Redes | Amplifying Global South Voices in Digital Rights Policymaking | Governance and Regulation

Let’s stay tuned for the Global Digital Compact

 Let’s stay tuned for the Global Digital Compact

by Jaqueline Pigatto and Mikael Servilha

What is the Global Digital Compact and why is it important to keep an eye on it? 

Placed as one of the United Nations´s key actions to accelerate the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, the Global Digital Compact is being proposed by the UN´s Secretariat as a “key text for digital cooperation” to be agreed at the Summit of the Future, in September 2024. The Global Digital Compact is expected to be one of the major outcomes of this next year´s Summit. 

The start point of this global UN´s movement derives from the Declaration on the commemoration of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the United Nations, adopted by the General Assembly on September 21st, 2020. In general terms, the Declaration calls for “shaping a shared vision on digital cooperation and a digital future that show the full potential for beneficial technology usage, and addressing digital trust and security”; and underlines that the “UN can provide a platform for all stakeholders to participate in such deliberations”. 

The path toward shaping a shared vision of digital cooperation took on more contours shortly afterward. With more objective language, the Report of the Secretary-General (named Our Common Agenda), of September 2021, formally presented the format of the multistakeholder track to be held during a preparative step – prior to the negotiations round. The Agenda has 12 “commitments”, the 7th of which is related to digital cooperation. Other areas include sustainable development, a new agenda for peace, and climate action.

The Secretary-General Report also highlighted some of the complex digital issues that could be addressed and proposed a Summit of the Future “to forge a new global consensus on what our future should look like, and what we can do today to secure it”. Still on this, the document also indicated the Summit of the Future as a high-level, multistakeholder event “to advance ideas for governance arrangements”; and urged the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) “to adapt, innovate and reform to support effective governance of the digital commons”.

In fact, since 2018, the UN has increased its role as a catalyst for digital policies, with a broad agenda and involving different actors in consultative processes. In 2018 Secretary General Antonio Guterres creates the High Level Panel on Digital Cooperation. Composed of a multistakeholder nature, the Panel opens a public call for contributions and in 2019 releases its report “The Age of Digital Interdependence”. In 2020, some areas of focus begin to be outlined in the “Roadmap for Digital Cooperation“, whose implementation is led by UN Tech Envoy, Amandeep Singh Gill.

The Global Digital Compact comes as a moment of synthesis of these previous processes, at the same time that it allows an important revision for the priorities of the global digital agenda. In 2025, there will be a review of the WSIS process and the question of continuity for the IGF, as we move closer to the 2030 Agenda and take a closer look at the Sustainable Development Goals.

What’s happening in the first quarter of 2023?

Departing from the Secretary-General’s Report, the UN affirms that it has been mobilizing itself to sustain the Digital Compact track as “a once in a lifetime opportunity to bring everyone, governments, civil society and private sector, to agree on what kind of digital future we want and need”.

The process that aims to culminate in the Global Digital Compact proposal-text is currently running in a consultative phase – which will be a consolidated subject to further discussion and negotiations by the Member States.

The Office of the Envoy on Technology opened a survey form where inputs can be submitted through. This is open to everyone to share views by March 31st, 2023

In addition, as of January 30th, there will be some informal consultations with Member States and Stakeholders regarding “The Compact”. We highlight the two online consultations open to Civil Society and Academia, which will take place on February 3rd, 10:00-13:00 and 15:00-18:00 ET. To participate you have to register by January 29th 2023.

Why is it important for Civil Society to be aware of it? 

The Global Digital Compact´s Background Note indicates that the United Nations will compile and present the contributions to inform deliberations of the Global Digital Compact text. In this line, the UN has repeatedly been expressing that it will is to achieve this resolution through a multistakeholder technology track, even though it does not guarantee that the negotiations around the text will include all interested parties. 

Even as a consultation process, it seems such a good opportunity to be explored since there are  no institutional barriers to participation. However, there are other reasons that make much more relevant to participate in the consultative phase.

For civil society, closely monitoring the process and submitting visions for the Global Digital Compact discussions may prove to be a necessary (and not for an end in itself)  move, considering the relevance the UN is placing on it. Leaving it out may represent a loss of opportunity, given the broad and long-term arrangement of the international agenda that has been established – at this moment aiming to lead to the Summit of the Future, in 2024. This event should mobilize debates not only on a global level but also locally. Not to mention that it should attract a lot of attention next year, and thus favor advocacy and raise public awareness campaigns, for example.

This consultation again shows to be necessary when seen as another opportunity to capture this multistakeholder narrative – once again proposed by the UN – and strengthen civil society’s pressure to have its voice actually heard. 

When thinking of Global South’s Civil Society, its active contribution becomes even more necessary in this initial moment of this medium/long-term process. Once it is recognized that the Global North narratives, for various reasons, usually domain this type of engagement, the participation of actors from the Global South is imperative to achive a truly global commitment. . 

In addition, the incidence on this consultation can be shown as an opportunity for Global South´s activism to join forces and jointly propose common visions, as a strategy to raise their voices to a broader field of debate. More than that, its participation in this consultative process can further potentialize its demands during 2023/2024 when the Summit of the Future and The Global Digital Compact text probably will be among the trending topics of international politics.

What is the format to submit a contribution?

The form drives the contributions to a direct and objective language. It is a simple questionnaire – easy to complete – divided into the following areas:

  • Connect all people to the internet, including all schools
  • Avoid internet fragmentation
  • Protect data
  • Apply human rights online
  • Accountability for discrimination and misleading content
  • Regulation of artificial intelligence
  • Digital commons as a global public good
  • Other areas (“if there are any additional areas that you feel should also be included in the Global Compact”)

From these areas, the idea is to collect submissions organized along two aspects, core principles and key commitments, as follows:

  1. Core principles that all governments, companies, civil society organizations and other stakeholders should adhere to;
  2. Key commitments, pledges, or actions that in your view should be taken by different stakeholders – governments, private sector, civil society, etc. – in order to realize the above-mentioned principles (please be as specific and action-oriented as possible.)

The Data Privacy Brasil Research Association strongly encourages the active engagement of civil society throughout the whole process (even after March 31st) and believes that several strategies and actions from the Global South can take place from this UN movement. If you are a civil society entity from the South and want to participate in our joint contribution, please contact [email protected] or [email protected].