy considerations.

UN Human Rights, at the request of the UNHRC, prepared a compilation report in 2016, which explores, among other issues, aspects related to the prevention and countering of violent extremism online, and underscores that responses to violent extremism that are robustly built on human rights are more effective and sustainable.

Additional efforts were made in 2019 when the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism published a report where she examined the multifaceted impacts of counter-terrorism measures on civic space and the rights of civil society actors and human rights defenders, including measures taken to address vaguely defined terrorist and violent extremist content. In July 2020, she published a report discussing the human rights implications of the use of biometric data to identify terrorists and recommended safeguards that should be taken.

Interdisciplinary approaches

Collaboration within the UN system

UN Human Rights is a member of the Secretary-General’s Reference Group and contributed to the development of his Strategy on New Technologies in 2018. The OHCHR was co-champion of the follow-up on two human-rights-related recommendations of the Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation. The outcomes of this process were the basis of the Secretary-General’s Roadmap on Digital Cooperation, presented in June 2020.

As part of the implementation of the Secretary-General’s Call to Action for Human Rights, UN Human Rights launched the UN Hub for Human rights and Digital Technology, which provides a central repository of authoritative guidance from various UN human rights mechanisms on the application of human rights norms to the use and governance of digital technologies.

Moreover, as requested by the Secretary-General’s Roadmap to Digital Cooperation and the Secretary-General’s Call to Action for Human Rights, UN Human Rights is leading a UN system-wide process to develop a human rights due diligence guidance (HRDD) for digital technology. The HRDD guidance in development pertains to the application of human rights due diligence and human rights impact assessment related to the UN’s design, development, procurement, and use of digital technologies, and is expected to be completed by the end of 2022.

UN Human Rights participated in the UNESCO-led process to develop ethical standards for AI. With its aim to protect human rights and serve as an ethical guidance compass in the use of AI, UNESCO recommendation on the Ethics of AI was adopted by UNESCO member states at UNESCO’s General Conference in November 2021. As a strong contributor to the Inter-Agency Working Group on AI, UN Human Rights also provided feedback on the ethical principles of AI for the UN system.

In addition, UN Human Rights is a member of the Legal Identity Agenda Task Force, which promotes solutions for the implementation of SDG target 16.9 (i.e. by 2030, provide legal identity for all, including birth registration). It leads its work on exclusion and discrimination in the context of digitised identity systems.

Neurotechnology

Rapid advancements in neurotechnology and neuroscience, while holding promises of medical benefits and scientific breakthroughs, present a number of human rights and ethical challenges. Against this backdrop, UN Human Rights has been contributing significantly to an inter-agency process led by the Executive Office of the Secretary-General to develop a global roadmap for effective and inclusive governance of neurotechnology.

Secretary-General’s Report on Our Common Agenda

Since the adoption of A/RES/76/6 on Our Common Agenda in November 2021, the follow-up by the UN system has been underway. UN Human Rights is co-leading several proposals in collaboration with other entities, notably on the application of the human rights framework in the digital sphere, mitigation and prevention of internet shutdowns, and disinformation.

Privacy and data protection

Challenges to the right to privacy in the digital age, such as surveillance, communications interception, and the increased use of data-intensive technologies, are among some of the issues covered by the activities of UN Human Rights. At the request of the UNGA and the UNHRC, the High Commissioner prepared four reports on the right to privacy in the digital age. The first report, presented in 2014, addressed the threat to human rights caused by surveillance by governments, in particular mass surveillance. The ensuing report, published in September 2018, identified key principles, standards, and best practices regarding the promotion and protection of the right to privacy. It outlined minimum standards for data privacy legal frameworks. In September 2021, the High Commissioner presented a ground-breaking report on AI and the right to privacy (A/HRC/48/31), in which she called for a ban on AI applications that are incompatible with international human rights law, and stressed the urgent need for a moratorium on the sale and use of AI systems that pose serious human rights risks until adequate safeguards are put in place. In September 2022, the High Commissioner presented a report focusing on the abuse of spyware by public authorities, the key role of encryption in ensuring the enjoyment of human rights in the digital age, and the widespread monitoring of public spaces.

The UNHRC also tackles online privacy and data protection. Resolutions on the promotion and protection of human rights on the internet have underlined the need to address security concerns on the internet in accordance with international human rights obligations to ensure the protection of all human rights online, including the right to privacy. The UNHRC has also adopted specific resolutions on the right to privacy in the digital age, addressing issues such as mass surveillance, AI, the responsibility of business enterprises, and the key role of the right to privacy as an enabler of other human rights. Resolutions on the safety of journalists have emphasised the importance of encryption and anonymity tools for journalists to freely exercise their work. Two resolutions on new and emerging technologies (2019 and 2021) have further broadened the lens, for example by asking for a report on the human rights implications of technical standard-setting processes.

The UNHRC has also mandated the Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy to address the issue of online privacy in its Resolution on the Right to Privacy in the Digital Age from 2015 (A/HRC/RES/28/16). To illustrate, the Special Rapporteur has addressed the question of privacy from the stance of surveillance in the digital age (A/HRC/34/60), which becomes particularly challenging in the context of cross-border data flows. More recently, specific attention has been given to the privacy of health data that is being produced more and more in the day and age of digitalisation, and that requires the highest legal and ethical standards (A/HRC/40/63). In this vein, in 2020, the Special Rapporteur examined data protection and surveillance in relation to COVID-19 and contact tracing in his preliminary report (A/75/147), in which he provided a more definitive analysis of how pandemics can be managed with respect to the right to privacy (A/76/220) in 2021. In another 2020 report (A/HRC/43/52), the Special Rapporteur provides a set of recommendations on privacy in the online space calling for, among other things, ‘comprehensive protection for secure digital communications, including by promoting strong encryption and anonymity- enhancing tools, products, and services, and resisting requests for “backdoors” to digital communications’ and recommending that ‘government digital identity programs are not used to monitor and enforce societal gender norms, or for purposes that are not lawful, necessary, and proportionate in a democratic society.’

The Special Rapporteur also addressed the challenges of AI and privacy, as well as children’s privacy, particularly the role of privacy in supporting autonomy and positive participation of children in society, in his report in 2021 (A/HRC/46/37).

Lastly, in 2022, the Special Rapporteur examined developments in privacy and data protection in Ibero- America in her report titled Privacy and Personal Data Protection in Ibero-America: A Step Towards Globalization? (A/HRC/49/55).

Freedom of expression

The High Commissioner and her office advocate for the promotion and protection of freedom of expression, including in the online space. Key topics in this advocacy are the protection of the civic space and the safety of journalists online; various forms of information control, including internet shutdowns and censorship; addressing incitement to violence, discrimination, or hostility; disinformation; and the role of social media platforms in the space of online expression.

Freedom of expression in the digital space also features highly on the agenda of the UNHRC. It has often been underlined that states have a responsibility to ensure adequate protection of freedom of expression online, including when they adopt and implement measures aimed at dealing with issues such as cybersecurity, incitement to violence, and the promotion and distribution of extremist content online. The UNHRC has also been firm in condemning measures to intentionally prevent or disrupt access to or the dissemination of information online, and has called on states to refrain from and cease such measures.

