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Information and communications technology (ICT)

Information and communication technologies, or ICTs, have been on the UN agenda since 1998 in the context of the need for "information security", a term often used interchangebly with "cybersecurity". 

In December 2018, the General Assembly established two processes to discuss the issue of security in the ICT-environment during the period of 2019-2021: an Open-ended Working Group (OEWG), and a new Group of Governmental Experts (GGE). Both are now in progress. 

BACKGROUND

Since 2004, five UN GGEs have studied the threats posed by the use of ICTS in the context of international security and how these threats should be addressed.  These GGEs were mandated by resolutions adopted in the UNGA First Committee and reported their findings back to the UN membership. Their work largely focused on articulation of behavioural norms for states in cyber space but also considered how international law applies in the use of ICTs, confidence building measures, and capacity building. 

Five GGEs have been convened, each meeting either in Geneva or New York four times over a two-year cycle ranging in size from 15-25 states.

Three Groups greed on substantive reports with conclusions and recommendations that were later adopted by all UN Member States. The report of the 2012-2013 Group was welcomed for its breakthrough statement that international law is applicable to cyberspace, although it was simultaneously tempered by a reaffirmation of state sovereignty in the conduct of ICT-related activities, and protection of infrastructure.

The 2015 report was lauded for setting out eleven recommendations for voluntary and non-binding norms, rules, or principles for state behaviour, confidence-building measures, international cooperation and capacity building, and positive recommendations.

Progress broke down in the 2016-2017 Group, reportedly over the issue of the applicability of international law, including international humanitarian law (IHL) and international human rights law (IHRL).  In 2017, it was not possible for states to agree to establishing a new GGE. Instead, debate at the UNGA First Committee explored other possible entities and forums that could better take forward the subject, as well as providing views on the validity of past outputs from the Groups and stressing the need for more stakeholders to be a part of these discussions and increase transparency. 

In 2018, Russia—traditional sponsor of the UNGA First Committee resolution on ICTs—introduced new and ultimately controversial elements into the annual resolution. A second version of the draft responded to some of the criticisms and further proposed an OEWG. The United States also tabled for the first time a its own ICT resolution, written in the style of traditional First Committee ICT resolutions and calling for a new GGE but with some possibility of input from non-GGE members, through regional consultations. Amidst the intense politicisation that characterised the 2018 First Committee, it was not possible to reach agreement and two entities have thus been established. 

With the commencement of work in the OEWG in September 2019 and the GGE in December 2019, many assumed that at the 2019 First Committee, states would only table just one, or possibly two, decisions for adoption in order to keep the issue on the General Assembly's agenda and not substantive resolutions. Russia's tabling of something far more substantive prompted the United States to do the same and so again two resolutions were put forward for adoption. Elements of each were controversial or challenging to some states for various reasons. The final edition of our 2019 First Committee Monitor has a full report that describes the reactions to the resolutions and voting results. 

Visit Reaching Critical Will's new cyber peace and security fact sheet for more background information on these and other multilateral processes; issues of debate and concern; human rights considerations; feminist perspectives; and suggested reading and information sources. 

DOCUMENTS

UN Office of Disarmament Affairs Factsheet

2019 joint civil society statement to the UNGA First Committee on cyber peace and human security

2018 joint civil society statement to the UNGA First Committee on cyber and human security

Substantive GGE reports

2009/2010 – A/65/201
2012/2013 – A/68/98
2014/2015 – A/70/174

UNGA First Committee resolutions
(Voting results and resolutions from before 2012 are available here)

A/C.1/74/L.49/Rev.1
Advancing responsible State behaviour in cyberspace in the context of international security

A/C.1/74/L.50/Rev.1
Developments in the field of information and telecommunications in the context of international security

A/C.1/73/L.27/Rev.1
Developments in the field of information and telecommunications in the context of international security (2018)

A/C.1/73/L.37
Advancing responsible State behaviour in cyberspace in the context of international security (2018)

A/C.1/71/L.17
Developments in the field of information and telecommunications in the context of international security (2016)

A/C.1/70/L.45
Developments in the field of information and telecommunications in the context of international security (2015)

A/C.1/69/L.26
Developments in the field of information and telecommunications in the context of international security (2014)

A/C.1/68/L.37
Developments in the field of information and telecommunications in the context of international security (2013)

A/C.1/67/L.30 
Developments in the field of information and telecommunications in the context of international security (2012)