International Data Sharing and Artificial Intelligence Cooperation in Global Public Health Emergencies: A Virtual Roundtable
Report produced by the UNA-NCA Peace and Security Committee

Events presented on: Wednesdays, August 19, September 2, and September 16, 2020

The United Nations Association of the National Capital Area (UNA-NCA) along with its Peace and Security Committee hosted a series of panel discussions, entitled “International Data Sharing and Artificial Intelligence Cooperation in Global Public Health Emergencies: A Virtual Roundtable.”  The events took place virtually and welcomed panelists and participants from all around the world, including the Kingdom of Spain, France, Malta, the People's Republic of China and New Zealand.  All three panels were moderated by Mr. Patrick Realiza, Co-Chair of the UNA-NCA Peace & Security Committee The program provided a platform for discussion among global health experts, government officials, data scientists, researchers, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning practitioners and privacy advocates. The panelists all shared their perspectives on pressing issues related to Big Data and AI in the COVID era, including transnational data collaboration and data privacy.

Panel 1 - Opportunities and Challenges to International Data Cooperation in the COVID Era

The first panel discussion, entitled, “Opportunities and Challenges to International Data Cooperation in the COVID Era”, featured Mr. Hosuk Lee-Makiyama, Director of the European Centre for International Political Economy (ECIPE) and Dr. Ellie Graeden, who is the Founder and CEO of Talus Analytics and has studied the role of Big Data in global infection disease prevention. 

As moderator Mr. Realiza began the program by asking Mr. Lee-Makiyama and Dr. Graeden to define the concepts of Big Data and AI and to describe their impact on global affairs. Mr. Lee-Makiyama explained that Big Data and AI is something that we all have come in contact with in our day-to-day lives, or have already heard much about, whether it is cloud-based services such as Alexa, drones, or maybe even automated vehicles. Mr. Lee-Makiyama further explained that AI has witnessed increasing relevance on the global front, with Europe at the forefront of AI regulation. Dr. Graeden discussed how algorithms used by AI can help assist decision-makers. She explained that the core of AI involves deciphering statistics at scale and applying traditional techniques to large data sets in order to make sense of them.

Mr. Realiza then asked the panelists to discuss how governments use Big Data in addressing global pandemic needs. Dr. Graeden discussed how data has been collected globally, is shared across borders, and allows her team to understand global health conditions within multiple disciplines such as medicine, health systems, policies and economics. 

Mr. Realiza then moved onto another compelling question: How do governments place restrictions on cross border transfers of data? Mr. Lee-Makiyama delved into the consequences of digital protectionism and explained that it prevents market access and can also create market fragmentation. According to him, national governments have used creative ways to stop trade for the “public’s interest.” Mr. Lee-Makiyama also discussed how COVID-19 has amplified many problems that already existed in regards to digital sovereignty and highlighted the importance of uniform standards across data. 

Other questions that were addressed during this webinar included: What is the impact of cloud computing on international data sharing? What role can small enterprises play in COVID-19 data collection? And do international norms exist for data sharing? Both speakers brought very insightful discussions to the panel, resulting in an enlightening and thorough understanding of the questions at hand. 

Panel 2 - Data Sharing, AI Cooperation and the Transnational Response to COVID-19

The second panel was dedicated to the issue of transnational collaboration among researchers to support the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The panel featured Dr. Pascal Fung, Professor at the Department of Electronic & Computer Engineering and Department of Computer Science & Engineering at the Hong Kong University of Science & Technology (HKUST) and Dr. Miguel Luengo-Oroz, Chief Data Scientist at United Nations Global Pulse in New York City.

Dr. Luengo-Oroz opened the program by reminding the audience how AI can help combat global pandemics on three different levels. On a molecular scale, AI can help scientists identify promising coronavirus vaccine candidates. On a local scale, AI can also track outcomes for different types of patients and help hospitals decide how many intensive care unit (ICU) beds to deploy. On a societal scale, AI can also measure the efficacy of public health policies and track misinformation about the pandemic.