In 2021, at the request of the UNHRC A/HRC/47/22, the High Commissioner prepared a report on internet shutdowns (A/HRC/50/55), which looks at trends in internet shutdowns, analysing their causes, their legal implications, and their impact on a range of human rights, including economic, social, and cultural rights. She called on states to refrain from the full range of internet shutdowns and for companies to uphold their responsibilities to respect human rights. She stressed the need for development agencies, and regional and international organisations to bridge their digital connectivity efforts with efforts related to internet shutdowns.

UN Human Rights also weighs in on a range of law-making processes that are relevant to the exercise of the right to freedom of expression. For example, it has engaged with the development of the EU Digital Services Act, commented extensively on global trends in regulating social media, and participated in the process of elaborating a Comprehensive International Convention on Countering the Use of Information and Communications Technologies for Criminal Purposes.

Special Rapporteurs on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression have been analysing issues relating to free expression in the digital space for more than a decade. Reports in the first half of the 2010s already addressed the importance of universal access to the internet for the enjoyment of human rights, free expression in the context of elections, and the adverse impacts of government surveillance on free expression. In 2018, the Special Rapporteur published a report on online content regulation. It tackles governments’ regulation of user-generated online content, analyses the role of companies, and recommends that states should ensure an enabling environment for online freedom of expression and that businesses should rely on human rights law when designing their products and services. The same year, he also presented to the UNGA a report addressing freedom of expression issues linked to the use of AI by companies and states. A year later, the Special Rapporteur presented a report to the UNGA on online hate speech that discusses the regulation of hate speech in international human rights law and how it provides a basis for governmental actors considering regulatory options and for companies determining how to respect human rights online.

In 2020, the Special Rapporteur issued Disease Pandemics and the Freedom of Opinion and Expression, a report that specifically tackles issues such as access to the internet, which is highlighted to be ‘a critical element of healthcare policy and practice,  public information, and even the right to life’. The report calls for greater international coordination on digital connectivity given the importance of digital access to healthcare information. Other reports addressed the vital importance of encryption and anonymity for the exercise of freedom of opinion and the threats to freedom of expression emanating from widespread digital surveillance.

The Special Rapporteur, while acknowledging the complexities and challenges posed by disinformation in the digital age, noted that responses by states and companies to counter disinformation have been inadequate and detrimental to human rights. In her 2021 report Disinformation and Freedom of Opinion and Expression (A/HRC/47/25), she examined the threats posed by disinformation to human rights, democratic institutions, and development processes, and called for multidimensional and multistakeholder responses to disinformation that are well grounded in the international human rights framework and urged companies to review their business models and states to recalibrate their responses to disinformation.

More recently, in 2022, the Special Rapporteur issued Reinforcing Media Freedom and the Safety of Journalists in the Digital Age (A/HRC/50/29), a report in which she calls on states and the international community to strengthen multistakeholder cooperation to protect and promote media freedom and the safety of journalists in the digital age, and ensure independence, pluralism, and viability of the media. She also calls on digital services companies and social media platforms to respect the UNGPs on BHR.

Online hate speech and discrimination have also been addressed by the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion and belief. For instance, in a report published in 2019, the online manifestation of antisemitism (including antisemitic hate speech) was underscored, and best practices from the Netherlands and Poland were shared. The report highlights that governments ‘have an affirmative responsibility to address online antisemitism, as the digital sphere is now the primary public forum and marketplace for ideas’. In another document published that same year, the Special Rapporteur assesses the impact of online platforms on discrimination and on the perpetuation of hostile and violent acts in the name of religion, as well as how restrictive measures such as blocking and filtering of websites negatively impact the freedom of expression.

The issue of online blasphemy and undue limitations on expressing critical views of religions and beliefs imposed by governments has also been addressed on a number of occasions, including in a report from 2018.

Gender rights online (3)

UN Human Rights and the UNHRC have reiterated on several occasions the need for countries to bridge the gender digital divide and enhance the use of ICTs, including the internet, to promote the empowerment of all women and girls. It has also condemned gender-based violence committed on the internet. Implementing a 2016 UNHRC resolution on the Promotion, Protection, and Enjoyment of Human Rights on the Internet, the High Commissioner on Human Rights in 2017 prepared a report on Ways to Bridge the Gender Digital Divide from a Human Rights Perspective.

Rights of persons with disabilities

The promotion and protection of the rights of persons with disabilities in the online space have been addressed on several occasions by the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities. A report from 2016 underscored that ICTs including the internet can increase the participation of persons with disabilities in public decision-making processes and that states should work towards reducing the access gap between those who can use ICTs and those who cannot.

Nevertheless, a report from 2019 stressed that the shift to e-governance and service delivery in a digital manner can hamper access for older persons with disabilities who may lack the necessary skills or equipment.

The Special Rapporteur also examined the opportunities and risks posed by AI, including discriminatory impacts in relation to AI in decision-making systems. In his 2021 report (A/HRC/49/52), the Special Rapporteur emphasises the importance of disability-inclusive AI and the inclusion of persons with disabilities in conversations about AI.

Freedom of peaceful assembly and association

The exercise of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association in the digital environment in recent years has attracted increased attention. For example, the High Commissioner presented to the 44th session of the UNHRC a report on new technologies such as ICTs and their impact on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of assemblies, including peaceful protests. The report highlighted many of the great opportunities for the exercise of human rights that digital technologies offer, analysed key issues linked to online content takedowns, and called on states to stop the practice of network disruptions in the context of protests. It also developed guidance concerning the use of surveillance tools, in particular facial recognition technology.

The Human Rights Committee published in July 2020 its General Comment No. 37 on Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) (right of peaceful assembly), which addresses manifold aspects arising in the digital context.

The Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association in 2019 published a report for the UNHRC focusing on the opportunities and challenges facing the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association in the digital age. In following reports, he condemned the widespread practice of internet shutdowns and raised concerns about technologically mediated restrictions on free association and assembly in the context of crises.

Economic, social, and cultural rights

In March 2020, the UN Secretary-General presented to the UNHRC a report on the role of new technologies for the realisation of economic, social, and cultural rights. He identified the opportunities and challenges held by new technologies for the realisation of economic, social, and cultural rights and other related human rights, and for the human-rights-based implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The report concludes with recommendations for related action by member states, private companies, and other stakeholders.

More recently, in 2022, the Special Rapporteur on Education presented a report on the impact of digitalisation of education on the right to education (A/HRC/50/32) to the UNHRC, calling for the integration of human rights legal framework in digital education plans in the context of increasing digitalization of education.

Digital tools

Technical standard-settings and human rights

The UNHRC adopted resolution A/HRC/RES/47/23 on new and emerging digital technologies and human rights, which requested UN Human Rights to convene an expert consultation and write a report discussing the relationship between human rights and technical standard-setting processes for new and emerging digital technologies. The expert consultation and the report will be presented in 2023 at the UNHRC.

As requested by the UNHRC, in its resolution A/HRC/ RES/47/23, the High Commissioner presented her report on UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and Technology Companies (A/HRC/50/56), following the multistakeholder consultation held on 7–8 March 2022. The High Commissioner’s report demonstrated the value and practical application of the UNGPs in preventing and addressing adverse human rights impacts by technology companies

The UNHRC has developed an e-learning tool to assist government officials from least-developed countries and small island developing states (SIDS) as per the mandate of the Trust Fund to develop competencies on the UNHRC and its mechanisms.

