Digitalisation is permeating all aspects of life, bringing with it great benefits and opportunities but also new challenges. Privacy is dwindling, people face being left behind at work, and artificial intelligence threatens to outstrip human intelligence. Digital technologies have become a geopolitical football, while fears of interference, electoral manipulation and espionage are spreading. Meanwhile, some governments are placing ever-tighter restrictions on the internet and using digital technologies to monitor their populations. These factors, combined with the growing influence of individual corporations, threaten the vision of an open, free and secure cyberspace to which Switzerland is committed.
"We have to make digital technologies people-centred and build trust," Mr Cassis told the IGF, adding that this required greater international cooperation and political commitment. To maintain an open, free and secure cyberspace, stronger international governance – i.e. common rules produced by the coordinated action of the international community – was needed in this area. "The current institutional framework is no longer adequate," he said.
Mr Cassis praised the IGF for providing a platform to identify new issues and discuss potential solutions. However, other actors needed to be involved in the debate and to work together in an interdisciplinary way, he said. "All stakeholders and interested parties must work on solutions jointly, because we also need to be able to transform our discussions into political decisions and tangible economic and social outcomes," he explained, describing this as a "typically Swiss approach".
As an example of such a multi-stakeholder approach, Mr Cassis cited the Geneva Dialogue on Responsible Behaviour in Cyberspace. Launched by the FDFA last November, the dialogue brings together companies from around the world to discuss the development of behavioural standards. Mr Cassis noted that Geneva was already playing an important role in global digital politics, a role which he wanted to further expand, making Geneva a leading centre for global digitalisation and technology debates.
He emphasised that digital diplomacy held an important place in Switzerland's new foreign policy strategy, as well as being a central component of its 2028 Foreign Policy Vision. In this area, Switzerland was building on its recognised expertise in peacebuilding. "We increasingly want to bring our good offices to bear in the online world as well," he said.
Switzerland's digital strategy
Switzerland has been instrumental in shaping the IGF's development as a forum for dialogue on all aspects of digitalisation since its inception in 2006. Within Switzerland too, developments in the field of digitalisation are closely monitored. Strategic guidance on digitalisation has been in place since 1998, while since 2016 the Digital Switzerland strategy has set out guidelines for government action in this area. Its goals are to enable equal participation for all, strengthen solidarity, guarantee security, trust and transparency, further improve people's digital empowerment, and ensure value creation, growth and prosperity.
The strategy is implemented in a decentralised way and overseen by an Interdepartmental Coordination Group chaired by the Federal Office of Communications (OFCOM). OFCOM's Director General Philipp Metzger represented Switzerland at a meeting of digital ministers yesterday, as part of the IGF.
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