Professor Fung explained how Natural Language Processing (NLP) tools allowed her and other researchers to create a platform that extracts and summarizes relevant information from around 70,000 publications on the COVID-19 pandemic. She shared her optimism about the engine and emphasized that several UN member states are already using the publicly available platform to better combat the pandemic. Professor Fung echoed Dr. Luengo-Oroz’s concern about the spread of misinformation and stated that she would like to broaden the platform to analyze data beyond scientific publications. 

Mr. Realiza then asked Dr. Luengo-Oroz to describe the role of the UN Global Pulse in facilitating international data cooperation. Dr. Luengo-Oroz explained that the initiative supports all UN Agencies and emerged as a result of the 2008 global financial crisis. In his view, both the current pandemic and the financial crisis emphasize the need for international cooperation in a fast-changing world. The UN Global Pulse works towards that goal by collaborating with, and providing high-quality data to, all UN agencies. 

Both panelists also highlighted how ethical challenges are integral to the use of AI in public health research. Dr. Luengo-Oroz emphasized that the data sets used to train AI are sometimes drawn from specific categories of individuals and may also introduce algorithmic bias due to their lack of appropriate representation. Professor Fung expressed a “great concern” regarding the Chinese contact-tracing system’s combined use of personal data and geolocation.

In closing, Mr. Realiza synthesized some themes and highlights from the rich presentations and conversations. Mr. Realiza encouraged all attendees present at the virtual event to help take on the shared work. 

Panel 3 - Protecting and Advancing Data Privacy as We Battle Global Pandemics

The final panel was dedicated to the issue of health data privacy and featured four leading figures in the field of data privacy: Mr. Joseph Cannataci, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Privacy; Mr. John Edwards, New Zealand Privacy Commissioner and member of the Global Privacy Assembly Executive Committee; Ms. Sophie Kwasny, Head of the Council of Europe’s Data Protection Unit; and Ms. Katitza Rodriguez, International Rights Director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. 

Mr. Realiza began the program by asking Mr. Cannataci to discuss his mandate as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Privacy. Mr. Cannataci explained that his role was created in the aftermath of Edward Snowden’s revelations, but that he eventually created an international task force to develop guidelines on health data. The Rapporteur indicated that he had presented a series of recommendations to the UN Assembly last year and is expected to publish a report in the spring of 2021. The report will discuss data privacy in the COVID-19 era. 

Mr. Edwards described New Zealand’s contact-tracing application as a “digital diary” and emphasized the importance of evaluating the impact of contact-tracing applications scientifically. The Commissioner discussed the tradeoffs between manual contact tracing, New Zealand’s Quick Response (QR) code system, and Bluetooth handshakes enabled by Google and Apple’s application programming interfaces (APIs). Mr. Edwards concluded his initial intervention by stating that he was “pleased” with New Zealand’s “conservative approach” to contact-tracing.

Mr. Realiza then asked Ms. Kwasny to explain the role of the Council of Europe’s Data Protection Unit. Ms. Kwasny pointed out that the Council of Europe is a pan-European international organization that shares the European Union’s commitment to human rights. Unlike the European Union, the Council of Europe includes countries such as Russia and Turkey and is not based on the principle of political integration. She explained that Convention 108, and its modernized version Convention 108+, offer international standards for data protection. Ms. Kwasny also stated that Convention 108+ is an instrument of “global relevance” that it is open to ratification beyond European countries. At a national level, it helps national governments reaffirm their attachment to data protection. On a global scale, Convention 108+ establishes standards that could help facilitate better digital data flows and create a space of “trust and reciprocity.”

As International Rights Director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Ms. Rodriguez argued that all COVID-19 related technologies should provide sufficient safeguards and should be governed by the principles of necessity, legitimacy and proportionality. Ms. Rodriguez also stated that the use of contact-tracing applications should always be voluntary and argued that location tracing is not sufficiently granular to protect data privacy. Highly aggregated data on the other hand, may provide greater data privacy protections than anonymized or de-identified data. Ms. Rodriguez also explained the main differences between centralized and decentralized contact-tracing systems and ultimately argued that decentralized systems provide greater data privacy protections because they do not share personally identifiable data with government officials. 