Future of meetings

For more information, visit the UN Human Rights meetings and events page.

Social media channels

Facebook @UnitedNationsHumanRights

Instagram @unitednationshumanrights

Twitter @UNHumanRights

YouTube @UNOHCHR

1-Within the work of the OHCHR, ‘child safety online’ is referred to as ‘rights of the child’ and dealt with as a human rights issue.

2-Within the work of the OHCHR, ‘extreme poverty’ is dealt with as a human rights issue.

3-Within the work of the OHCHR, ‘gender rights women rights and gender equality online’

Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights

Acronym: Geneva Academy

Established: 2007

Address: Rue de Lausanne 120B, 1202 Geneva, Switzerland

Website: https://www.geneva-academy.ch/

The Geneva Academy – a joint centre of the University of Geneva (UNIGE) and the Geneva Graduate Institute – provides postgraduate education, conducts academic legal research and policy studies, and organises training courses and expert meetings. It concentrates on branches of international law that relate to armed conflict, protracted violence, and the protection of human rights.

Digital activities

Are new means and methods of warfare compatible with existing international humanitarian law (IHL) rules? What challenges do big data and artificial intelligence (AI) pose to human rights? How can we ensure the right to privacy and protection of the private sphere in times of war and peace?

New technologies, digitalisation, and big data are reshaping our societies and the way they organise. While technological advancements present tremendous opportunities and promises, rapid developments in AI, automation, and robotics raise a series of questions about their impact in times of peace and war.

The Geneva Academy’s research in this domain explores whether these new developments are compatible with existing rules and whether IHL and human rights law continue to provide the level of protection they are meant to ensure.

Its three Master’s programmes and training courses also train tomorrow’s leaders and decision-makers in the IHL and human rights legal frameworks relevant to digital activities, including on the law of weaponry and new military technologies.

Its Geneva Human Rights Platform (GHRP) facilitates exchanges and discussions among various stakeholders – experts, practitioners, diplomats, and civil society – around digitalisation and human rights to provide policy advice on how to harness potential and mitigate danger in this rapidly changing field.

The Academy’s public events and expert meetings provide a critical and scholarly forum for experts, practitioners, and policymakers to discuss and debate the impact of digitalisation on human rights and contemporary armed conflicts.

Digital policy issues

Emerging technologies

New military technologies have a profound impact on how wars are fought. Significant advances in the fields of cyberspace, AI, robotics, and space technology are at the forefront of contemporary geopolitical power struggles and current protection questions during armed conflicts.

The Geneva Academy addresses these challenges via the following two research projects coordinated by its Swiss IHL Chair Professor Marco Roscini.

  • Digitalization of Conflict Joint Initiative: Humanitarian Impact and Legal Protection
  • The Disruptive Military Technologies project aims to stay abreast of the various military technology trends, promote legal and policy debate on new military technologies, and further the understanding of the convergent effects of different technological trends that shape the future digital battlefield. Developments in the fields of cyberwarfare, cybersecurity, and emerging military applications of AI constitute the core focus area of this research.

Artificial intelligence

The Academy’s research project on disruptive technologies and rights-based resilience addresses the impact of disruptive technologies such as AI and advanced robotics on human rights.

Data governance

Rule of Law in Armed Conflicts (RULAC) is a unique online portal that identifies and classifies all situations of armed violence that amount to an armed conflict under international humanitarian law.

RULAC currently monitors more than 100 armed conflicts involving at least 55 states and more than 70 armed non-state actors. These armed conflicts can be searched via an interactive map that displays state parties and the various types of armed conflicts: international, non-international, and military occupations. All the armed conflicts on RULAC are constantly monitored and regularly updated to include new developments and fundamental changes that may affect their classification.

Human rights principles

Disruptive technologies such as AI and advanced robotics pose significant societal challenges and specific threats to human rights. They can be used, for instance, to exacerbate ethnic conflict, fuel hate speech, undermine democratic processes, facilitate state surveillance, and perpetuate discriminatory narratives and practices. Better regulating these fast-paced technological advances requires placing IHRL at the centre of regulatory and policy frameworks developed by states and tech companies.

Research on disruptive technologies and rights-based resilience – launched in 2021 and carried out in partnership with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) B-Tech Project and the Geneva Science- Policy Interface (GSPI) – facilitates a multistakeholder process to identify gaps, generate new evidence, and design tools to support regulatory and policy responses to human rights challenges linked to digital technologies.

The GHRP, hosted by the Geneva Academy, provides a neutral and dynamic forum of interaction for all stakeholders in the field of human rights to debate topical issues and challenges related to the functioning of the Geneva-based human rights system. Relying on academic research and findings, it works to enable various actors to be better connected, break silos, and, hence, advance human rights.

In this context, the GHRP facilitates exchanges and discussions on human rights and digitalisation with a view to moving the focus of UN human rights mechanisms beyond the right to privacy or freedom of expression by exploring the impact on all rights and formulating specific policy advice.

Digital tools

The Geneva Academy proposes many of its activities– events, training courses – in a hybrid format (in-person and online). Via the recording and publication of videos on our website and social media channels, interested audiences can also watch important public debates and discussions afterwards.

One of its Master’s programmes – the Executive Master in International Law in Armed Conflict – is an online part-time programme for practitioners with demanding jobs and responsibilities. An easy and interactive platform allows them to interact directly with professors and other participants during classes and access all the course materials and readings. If a participant is unable to follow a specific class, they can watch the recordings afterwards.

Its short courses on topical issues and challenges in international law in armed conflict like international refugee law, the protection of persons and property in international armed conflict, or the challenges of international criminal justice, are also offered online.

Future of meetings

Following the COVID-19 crisis, the Geneva Academy continues to offer many of its events and training courses in a hybrid format (in-person and online).

In addition, its Executive Master in International Law in Armed Conflict and related short courses are now exclusively offered online and, therefore, also accessible to practitioners in the field.

Social media channels

Facebook @GenevaAcademyIHLandHR

Instagram @geneva_academy

LinkedIn @Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian

Law and Human Rights

Twitter @Geneva_Academy

YouTube @Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights

United Nations Economic Commission for Europe

Acronym: UNECE

Established: 1947

Address: Palais des Nations, 1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland

Website: https://www.unece.org/info/ece-homepage.html

Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations

UNECE is one of five regional commissions of the UN. Its major aim is to promote pan-European economic integration. To do so, it brings together 56 countries in Europe, North America, and Central Asia, which discuss and cooperate on economic and sectoral issues.

UNECE works to promote sustainable development and economic growth through policy dialogue, negotiation of international legal instruments, development of regulations and norms, exchange and application of best practices, economic and technical expertise, and technical cooperation for countries with economies in transition. It also sets out norms, standards, and conventions to facilitate international cooperation.

Digital activities

UNECE’s work touches on several digital policy issues, ranging from digital standards (in particular in relation to electronic data interchange for administration, commerce, and transport) to the internet of things (IoT) (e.g. intelligent transport systems). Its activities on connected vehicles and automated driving systems are essential to seize the benefits of technical progress and disruptions in that field and to operationalise new mobility concepts such as Mobility as a Service (MaaS). Its UN/CEFACT develops trade facilitation recommendations and electronic business standards, covering both commercial and government business processes. UNECE also carries out activities focused on promoting sustainable development, in areas such as sustainable and smart cities for all ages; sustainable mobility and smart connectivity; and measuring and monitoring progress towards the sustainable development goals (SDGs).

