Global Digital Compact

This page is intended to serve as an access point to contextual knowledge on the GDC, including analyses, updates from related events, and information about related processes. As the consultations and discussions on the GDC evolve, we will also follow them.

In 2020, on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the United Nations (UN), member states pledged to improve digital cooperation and shape ‘a digital future that show[s] the full potential for beneficial technology usage’. Building on this, the UN Secretary-General, in its 2021 report Our Common Agenda, proposed that a Global Digital Compact (GDC) be developed to ‘outline shared principles for an open, free and secure digital future for all’.

The GDC is the latest step in a lengthy policy journey to have, at least, a shared understanding of key digital principles globally and, at most, common rules that will guide the development of our digital future.

The idea of a GDC has additional roots in the 2019 report The age of digital interdependence, published by the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation, and the 2020 Roadmap for digital cooperation issued by the UN Secretary-General.

Development of the GDC

Our Common Agenda envisions that the GDC is to be agreed on during a Summit of the Future: ‘Building on the recommendations of the road map for digital cooperation (see A/74/821), the United Nations, Governments, the private sector and civil society could come together as a multi-stakeholder digital technology track in preparation for a Summit of the Future to agree on a Global Digital Compact.’ According to a decision of the UN General Assembly, the summit is to be held on 22 and 23 September 2024, in New York, and preceded by a preparatory ministerial meeting on 18 September 2023. 

In the lead-up to the Summit, a public consultation launched by the Office of the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Technology – and open until 30 April 2023 – is intended to collect input from interested stakeholders for consideration for the GDC. 

In October 2022, the permanent representatives of Rwanda and Sweden to the UN were appointed as co-facilitators to lead the intergovernmental process on the GDC. In January 2023, the co-facilitators announced the roadmap for the GDC process; the components of this roadmap – thematic deep-dives, the publication of a policy brief and an issues paper, and negotiations – can be seen via the timeline below. 

GDC process roadmap

  • 10-Sep-2021
  • 10-May-2022
  • 27-Oct-2022
  • 16-Jan-2023
  • 30-Jan-2023
  • 03-Feb-2023
  • 10-Feb-2023
  • 27-Mar-2023
  • 13-Apr-2023
  • 24-Apr-2023
  • 30-Apr-2023
  • 08-May-2023
  • 25-May-2023
  • 02-Jun-2023
  • 09-Jun-2023
  • 14-Jun-2023
  • 18-Sep-2023
  • 01-Dec-2023
  • 23-Sep-2024

GDC topics

The vision for the Global Digital Compact was outlined in the UN Secretary-General’s Our Common Agenda report. According to the report, the GDC could address the following issues:

  • Reaffirming the fundamental commitment to connecting the unconnected
  • Avoiding fragmentation of the internet
  • Providing people with options as to how their data is used
  • Application of human rights online
  • Promoting a trustworthy internet by introducing accountability criteria for discrimination and misleading content
  • Regulation of artificial intelligence (AI)

Building on this issue framing, the GDC co-facilitators are organising thematic deep-dives – between March and June 2023 – on eight topics: digital inclusion and connectivity, internet governance, data protection, human rights online, digital trust and security, AI and other emerging technologies, global digital commons, and accelerating progress on the sustainable development goals (SDGs).

As these deep-dives unfold, we will update this page to provide more background information about the topics in focus. We start with digital inclusion and connectivity.

1. Digital inclusion and connectivity

The concept of digital inclusion goes far beyond just deploying infrastructures to connect people and institutions to the internet. It encompasses a variety of essential factors, from affordability and skills development to multilingualism and access to local content. Additionally, there is a pressing need to address the digital inclusion gap faced by women and girls, migrants and refugees, and other marginalised communities. Moreover, digital inclusion involves promoting access to job opportunities in the digital economy and actively participating in relevant digital policy-making processes. In other words, digital inclusion is not just about connectivity, but about creating an equitable and inclusive digital society.

Dive deeper

Explore key digital policy issues related to digital inclusion and connectivity via the following Digital Watch dedicated pages:
See how the topic of digital inclusion and connectivity has been covered in a few key policy documents, from the outcomes of the World Summit on the Information Society to the most recent UNGA resolution on ICT for sustainable development.

2. Internet governance

Internet governance is ‘the development and application by governments, the private sector, and civil society, in their respective roles, of shared principles, norms, rules, decision-making procedures, and programs that shape the evolution and use of the Internet’. This definition was adopted back in 2005, during the World Summit on the Information Society. It has remained unchanged ever since. The internet governance regime has continuously evolved since then. It is now a complex system involving a multitude of issues, actors, mechanisms, procedures, and instruments.

