High level leaders session II

28 Nov 2022 12:05h - 15:05h

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Safeguarding digital rights largely depends on data protection and ensuring that data use and sharing respects individuals rights, ownership, and agency. Data, as an essential component of our innovative present and future, needs to be transparent and ensure accountability mechanisms. To achieve this on a global level, we need more international cooperation.

In recent years, digital rights have become a critical aspect of human rights discussions and legislation as shown by the key recommendations in the Roadmap for Digital Cooperation. Defending digital rights such as, among others, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, access to information online, data protection and privacy is one of the greatest challenges we are facing globally.

A comprehensive framework is needed to defend and safeguard digital rights against threats such as internet shutdowns, censorship and surveillance, and ensure that they continue flourishing the development of an inclusive and sustainable digital future.

When it comes to digital rights, data becomes the focus. Data is an essential element in discussions about digital rights, leading to questions of individuals’ agency and oversight against its misuse. Data, as an essential component of our innovative present and future, needs to be transparent and data holders must be held accountable for data protection. It is essential that people and individuals can decide for themselves about their data and how it is used. Interesting efforts are being made, for instance, in Switzerland with the development of a voluntary code of conduct for data sharing. However, more international cooperation is needed as well as institutionalised forums for further discussion on the topic.

Developing a global data protection framework that safeguards digital rights can be an important step in addressing the emergence of at times diverging regulatory efforts at the national level. Such efforts should look at digital rights as a global good and collective interest, while not undermining individual privacy and rights. One step forward can be to change the paradigm from data protection to data empowerment and consider the following four steps. First, start with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights whose offline rights apply online. Second, establish norms for transparency of data collection and use. Third, develop technical means to track and oversee the use of such data. Fourth, establish legislative frameworks for data protection. 

Data discussions are extremely relevant when it comes to artificial intelligence and machine learning. While their potential in contributing to the achievement of the 2030 Agenda is clear, the human element and oversight should always be present and at the core of every development. To this extent, raising awareness, creating standards and certificates, as well as establishing trustworthy AI legislation should be considered essential steps to ensure that activities and decision-making do not perpetuate biases and discrimination against marginalised groups. To this end, investment into research and evidence-based analysis is further needed. 

Finally, another key topic is the data and digital colonialism debate. The Global South has been playing catch up when it comes to digital standards: there is a need to move from digital takers to digital makers.

The protection of digital rights is an essential part of safeguarding human rights online and the Global Digital Compact is a means to achieve this shared goal.

By Stefania Grottola

The session in keywords

IGF 2022 HL Leaders Session II