UNECE’s work in the field of statistics is also relevant for digital policy issues. For example, the 2019 Guidance on Modernizing Statistical Legislation– which guides countries through the process of reviewing and revising statistical legislation – covers issues such as open data, national and international data exchanges, and government data management.

UNECE carries out extensive work in the area of sustainable transport leading on several UN Conventions. Accession to the conventions continues to increase as more and more member states realise the benefits in the time taken and associated costs in the movement of goods. Numerous digitised systems have been developed, and are maintained, hosted, and administered under the auspices of UNECE. For a number of other tools and mechanisms, work is underway.

Digital policy issues

Digital standards

UNECE’s intergovernmental body UN/CEFACT continues making great strides in the area of digital standards. In a recent collaboration with the International Federation of Freight-Forwarders Associations (FIATA), it developed the electronic FIATA Multimodal Bill of Lading (eFBL) data standard. The basis of the mapping of the Negotiable FIATA Multimodal Transport Bill of Lading (FBL) with the UN/CEFACT Multimodal Transport (MMT) reference data model, allows the exchange of BL data in a standardised way, facilitating interoperability between all modes of transport and industry stakeholders. Similar to other data standards developed by UN/CEFACT, the data standard is offered as open-source for all software providers and industry stakeholders to implement. UNECE’s standardisation work builds on a family of reference data models in alignment with its strategy to become the next generation of global standards for trade and transport information exchange. Other digital standards in the areas of supply chain management, agriculture, and travel and tourism (e.g. Buy Ship Pay Reference Data Model, Textile and Leather Data Model (Part 1 and Part 2), and Travel and Tourism Experience Programme Data Model) are a great step toward paperless trade and benefit all actors of the supply chain by reducing costs, increasing security, and gaining efficiency.

Internet of things and artificial intelligence

As the UN centre for inland transport, UNECE hosts international regulatory platforms in the field of automated driving and intelligent transport systems. It hosts multilateral agreements and conventions ruling the requirements and the use of these technologies (such as the UN agreements on vehicle regulations and the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic). Its activities (e.g. facilitating policy dialogue and developing regulations and norms) contribute to enabling automated driving functionalities and ensuring that the benefits of these technologies can be captured without compromising safety and progress achieved in areas such as border crossing and interoperability. It also collaborates with other interested stakeholders, including the automotive and information and communications technology (ICT) industries, consumer organisations, governments, and international organisations.

Another area of work for UNECE is related to harnessing smart technologies and innovation for sustainable and smart cities. In this regard, it promotes the use of ICTs in city planning and service provision and it has developed (together with ITU) a set of key performance indicators for smart sustainable cities. UNECE also works to facilitate connectivity through sustainable infrastructure. For instance, it assists countries in developing smart grids for more efficient energy distribution, and it administers international e-roads, e-rail, and e-waterway networks.

UNECE launched the Advisory Group on Advanced Technology in Trade and Logistics (AGAT) in 2020 on topics, such as distributed ledger technologies (DLT) including blockchain, IoT, and AI.

Artificial intelligence for energy

AI and other technologies are inspiring energy suppliers, transmission and distribution companies, and demand sectors (buildings, industry, transport) to establish new business models to generate, deliver, and consume energy in a more sustainable way.

UNECE established a task force on digitalization in energy to offer a platform for cross-industry experts from the energy sector and digital innovation to develop a unified voice on digitalisation in energy.

The group found that AI and digitalisation have the potential to reduce residential and commercial buildings’ energy use by as much as 10% globally by 2040 if applied throughout a building’s value chain and life cycle. In particular, applications of AI may help optimise a building’s orientation for solar heat gain and predict power and heat needs, thus increasing overall energy security and maximising the integration of renewable energy sources.

The group also found that AI and digitalisation could help achieve energy savings of at least 10%–20% in the industrial sector (which consumes around 38% of global final energy and produces 24% of greenhouse gases).

Automated driving

Blockchain

UNECE’s subsidiary body UN/CEFACT has been exploring the use of blockchain for trade facilitation. For instance, work carried out within the Blockchain White Paper Project has resulted in two white papers: One looking at the impact of blockchain on the technical standards work of UN/CEFACT and another looking at how blockchain could facilitate trade and related business processes. The ongoing Chain Project is focused on developing a framework/mechanism for the development and implementation of blockchain services infrastructure, and creating a whitepaper on strategy for the development and implementation of interoperable global blockchain technology infrastructure. Another blockchain-related project looks into the development of a standard on the creation of a cross-border inter-customs ledger using blockchain technology.

Critical infrastructure

UNECE achieved a transformative milestone with regard to cybersecurity in the broad automotive sector with the adoption of UN Regulation No. 155 (Cyber Security and CSMS) and UN Regulation No. 156 (Software Updates).

Before that, cyber risks related to connected vehicles were apparent but not systematically addressed. Security researchers alerted the public of them by revealing various vulnerabilities. There were only narrow standards and guidelines for securing vehicles, such as standards for secure communication among Electronic Control Units (ECUs) and for hardware encryption.

UNECE’s World Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations (Working Party on Automated/Autonomous and Connected Vehicles (GRVA) WP.29) adopted two important new regulations on cybersecurity and over-the-air software updates and led to the situation where cybersecurity became non-negotiable for securing market access via type approval for those countries applying this regime. GRVA also developed recommendations on uniform provisions concerning cybersecurity and software updates for countries applying the self-certification regime.

Under the 1958 Agreement (binding to 54 countries)

Data governance

UNECE carries out multiple activities of relevance for the area of data governance.
First, its work on trade facilitation also covers data management issues. For example, it has issued a white paper on a data pipeline concept for improving data quality in the supply chain and a set of Reference Data Model Guidelines. Several projects carried out in the framework of UNECE’s subsidiary UN/CEFACT also cover data-related issues.  Examples include the  Buy-Ship-Pay  Reference Data Model (BSP-RDM), the Supply Chain Reference Data Model (SCRDM), the Multi-Modal Transport Reference Data Model (MMT-RDM), the Cross-border Management Reference Data Model Project (to provide a regulatory reference data model within the UN/CEFACT semantic library in order to assist authorities to link this information to the standards of other organisations), the Sustainable Development and Circular Economy Reference Data Model Project, and the Accounting and Audit Reference Data Model Project.

Second, UNECE has a statistical division, which coordinates international statistical activities between UNECE countries and helps to strengthen, modernise, and harmonise statistical systems under the guidance of the Conference of European Statisticians. Its activities in this area are guided by the Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics, adopted in 1992 and later endorsed by the ECOSOC and the UNGA. Areas of work include economic statistics, statistics on population, gender and society, statistics related to sustainable development and the environment, and modernisation of official statistics. In 2019, UNECE published a Guidance on Modernizing Statistical Legislation to guide countries through the process of reviewing and revising statistical legislation. The guidance covers issues such as open data, national and international data exchanges, and government data management.