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3. Data protection

The rapid digitalisation of societies has left users exposed to private tracking and public monitoring, creating a complex challenge to protect personal data and privacy. Outlining data subject rights and establishing responsibilities for their protection, clarifying meaningful consent for data processing, and setting conditions for international data transfers are some of the key issues regulators around the world have been dealing with. But the concept of data protection goes beyond personal information. Here data governance comes into play; it refers to the norms, principles, and rules governing several different types of data, including business, public, and personal data. Historically, data governance has been carried out on a national level to reflect specific cultural, legal, and historical specificities. However, owing to the global nature of the internet, data can effortlessly traverse borders and jurisdictions. This has given rise to discussions on concepts such as free flows of data and data localisation.

Dive deeper

Explore related issues via the following Digital Watch pages:

4. Human rights online

The same rights that people have offline must also be protected online is the underlying principle for human rights on the internet. Human rights issues are cross-cutting and interdependent. For example, the freedom of expression and information is related to access to the internet and net neutrality. The protection of minority rights is influenced by multilingualism and the promotion of cultural diversity in the digital space. Children’s rights have a strong security element. Ensuring the protection of privacy is important in dealing with cybersecurity.

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5. Digital trust and security

Trust is the social glue that binds people, communities, and countries together. Many of our online routines are built on trust, just like offline. Trust is important in technology, and also in the industry that supplies the services or products. We also need to trust the government that should protect our rights online as does offline. Trust improves predictability in digital developments, and facilitates growth. But building and maintaining trust in the digital world is a complex undertaking, as cyberspace is increasingly used by state and non-state actors for malicious purposes. Effective digital security requires a holistic approach to better tackle the interplays between security, economic development, human rights, as well as sociocultural and infrastructural aspects. It involves dealing with a range of issues, from protecting cybersecurity and fighting cybercrime, to tackling the spread of violent extremism online.

Dive deeper

Explore related issues via the following Digital Watch pages:

6. AI and other emerging technologies

Artificial intelligence (AI) has become an integral component of many digital services and products, guiding our online experiences and powering intelligent devices. Its pervasive influence also extends to how decisions are made about us, such as in recruitment processes, financial services, and the judiciary system. The transformative impact of AI has left its mark on various sectors, including financial markets and public health. The policy ramifications of AI are profound. While AI has the potential to drive economic growth, concerns over widespread disruption – for instance in the job market – have been mounting. Algorithmic decision-making can propagate discrimination, harmful stereotypes, and societal inequality. Issues related to privacy, safety, and security have also come under scrutiny. But AI is not the only advanced technology posed to impact our societies; augmented and virtual reality, blockchain, and quantum computing are just a few examples of other technologies that are triggering more and more policy discussions.

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7. Global digital commons

Various policy documents, from WSIS outcomes to the UN Secretary-General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation, have highlighted the importance of promoting open-source software, open data, open artificial intelligence models, open standards, and open content to achieve the benefits of digital transformation. These resources, referred to as ‘digital commons’, are meant to be shared freely and accessible to all while adhering to privacy and other applicable international and domestic laws, standards, and best practices and not causing harm. There are calls for governments, private companies, international organisations, and civil society to work towards building new models of collaboration around digital public goods, so they can be used for the greater good. This would include setting criteria for classifying technologies and content as digital public goods.

Dive deeper

Explore related issues via the following Digital Watch pages:

8. Accelerating progress towards the SDGs

In an era when digital advancements are rapidly transforming industries, economies, and society, accelerating progress towards achieving sustainable development goals becomes more pressing than ever. The digital innovations of today – from the internet to AI – can empower us to solve complex global issues like poverty and climate change, and promote greater human welfare. But these same technologies can also exacerbate inequalities, accentuating the gaps between individuals and societies. Leveraging digital technologies for inclusive, equitable, and sustainable development is a task that requires meaningful and sustained international cooperation.

Dive deeper

Explore related issues via the following Digital Watch pages:

Geneva Internet Platform (GIP) activities

Digital Cooperation Day | Geneva, 25 October 2022

The event was organised by the GIP, the Permanent Mission of Switzerland to the United Nations Office in Geneva, and the Federal Office of Communications (OFCOM).

Main points from discussions:

  • Shift from the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of digital cooperation to ‘how’.
  • Address the lack of interlinkages among organisations and initiatives involved in digital cooperation.
  • Introduce the empty chair concept in meetings and discussions, to remind us of the interests of future generations.
  • Bring a more ad-hoc and agile approach to digital cooperation.
  • Shift from sharing data towards sharing outcomes of data analysis.
  • Inclusivity and impact – two pillars of Digital Geneva.

The full summary of the event is available here.

Digital cooperation timeline

This timeline helps you place the GDC process in the broader context of internet/digital developments and digital cooperation initiatives.

  • All
  • Critical internet resources
  • Cybersecurity
    • Critical infrastructure
    • Cyberconflict and warfare
    • Cybercrime
  • E-commerce and trade
  • Digital cooperation
  • Key Internet developments
How it all started
To be continued