As part of the process towards developing a Global Digital Compact (GDC), the UN Secretary-General has issued a policy brief outlining areas in which ‘the need for multistakeholder digital cooperation is urgent’: closing the digital divide and advancing sustainable development goals (SDGs), making the online space open and safe for everyone, and governing artificial intelligence (AI) for humanity.
The policy brief also suggests objectives and actions to advance such cooperation and ‘safeguard and advance our digital future’. These are structured around the following topics:
- Digital connectivity and capacity building. The overarching objectives here are to close the digital divide and empower people to participate fully in the digital economy. Proposed actions range from common targets for universal and meaningful connectivity to putting in place or strengthening public education for digital literacy.
- Digital cooperation to accelerate progress on the SDGs. Objectives include making targeted investments in digital public infrastructure and services, making data representative, interoperable, and accessible, and developing globally harmonised digital sustainability standards. Among the proposed actions are the development of definitions of safe, inclusive, and sustainable digital public infrastructures, fostering open and accessible data ecosystems, and developing a common blueprint on digital transformation (something the UN would do).
- Upholding human rights. Putting human rights at the centre of the digital future, ending the gender digital divide, and protecting workers are the outlined objectives in this area. One key proposed action is the establishment of a digital human rights advisory mechanism, facilitated by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, to provide guidance on human rights and technology issues.
- An inclusive, open, secure, and shared internet. There are two objectives: safeguarding the free and shared nature of the internet, and reinforcing accountable multistakeholder governance. Some of the proposed actions include commitments from governments to avoid blanket internet shutdowns and refrain from actions disrupting critical infrastructures.
- Digital trust and security. Objectives range from strengthening multistakeholder cooperation to elaborate norms, guidelines, and principles on the responsible use of digital technologies, to building capacity and expanding the global cybersecurity workforce. The proposed overarching action is for stakeholders to commit to developing common standards and industry codes of conduct to address harmful content on digital platforms.
- Data protection and empowerment. Ensuring that data are governed for the benefit of all, empowering people to control their personal data, and developing interoperable standards for data quality as envisioned as key objectives. Among the proposed actions are an invitation for countries to consider adopting a declaration on data rights and seeking convergence on principles for data governance through a potential Global Data Compact.
- Agile governance of AI and other emerging technologies. The proposed objectives relate to ensuring transparency, reliability, safety, and human control in the design and use of AI; putting transparency, fairness, and accountability at the core of AI governance; and combining existing norms, regulations, and standards into a framework for agile governance of AI. Actions envisioned range from establishing a high-level advisory body for AI to building regulatory capacity in the public sector.
- Global digital commons. Objectives include ensuring inclusive digital cooperation, enabling regular and sustained exchanges across states, regions, and industry sectors, and developing and governing technologies in ways that enable sustainable development, empower people, and address harms.
The document further notes that ‘the success of a GDC will rest on its implementation’. This implementation would be done by different stakeholders at the national, regional, and sectoral level, and be supported by spaces such as the Internet Governance Forum and the World Summit on the Information Society Forum. One suggested way to support multistakeholder participation is through a trust fund that could sponsor a Digital Cooperation Fellowship Programme.
As a mechanism to follow up on the implementation of the GDC, the policy brief suggests that the Secretary-General could be tasked to convene an annual Digital Cooperation Forum (DCF). The mandate of the forum would also include, among other things, facilitating collaboration across digital multistakeholder frameworks and reducing duplication; promoting cross-border learning in digital governance; and identifying and promoting policy solutions to emerging digital challenges and governance gaps.