Third, UNECE keeps abreast of external developments, (e.g. in Europe or an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) country), related to challenges related to AI, privacy, and human rights. This is the case for example with the activities on transport and automated vehicles. The GRVA is reflecting on the impact of general AI policies in its activities and developed possible ways to add layers in its multi-pillar approach to validate the performance of the Automated Driving System, and therefore to integrate considerations on data management in the context of AI agent training, support features, and functions of automated driving, and collaborate with the automotive sector on this matter.

E-commerce and trade

UNECE’s subsidiary, UN/CEFACT, serves as a focal point (within ECOSOC) for trade facilitation recommendations and electronic business standards, covering both commercial and government business processes. In collaboration with the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS), UNECE developed the Electronic business using eXtensible Mark-up Language (ebXML). Another output of UNECE is represented by the UN rules for Electronic Data Interchange for Administration, Commerce and Transport (UN/ EDIFACT), which include internationally agreed upon standards, directories, and guidelines for the electronic interchange of structured data between computerised information systems. UNECE has also issued recommendations on issues such as Single Window, electronic commerce agreements, and e-commerce self-regulatory instruments. In addition, UN/CEFACT works on supporting international, regional, and national e-government efforts to improve trade facilitation and e-commerce systems.

Recommendation 33 – Single Window Recommendation

UN Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business (UN/CEFACT) Trade facilitation recommendations | UNECE

Digital and environment

UNECE’s work in the area of environmental policy covers a broad range of issues, such as air pollution, transboundary water cooperation,  industrial safety,  environmental democracy, the green economy, environmental monitoring and impact assessment, and education for sustainable development. Much of this work is carried out by the Committee on Environmental Policy, which, among other tasks, supports countries in their efforts to strengthen their environmental governance and assesses their efforts to reduce their pollution burden, manage natural resources, and integrate environmental and socio-economic policies. UNECE has put in place an Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Programme to assist member states in working with environmental data and information and enable informed decision-making processes. As part of this programme, it promotes the use of electronic tools for accessing information and knowledge on environmental matters and is supporting the continued development of a Shared Environmental Information System across the UNECE region. The system is intended to enable countries to connect databases and make environmental data more accessible.

The INForest database offers the most up-to-date source of information about the size of the forest area in the UNECE region, how it has changed over decades, the structure of forests, the goods and services forests provide, as well as their contribution to the economy, society and the environment.

UNECE has developed policy guidance to support the digital inclusion of older people. In the Rome Ministerial Declaration on Ageing, adopted in June 2022, Ministers pledged to ‘promote age-friendly digitalisation, products and services, and support innovation for the silver economy’.

Recognising the importance of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) traceability in achieving SDG 12 and considering the rich body of expertise and standards already available through UNECE, UNECE broadened the focus of the Team of Specialists (ToS) on sustainable fisheries to (ESG) traceability of sustainable value chains in the circular economy.

UNECE Environmental Conventions and Protocols (not necessarily covering digital issues directly, but relevant):

Sustainable development

UNECE assists countries in its region to address sustainable development challenges (in areas such as environment, connectivity, and urbanisation) through offering policy advice; leveraging its norms, standards, and conventions; and building capacities. It focuses on driving progress towards the following SDGs: good health and well-being (SDG 3), clean water and sanitation (SDG 6), affordable and clean energy (SDG 7), decent work and economic growth (SDG 8), industry, innovation and infrastructure (SDG 9), sustainable cities and communities (SDG 11), responsible consumption and production (SDG 12), climate action (SDG 13), and life on land (SDG 15). Gender equality (SDG 5) and partnerships (SDG 17) are overarching for all UNECE activities. Activities undertaken by UNECE concerning these SDGs converge under four high-impact areas: sustainable use of natural resources; sustainable and smart cities for all ages; sustainable mobility and smart connectivity; and measuring and monitoring progress towards the SDGs.

UNECE has developed a series of tools and standards to support countries in measuring and monitoring progress towards the SDGs. It has also put in place an Innovation Policy Outlook, which assesses the scope, quality, and performance of policies, institutions, and instruments promoting innovation for sustainable development.

Privacy and data protection

The World Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations has included guidelines on cybersecurity and data protection in its consolidated resolution on the construction of vehicles, including principles of lawful, fair, and transparent processing of personal data: (1) respecting the identity and privacy of the data subject; (2) not discriminating against data subjects based on their personal data; (3) paying attention to the reasonable expectations of the data subjects with regard to the transparency and context of the data processing; (4) maintaining the integrity and trustworthiness of information technology systems and in particular not secretly manipulating data processing; (5) taking into account the benefit of data processing depending on the free flow of data, communication and innovation, as far as data subjects have to respect the processing of personal data with regard to the overriding general public interest; and (6) ensuring the preservation of individual mobility data according to necessity and purpose.

These guidelines were referred to in the Resolution on Data Protection in Automated and Connected Vehicles adopted during the 39th International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners Hong Kong, 25–29 September 2017.

UNECE hosts several portals, applications, and digitalised conventions.

The Customs Convention on the International Transport of Goods under Cover of TIR (Transports Internationaux Routiers) Carnets (TIR Convention, 1975) is one of the most successful international transport conventions. It is the only universal customs transit system in existence.

The TIR system, used by over 34,000 transport and logistics companies in its 77 contracting parties, has already reduced cross-border transport time by up to 80%, and costs by up to 38%. The eTIR international system aims to ensure the secure exchange of data between national customs systems related to the international transit of goods, vehicles, or containers according to the provisions of the TIR Convention and to allow customs to manage the data on guarantees, issued by guarantee chains to holders authorised to use the TIR system.

Digital tools

The ITDB is an international online repository of information for all those authorised by contracting parties to use the TIR procedure. It is an integral part of the eTIR International system since only users approved in ITDB can use the eTIR system. The main goal of the ITDB is to foster the exchange of information between competent authorities of contracting parties and national associations.

  • eCPD – to be launched

The Carnet de Passages en Douane (CPD) system (i.e. a passport card for your vehicle) facilitates the temporary importation of private and commercial vehicles. The CPD system is based on two international conventions: the 1954 Customs Convention on the Temporary Importation of Private Road Vehicles and the 1956 Customs Convention on the Temporary Importation of Commercial Road Vehicles. Hosted by UNECE, the conventions combined have 96 contracting parties. Work has started to prepare the appropriate amendments to the 1954 and 1956 conventions describing the eCPD; prepare the high-level architecture including the concepts and functional and technical specifications of the future eCPD application; and develop the eCPD system based on these specifications.

  • eCMR – to be launched

The eCMR is based on the provisions of the Convention on the Contract for the International Carriage of Goods by Road (CMR) (1956) and especially on the provisions of the Additional Protocol to CMR Concerning the Electronic Consignment Note (2008). UNECE, which administers the CMR Convention, has been mandated by governments to administer the eCMR protocol and to establish a formal group of experts on the operationalisation of the eCMR procedure.

Digital visualisation

The observatory will be developed on a geographic information systems (GIS) platform with three main pillars of services: it offers an electronic repository of UNECE inland transport conventions, an innovative tool to finance transport infrastructure, and a way to promote sustainable regional and interregional connectivity.

The ITIO GIS platform assists in the analysis of possible future impacts of climate change on transport networks. The tool enables experts to identify sections of transport networks potentially exposed to the effects of climate change.