All panelists agreed on the need for continued cooperation among data privacy experts, advocates and regulators. In her final remarks, Ms. Kwasny noted that the European Court of Justice in Luxemburg ruled that the data transfer agreement “Privacy Shield” failed to adequately protect European citizens’ data and pointed out that a certain level of protection “has to be afforded to allow [global] data flows.” She expressed her confidence about the future of data privacy and invited all UN member states to consider adopting Convention 108+ as the new international data protection standard.  

In conclusion, the virtual roundtable series collectively convened close to 100 attendees from around the globe and highlighted the importance of data sharing in the ongoing battle against COVID-19. As noted by the majority of the panelists, the challenges brought forth by the current pandemic are not entirely new to the global stage, but institutions at the local, national and international levels must strive to work more collaboratively than ever before to effectively address the impact of technologies such as AI and cloud computing. Furthermore it is important to keep in mind the necessary integrity that should be put into practice when it comes to health data privacy. There is no one size solution to this crisis and may never be one, but collaboration is still possible if countries are willing to share their respective ideas and best practices with one another. In the end, this series shed greater awareness of the continuing challenges to data security, but also gave participants hope and the chance to see the benefits of a more globalized and data driven world which could very well just be on the horizon following the conclusion of the pandemic.

Make the Most Out of your UNA-NCA Membership!
Calling all members: new, prospective, longstanding, and returning, alike! 

Are you a new member of UNA-NCA for less than one year? Did you recently attend a UNA-NCA event such as the Coffee Chats or another Virtual Roundtable and are interested in learning more about the benefits of joining the organization? Or are you a returning or longstanding member of UNA-NCA who’s looking to (re)engage in the chapter? 

Please join UNA-NCA’s Vice Chair for Membership and Volunteer Engagement Kristen Hecht on Wednesday, September 30 from 12:30 - 1 pm ET for a 30-minute webinar followed by an optional ~15 minute meet & greet, where we’ll cover all the benefits of being (or becoming) a UNA-NCA member, ways to connect and network with other UNA members, upcoming events and opportunities (including the 75th anniversary of the United Nations!), and answer any questions you have about the organization!

When: Wednesday, September 30, 12:30 - 1 pm ET
Where: Online
Cost: Free, but registration is required

Register Here
The World and the UN Association Lose a Bright Star at 100: Jim Leonard
By A. Edward Elmendorf, UNA-NCA Past President

Arms control experts and diplomats, experts on the United Nations, and United Nations Association friends and colleagues mourn the passing of Jim Leonard, a bright star in the UN world for many years.  His star was a shooting one, lasting a full 100 years.

As a US foreign service officer, Jim was Ambassador at the US Mission to the UN with special responsibilities for arms control. In UNA-USA he served as Senior Vice President responsible for policy and subsequently became President and CEO. He continued to engage on critical issues in his retirement years, and served on the Advisory Council of UNA-NCA.

Jim’s friends and colleagues know that Jim was a dream for UNA -- a subtle and knowledgeable supporter of American moral purpose in building a peaceful world. He stepped in to steady the UN Association during its upheavals in the 1990s, and he tried to teach his UNA colleagues how to navigate the shoals and cross-currents of politics in Washington when cooperative security or nuclear arms limits or the very existence of the United Nations was under challenge. Few knew or understood the UN – and its potential -- as well as he did.

Jim was a bright and kind person, and a wonderful, thoughtful individual. He played an important role in empowering UNA-NCA’s young professionals, and hosted a retreat for them many years ago.

In sum, Jim Leonard was a great leader for the United Nations and the United Nations Association. He will be sorely missed.

Mourning the Loss of a True Hero for Women Rights and Human Rights. We Must Keep Up her Fight!

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a hero in every sense of the word. Her recent loss is devastating to us all.

Justice Ginsburg led a truly remarkable life. Appointed by President Clinton in 1993, she became the second woman ever to be sworn in as a justice for the country’s highest court. 

