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Information and communications technology (ICT)

OEWG I resources | OEWG II resources | Background on the UN cyber processes | Relevant WILPF resources | Relevant UN documents 

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 interchangeably with "cyber security". 

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). The OEWG completed work in March 2021, and the GGE will have its final substantive session at the end of May 2021. 

In 2020, the General Assembly voted to establish a second OEWG, to commence work in 2021 over a five-year period. 

There is also a proposal to establish a UN programme of action (PoA) on international cyber security, that currently has the support of 53 member states. 

WILPF's disarmament programme, Reaching Critical Will, has established dedicated webpages for documents, working papers, statements, and other materials related to the first and second UN OEWGs, and will continue to provide and house this information for future relevant processes. Available information about the sixth GGE can be found here

BACKGROUND ON THE UNGA FIRST COMMITTEE'S CYBER PROCESSES

Since 2004, six 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. 

Six 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. The sixth and most recent GGE had to convene virtually for its two final sessions, owing to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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. 

In 2020, cyber security was again a controversial issue during the First Committee session. Russia sponsored a resolution proposing the establishment of a second OEWG that would begin work in 2021 over a five-year period. Many states felt that establishing a second OEWG prior to the first one completing it work was premature and would prejudice the first Group's outcomes. Nonetheless, the resolution proposing the OEWG was adopted by a vote of 104-50-20, alongside paragraph votes and a motion to divide out part of the resolution's text. The UNGA adopted the resolution, also with paragraph votes, in December 2020 with a vote of 92-50-21. The final edition of our 2020 First Committee Monitor has a full report that describes the dynamics around this resolution, including reactions and voting results, and the three other cyber-related resolutions adopted: two procedural resolutions that extended the time frames mandated to the GGE and first OEWG, in order to account for meetings postponed by the pandemic; and the US-sponsored resolution that mainly acknowledged the progress of the GGE, but also moved that that future work on this issue would only be decided on after the OEWG and GGE conclude their work, challenging the resolution that established the second OEWG. 

The OEWG I concluded its work successfully in March 2021, and the sixth GGE followed suit in May 2021. Relevant documents, statements, working papers, and the final reports of these processes are posted on our pages:

https://reachingcriticalwill.org/disarmament-fora/ict/oewg
https://reachingcriticalwill.org/disarmament-fora/ict/gge

Separate to the processes described above is the establishment in 2019 by the UNGA's Third Committee (on human rights) of a Cybercrime Ad-hoc Committee which will lay the foundations for a possible legal instrument on cybercrime. WILPF is not actively following or reporting on that process.

OEWG II will hold its first substantive session in December 2021.

RELEVANT WILPF RESOURCES

RELEVANT UN DOCUMENTS

UN Office of Disarmament Affairs Factsheet

2020 joint civil society statement to the UNGA First Committee on cyber peace and human security

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

2019/2021 – advance version (June 2021)
2014/2015 – A/70/174
2012/2013 – 
A/68/98
2009/2010 – A/65/201

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

A/C.1/75/L.4
Advancing responsible state behaviour in cyber space in the context of international security

A/C.1/75/L.8/Rev.1
Developments in the field of information and telecommunications in the context of international security

A/C.1/75/L.47
Open-Ended Working Group on developments in the field of information and telecommunications in the context of international security established pursuant to General Assembly resolution 73/27 of 5 December 2018

A/C.1/75/L.60
Group of Governmental Experts on Advancing responsible State behaviour in cyberspace in the context of international security established by the UN Secretary-General pursuant to General Assembly resolution 73/266 of 22 December 2018

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)