Digital enabler

The SITCIN tool allows countries to measure their degree of transport connectivity, both domestically and bilaterally/sub-regionally, as well as in terms of soft and hard infrastructure.

UNECE digital tools facilitating access to statistical information:

UNECE online platforms and observatories gather updates and policy resources to help member states respond to the COVID-19 crisis:

Future of meetings

Guided by the assessments of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the host country authorities, UNECE’s respective governing bodies and partner organisations amended the format and conduct of meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure business continuity and delivery of support to its member states.

Hybrid and online meeting formats continue to be used.

UNECE Executive Committee – Special procedures during the COVID-19 period (adopted in April 2020 and extended in July 2020)

  • Use of the silence procedure for decision-making;

Social media channels

Facebook @UNECE

Flickr @UNECE

Instagram @un_ece

Twitter @UNECE

YouTube @UNECE

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Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies

Acronym: Geneva Graduate Institute

Established: 1927

Address: Case postale 1672, 1211 Geneva, Switzerland

Website: https://www.graduateinstitute.ch

The Geneva Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies (Geneva Graduate Institute) is an institution of research and higher education at the postgraduate level dedicated to the study of world affairs, with a particular emphasis on the cross-cutting fields of international relations and development issues.

Through its core activities, the Institute promotes international cooperation and contributes to the progress of developing societies. More broadly, it endeavours to develop creative thinking on the major challenges of our time, foster global responsibility, and advance respect for diversity.

By intensely engaging with international organisations, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), governments, and multinational companies, the Institute participates in global discussions and prepares future policymakers to lead tomorrow’s world.

In 2022, the Institute launched a new Competence Hub on digital technologies. The Tech Hub brings together a diversity of internal and external expertise to explore technologies from a human-centred and human-biotype-centred perspective. The focus will be the exploration of current and future technological innovations from a social science perspective, with an interest in the socio-political, governance, and geopolitical consequences of the current technological revolution. It will progressively structure different kinds of activities as well as welcome and foster research projects.

This transdisciplinary and horizontal initiative enables the Institute to forge and express its own unique voice on the digital turn and its consequences. It has indeed a particular role to play in the exploration of all those questions that need a transdisciplinary social science and humanities perspective and are by nature profoundly inter-transnational. The reality is that the Institute is already producing research and knowledge on those questions and diffusing them through teaching and events.

Digital activities

As part of its main strategy, the Institute seeks to develop digitally driven innovation in teaching and research, as well as information technology (IT) services. At the same time, as a research institution focusing on global challenges and their impacts, the digital turn has become one of its fundamental and policy-oriented research areas.

In terms of research, a growing number of researchers and PhD candidates analyse the impact of digitalisation on international relations and development issues. A few examples of research topics are cybersecurity, hybrid threats and warfare, surveillance technologies, internet governance, digital diplomacy, digital health, digital rights, digital trust, digital economy, the future of work, blockchain and cryptocurrencies, AI and humanitarian law, and AI and peace negotiations among others. The Institute has also developed expertise in using digital technologies as new research methods, including computational social scientific methods and big data analytics.

In terms of teaching, its Master, PhD, and executive education courses are increasingly focused on the effects of digitalisation on society and the economy, and more generally the global system. Some examples of courses are Digital Approaches to Conflict Prevention, Digital Innovation in Nature Conservation, Internet, Technology and International Law, Introduction to Digital Social Science Research, Technology, Society and Decision- making, The Politics of Digital Design, AI and Politics, Internet Governance and Economics, Technology and Development, and Digital Diplomacy and Power Relations on Cyberspace. Digital skills workshops are also organised for students to provide them with basic digital competence for their future professional or academic life, including big data analysis, introduction to programming with R and Python, and data analysis in various contexts.

The Institute is now involved in the development of a doctoral school on Digital Studies. This is a partnership with University of Lausanne (UNIL), École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), University of Geneva (UNIGE), University of Neuchâtel (UNINE), and University of Fribourg (UNIFR) and will be hosted by CUSO (Conférence Universitaire de Suisse Occidentale). As part of its membership of SwissUniversities, it also offers a very complete programme for doctoral students – Strengthening Digital Skills in Education. Launched in 2019, the second phase of that programme runs from 2021 to 2024.

Over the years, the Institute has developed a performing IT infrastructure with secured data storage space and digital platforms (e.g. Campus, Moodle, TurntIn, Zoom, MyHR, Salesforces, Converis) to provide seamless services as well as dematerialised/paperless processes (e.g. student applications, course registration) for students, staff, and professors.

The Institute has developed digital tools (e.g. app for students, responsive website) and used digital services (e.g. social media, Facebook, Google ads) for many years in its student recruitment and communication campaigns.

Digital tools are also part of the pedagogical methods to improve learning. Flipped classrooms, MOOCs, SPOCs, and podcasts, to name a few, are used by professors in Master’s and PhD programmes, as well as in executive education. The Institute also supports professors in developing pedagogical skills and in using digital tools. Workshops are offered to all faculty members at the end of the summer to prepare them for hybrid teaching and the use of new technological tools in the classroom.

The Institute also organises workshops, seminars, film screenings, and other events on the digital turn, ranging from the digital divide and the governance and regulatory aspects of data to cybersecurity.

Digital policy issues

Some of the Institute’s prominent research initiatives are listed under respective digital policy issues sections.

Artificial intelligence

Conflict and peacebuilding

The faculty carries out a number of digital policy-related research projects, some of which focus on AI in particular. For example, the project titled Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems (LAWS) and War Crimes: Who is to Bear Responsibility? aims to clarify whether and to what extent the requirements for ascribing criminal responsibility for the commission of an act – and in particular the key concepts of culpability theories – can be applied to the use of LAWS in combat operations. This analysis will serve to identify lacunae and inconsistencies in the current legal framework in the face of the advent of military robotics.

This project explores how the increasing digitalisation of peace processes affects international peace building efforts that take place in a global environment characterised by friction between liberal and authoritarian approaches. To make sense of these dynamics, the project draws on the concept of apomediation, to suggest that solutions to conflict are no longer simply supplied by human agents, but through a complex entanglement of human-machine networks.

The Intrepid Project aims to develop a general understanding of how policy announcements by state agencies are interpreted by journalists in ways that send signals, indicate intent, and otherwise provoke economic and political reactions. Machine learning (ML) techniques and the semantic and syntactic properties of announcement texts are then used to develop models of the announcement interpretation process.

Global Health

A number of projects carried out by the Institute’s members address the relationship between digital technologies and health. For instance, the Modelling Early Risk Indicators to Anticipate Malnutrition (MERIAM) project uses computer models to test and scale up cost effective means to improve the prediction and monitoring of undernutrition in difficult contexts.

The Institute hosts the new Digital Health and AI Research Collaborative (I-DAIR) directed by former Ambassador of India and Visiting Lecturer at the Institute Amandeep Gill. I-DAIR aims to create a platform to promote responsible and inclusive AI research and digital technology development for health. This platform is supported by the Geneva Science and Diplomacy Anticipator (GESDA).

The project Governing Health Futures 2030: Growing up in a Digital World, hosted at the Global Health Centre (GHC), explores how to ensure that digital development helps improve the health and well-being of all, and especially among children and young people. It focuses on examining integrative policies for digital health, AI, and universal health coverage to support the attainment of the third sustainable development goal (SDG).