She devoted her life to lifting up others and breaking down barriers for all people. There was no obstacle too large and no setback too great in the fight for equality and justice. She was an advocate for progress with an unwavering commitment to the Constitution and her pursuit of equality and justice for all Americans.

I came to know about Justice Ginsburg’s legacy when I was pursuing my Masters in Law degree in the United States. As I reflect on my professional journey, starting as a young female attorney working in the private and public sectors, and later through my career in nonprofit management, I am grateful for the opportunities Justice Ginsburg forged for women and for instilling the call for living a meaningful life. 

Justice Ginsburg spent her career protecting marginalized communities and lifting others up. “If you want to be a true professional, you will do something outside yourself, something to repair tears in your community, something to make life a little better for people less fortunate than you.”

As a working mom, I follow her guidance when seeking balance, finding parenting not to be an obstacle to success but rather a relief and inspiration “Each part of my life gave me respite from the other.”   

If Justice Ginsburg taught us anything, it is to keep up the fight. She showed us why we must never give up. The best way to honor such a remarkable legacy is to remain vigilant in our shared struggle for justice and equality through education and advocacy.

Paula Boland
National Council Chair, UN Association of the USA
President, UN Association of the National Capital Area

UNA-NCA is compiling an advocacy resource centered on how Justice Ginsburg’s life and legacy can continue to guide and inspire for years to come. Below are excerpts of some testimonials from UNA-NCA leaders and more to come next week!

Stephen Moseley, UNA-NCA Chairman of the Board

"Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's lifelong devotion to equitable justice and human rights for all, especially for Women and Girls and for LGBTQ rights has changed the judicial landscape and culture in America and around the world during the past four decades, since her appointment to the Supreme Court by President Clinton. More than anyone perhaps she mirrored in her life a resounding commitment to many of the principles set forth in the US constitution, but also the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is as essential today as it was when adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948..."  

Sultana Ali, UNA-NCA Vice Chair of Communications

"How do you measure a loss as wide as a nation, as deep as our collective hearts, as high as the mountain of accomplishments you have battled for, and won for us all? One person may never fill your shoes, but together, we will keep moving America down the path toward a better future that includes us all—the mighty and the weak; the rich and the poor; women, men, non-binary, nonconforming, and all the children, whomever they choose to be or love. For you showed us that there are no limits to the human heart, and no barrier is high enough to keep us from our destiny..." 

Richard Seifman, UNA-NCA Board at large member

"Notorious RBG’s tireless efforts to expand the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to cover women, men, and every sexual orientation, and her defending of the Affordable Care Act from legal attack, are of immeasurable value for all Americans. As we globally face new challenges to equal opportunity to health, housing, and employment, as well as equitable access to a vaccine in this Covid-19 pandemic period, her constant strong voice for a just society will be profoundly missed worldwide."

Karen Mulhauser, UNA-NCA Past President

"I will mourn the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg for the remaining days of my life. In my view, the best way to celebrate her amazing legacy is with action! Action includes education and advocacy for the values that she advanced throughout her life – but it also means what I call extreme advocacy, which is supporting the candidates, the policy-makers, who support the policies that are important to me. RBG understood that if we do not use our democracy we can lose it..." 

Eleanor Roosevelt Virtual Happy Hour 2020

birthday_cake_eleanorJoin UNA-NCA's Human Rights Committee for a virtual happy hour in honor of Eleanor Roosevelt!

Register Here!

Come join UNA-NCA members, staff, and volunteers for a happy hour celebrating Eleanor Roosevelt's birthday, the International Day of the Girl, the 75th Anniversary of the UN and the 72nd anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Dress up, dress down but come celebrate these signature achievements! This is a great opportunity to meet members, volunteers, and staff from UNA-NCA, as well as other DC, Maryland, and Northern Virginia folks interested in hot topics in international affairs, and get involved with issues you are passionate about!

This year, our virtual happy hour will feature guest speakers, a presentation of Eleanor Roosevelt's life and acomplishments, and an online trivia contest!

 Thursday, October 8; 5:30 - 7:00 pm 

Virtual (Zoom)

Cost: Free, but registration is required

Register Here!


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