Democracy

Questions about the potential impact of the internet are now routinely raised in relation to political events and elections in most places. The project on the Digital Infrastructuring of Democracy asks how the digital infrastructuring of democracy unfolds through regulatory and political processes, with a heuristic focus on both its transnational dimension and its specific reverberations in democracies of the Global South. The project concentrates on one thematic controversy related to each aspect of infrastructure: the accountability of algorithms for code, data protection for content, and encryption for circulation.

Taking stock of the centrality of AI in society and in the citizen-government relation, this project hosted at the Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy seeks to engage with youth in Switzerland to explore the future role of AI in democracy through storytelling and narrative foresight. It will give a voice to the citizens of tomorrow and collaborate with art schools to design participatory AI art.

Future of work

Focusing on the Global South, the project African Futures: Digital Labor and Blockchain Technology strengthens empirical knowledge on changing trends in employment in the region by way of a two-pronged approach to the increasingly interconnected global division of labour: (1) App-based work mediated by online service platforms and (2) the use of blockchain technology in mining sites for ethical sourcing, traceability, and proof of origin.

The emergence of AI and digitally mediated work represents a fundamental challenge for most developing economies. Coupled with jobless economic growth, rising human productivity, and the exponential increase of the available labourpool, few jobs can be said to be safe from automated labour. This project examines the impact of digital work and automation in the Global South, from blockchain technology to ride-sharing apps, to inform debates on automation, computerisation and non-standard forms of work.

Inclusive finance

Projects carried out by the Institute’s members also address the role of digital technologies in enhancing financial inclusion. The project Effects of Digital Economy on Banking and Finance studies digital innovations and how fintech extends financial services to firms and households and improves credit allocation using loan-account level data comparing fintech and traditional banking.

Digital tools

  • Digital collections that allow free access to historical documents, texts, and photographs on international relations from the sixteenth to the twentieth century.
  • Two free online courses (MOOCs) on globalisation and global governance.
  • Podcasts showcasing professors’ and guests’ expertise (What matters today, In conversation with, Parlons en).
  • Podcasts are also integrated into the curricula of several international histories and interdisciplinary Master’s courses to encourage students to use social network platforms to popularise their findings.

Future of meetings

Events, sessions, and seminars are held online (usually on Zoom), for example, information sessions for admitted and prospective students take place online.

Social media channels

Facebook @graduateinstitute

Instagram @graduateinstitute

LinkedIn @geneva graduate institute

Twitter @GVAGrad

YouTube @Geneva Graduate Institute

University of Geneva

Acronym: UNIGE

Established: 1559

Address: Rue du Général-Dufour 24, 1211 Geneva, Switzerland

Website: https://www.unige.ch/international/index_en.html

Stakeholder group: Academia & think tanks

With more than 18,000 students of 150+ nationalities, UNIGE is the second-largest university in Switzerland. It offers 227 study programmes (including 140 Bachelor’s and Master’s degree programmes and 87 doctoral programmes) and 427 continuing education programmes covering an extremely wide variety of fields: exact sciences, medicine, humanities, social sciences, law, etc.

Digital activities

UNIGE has incorporated digital technology into its strategy and appointed a vice-rector in charge of defining and piloting digital initiatives in the fields of education, research, and services to society. A Digital Transformation Office was also set up to identify and connect digital actors within the institution and federate digital activities and projects while encouraging the emergence of innovative projects.

The digital strategy in place considers digital technology both as a tool for teachers and researchers, and as a subject for teaching and research. It brings UNIGE to the fore in debates on digital technology at the local, national, and international level.

An Action Plan accompanies UNIGE’s digital strategy. It is regularly updated to report on progress and incorporate new digital initiatives or projects that have emerged within the university community. It is a guiding document indicating the activities and projects that the Rectorate particularly wishes to support.

Many more digital activities are carried out within the institution, while they are not included in the Action Plan. This is, for instance, the case of the activities carried out by the Division of Information and Communication Systems and Technologies (DiSTIC) along with many digital projects carried out by the academic community and central services. UNIGE is internationally recognized for its research in quantum cryptography, and is developing high-ranking research activities in the fields of digital humanities, autonomous vehicles, and digital law.

More information on the university’s digital strategy and action plan can be found at https://www.unige.ch/numerique/en.

Digital policy issues

Capacity development

In an attempt to develop digital literacy within its community, UNIGE has put in place a series of measures to meet the needs of its students, researchers, administrative staff, and other community members. To this end, the university offers a series of optional transversal courses open to all students and provides training and workshops on particular digital skills and tools for advanced students and researchers. It is also developing and deploying its Open Science roadmap, which includes training on research data management and Open Access publishing.

As part of its digital strategy, UNIGE created a Digital Law Center (DLC) at the Faculty of Law. The DLC provides courses focused on the internet and law. It also organizes its annual Digital Law Summer School, where participants can discuss digital law and policy issues, such as cybersecurity, privacy, freedom of expression, and intellectual property with leading experts from academia and international organizations. Every year since 2016, UNIGE has organized the Geneva Digital Law Research Colloquium (run by the DLC in cooperation with other leading academic centers, including the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University). This event is a scientific workshop that gives an opportunity to next-generation digital law and policy researchers to present and discuss various digital policy issues, such as freedom of expression online, copyright, and the internet of things (IoT) with senior high-level experts.

Together with ETH Zurich, UNIGE recently created a Lab for Science in Diplomacy (SiDLab). In this respect, it created two professorships in Computational Diplomacy, developed jointly by the Global Studies Institute (GSI) and the Department of Computer Science of the Faculty of Science. One is specialized in data science, particularly machine learning (ML), and the other focuses on data categorization in relation to complexity theories and global studies. With these two new positions, UNIGE aims to improve the understanding of global issues by developing a new theoretical framework for international relations, using new algorithms and mobilizing computing power to develop scenarios. Leveraging its multidisciplinary culture, UNIGE has recently created a transversal Data Science Competence Center (CCSD) aimed at federating competencies from all faculties and enabling cross-fertilization between various disciplines to develop advanced research and services. Since its creation, more than 600 researchers have joined the CCSD community and actively participate in its research and learning activities. To support the teaching community with digital transformation, UNIGE has created a portal for online and blended learning with a set of resources to help tutors prepare their courses and classes. Some of the resources are intended for self-training, while others provide users with training/coaching opportunities with UNIGE e-learning and blended learning experts.

When students are positioned as partners in university communities, they become active participants with valuable expertise to contribute to shaping the process of digital transformation. The Partnership Projects Program (P3) provides students, alongside academic and professional staff, with the opportunity to bring forward their ideas to improve the digital tools and services at the university. Students and staff are engaged on a project they designed, and they work together towards the shared goal of learning from their partners and improving the university with a solution meeting their needs. At the end of the project, the university may carry on with the implementation of the proposed solution, leading to a new digital service or tool for the community.

UNIGE maintains an IT Service Catalogue where students and staff members can access all digital tools the university provides, such as the UNIGE Mobile App, Moodle, UNIGE’s data storage system, and many others.

UNIGE also offers a number of MOOCs (massive open online courses) open to everyone. Subjects range from Human Rights to Chemical Biology, from Water Resources Management to Exoplanets, or from Investment Management to Global Health.

Future of meetings

UNIGE events are places where experts can meet and exchange ideas, where knowledge and information can be passed on to the university community and to society at large. They are living pillars of UNIGE’s research, teaching and public service missions. The organization of these events has been severely challenged by the COVID-19, but the use of digital tools has made it possible to keep these meeting and exchange places alive. It was also an opportunity to rethink the formats and ambitions of UNIGE events for the long term, as digital tools have the potential to facilitate access to knowledge, increase the influence of UNIGE events, and reduce the environmental impact of participants’ travels.

Many UNIGE events are now being organized in a virtual or hybrid format, such as the Dies Academicus and public and scientific conferences organized by the faculties. For instance, the series of public conferences, Parlons numérique organized each year by the Digital Transformation Office, has a hybrid format allowing remote participants to interact with the speakers. A dedicated website helps UNIGE community members willing to organize virtual or hybrid events.

Social media channels

Facebook @unigeneve

Instagram @unigeneve, @unigenumerique

LinkedIn @universite-de-geneve

Twitter @UNIGE_en, @unigenumerique

YouTube @Université de Genève

European Organization for Nuclear Research

Acronym: CERN

Established: 1954

Address: 1211 Geneva 23, Switzerland

Website: https://www.cern.ch/

Stakeholder group: NGOs and associations

CERN is widely recognised as one of the world’s leading laboratories for particle physics. At CERN, physicists and engineers probe the fundamental structure of the universe. To do this, they use the world’s largest and most complex scientific instruments – particle accelerators and detectors. Technologies developed at CERN go on to have a significant impact through their applications in wider society.

Digital activities

CERN has had an important role in the history of computing and networks. The World Wide Web (WWW) was invented at CERN by Sir Tim Berners-Lee. The web was originally conceived and developed to meet the demand for automated information-sharing between scientists at universities and institutes around the world.

Grid computing was also developed at CERN with partners and thanks to funding from the European Commission. The organisation also carries out activities in the areas of cybersecurity, big data, machine learning (ML), artificial intelligence (AI), data preservation, and quantum technology.

Digital policy issues

Artificial intelligence (1)

Through CERN openlab, CERN collaborates with leading information and communications technology (ICT) companies and research institutes. The R&D projects carried out through CERN openlab address topics related to data acquisition, computing platforms, data storage architectures, computer provisioning and management, networks and communication, ML and data analytics, and quantum technologies. CERN researchers use ML techniques as part of their efforts to maximise the potential for discovery and optimise resource usage. ML is used, for instance, to improve the performance of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) experiments in areas such as particle detection and managing computing resources. Going one step further, at the intersection of AI and quantum computing, CERN openlab is exploring the feasibility of using quantum algorithms to track the particles produced by collisions in the LHC, and is working on developing quantum algorithms to help optimise how data is distributed for storage in the Worldwide LHC Computing Grid (WLCG). This research is part of the CERN Quantum Technology Initiative (QTI) activities, launched in 2020 to shape CERN’s role in the next quantum revolution.

–   CERN openlab: a public-private partnership in which CERN collaborates with ICT companies and other research organisations to accelerate the development of cutting-edge solutions for the research community, including ML.

CERN QTI: a comprehensive R&D, academic, and knowledge-sharing initiative to exploit quantum advantage for high-energy physics and beyond. Given CERN’s increasing ITC and computing demands, as well as the significant national and international interests in quantum-technology activities, it aims to provide dedicated mechanisms for the exchange of both knowledge and innovation.

Cloud computing (2)

The scale and complexity of data from the LHC, the world’s largest particle accelerator, is unprecedented. This data needs to be stored, easily retrieved, and analysed by physicists worldwide. This requires massive storage facilities, global networking, immense computing power, and funding. CERN did not initially have the computing or financial resources to crunch all of the data on-site, so in 2002 it turned to grid computing to share the burden with computer centres around the world. The WLCG builds on the ideas of grid technology initially proposed in 1999 by Ian Foster and Carl Kesselman. The WLCG relies on a distributed computing infrastructure, as data from the collisions of protons or heavy ions are distributed via the internet for processing at data centres worldwide. This approach of using virtual machines is based on the same paradigm as cloud computing. It is expected that further CERN developments in the field of data processing will continue to influence digital technologies.

Telecommunication infrastructure (3)

In the 1970s, CERN developed CERNET, a lab-wide network to access mainframe computers in its data centre. This pioneering network eventually led CERN to become an early European adopter of Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) for use in connecting systems on site. In 1989, CERN opened its first external TCP/IP connections and by 1990, CERN had become the largest internet site in Europe and was ready to host the first WWW server. Nowadays, in addition to the WLCG and its distributed computing infrastructure, CERN is also the host of the CERN Internet eXchange Point (CIXP), which optimises CERN’s internet connectivity and is also open to interested internet service providers (ISPs).

Digital standards (4)

Ever since releasing the World Wide Web software under an open-source model in 1994, CERN has been a pioneer in the open-source field, supporting open-source hardware (with the CERN Open Hardware Licence), open access (with the Sponsoring Consortium for Open Access Publishing in Particle Physics SCOAP3) and open data (with the CERN Open Data Portal). Several CERN technologies are being developed with open science in mind, such as Indico, InvenioRDM, REANA, and Zenodo. Open-source software, such as CERNBox, CERN Tape Archive (CTA), EOS, File Transfer Service (FTS), GeantIV, ROOT, RUCIO, and service for web-based analysis (SWAN), has been developed to handle, distribute, and analyse the huge volumes of data generated by the LHC experiments and are also made available to the wider society.

Digital tools

Data governance (5)

CERN manages vast amounts of data; not only scientific data, but also data in more common formats such as webpages, images and videos, documents, and more. For instance, the CERN Data Centre processes on average one petabyte (one million gigabytes) of data per day. As such, the organisation notes that it faces the challenge of preserving its digital memory. CERN also points to the fact that many of the tools that are used to preserve data generated by the LHC and other scientific projects are also suitable for preserving other types of data and are made available to wider society.

The CERN Open Data Policy for scientific experiments at the LHC is essential to make scientific research more reproducible, accessible, and collaborative. It reflects values that have been enshrined in the CERN Convention for more than 60 years that were reaffirmed in the European Strategy for Particle Physics (2020), and aims to empower the LHC experiments to adopt a consistent approach towards the openness and preservation of experimental data (applying FAIR standards to better share and reuse data).

EOSC Future is an EU-funded H2020 project that is implementing the European Open Science Cloud (EOSC) that started in 2016. EOSC will give European researchers access to a wide web of FAIR data and related services.

CERN joined the recently formed EOSC Association in 2020. It also currently has a mandate to represent the European intergovernmental research organisations that make up EIROforum.

Future of meetings

More information about ongoing and upcoming events, you can find on the events page.

Social media channels

Facebook @cern

Instagram @cern

LinkedIn @cern

Twitter @CERN

YouTube @home.cern

1-AI-related projects are developed and referred to as part of the CERN openlab activities.

2-Within its work, CERN refers to ‘cloud computing’ as ‘distributed computing.

3-Within its work, CERN refers to ‘telecommunication infrastructure’ as ‘network infrastructure’.

4-Within its work, CERN addresses ‘web standards’ as ‘open science’.

5-Within its work, CERN refers to ‘data governance’ as ‘data preservation’.


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