Understanding the Global Digital Compact

By on 5 May 2023

Categories: Community Policy


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The Global Digital Compact (GDC) is a proposed initiative by the United Nations (UN) to address the global challenges and opportunities arising from the digital revolution. It stemmed from the UN Secretary-General’s 2021 report  Our Common Agenda, which covered various global digital challenges and proposed a roadmap for collective action.  

The GDC is an effort to establish a global consensus on digital principles and guidelines that will shape the evolution of the digital landscape via policy. To that end, the GDC process is shepherded by the Office of the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Technology (UNSG’s Tech Envoy’s Office). The UNSG’s Tech Envoy’s office has also invited contributions from stakeholders by 30 April 2023. As a result, the GDC is a hot topic of discussion at various forums such as the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), ITU WSIS Forum, and others. 

The GDC is not a treaty but seeks a set of inter-governmental agreements to benefit all via trust, inclusion, upholding human rights online, and is particularly interested in improving global digital cooperation. In this context, cooperation means confronting global digital challenges, promoting innovation, and sharing best practices between governments. 

Implications of the GDC 

The GDC has potential implications in several key areas: 

  1. Policy and governance: The GDC could serve as a guiding framework for policymakers and governments to develop policies, regulations, and governance mechanisms that promote digital trust, inclusion, and rights. It could also foster cooperation among economies, leading to the development of global standards and norms for digital technologies. 
  1. Access and connectivity: The GDC emphasizes the importance of digital inclusion, which could drive efforts to bridge the digital divide and ensure that marginalized communities — especially in developing economies — have access to affordable and reliable Internet connectivity and digital services. 
  1. Human rights and ethics: The GDC underscores the importance of upholding human rights and ethical considerations in the digital world. This could result in increased awareness and efforts to protect personal data, ensure privacy, and promote responsible use of digital technologies, particularly in areas such as surveillance, censorship, and online harassment. 
  1. Digital economy and innovation: The GDC recognizes the potential of digital technologies to drive economic growth and innovation. It could encourage collaboration among stakeholders to foster innovation, promote digital entrepreneurship, and create opportunities for economic empowerment, particularly for underserved communities. 
  1. International cooperation: The Global Digital Compact emphasizes the need for global cooperation to jointly address issues such as cyber threats, misinformation and disinformation, and the digital divide. 

Getting involved 

While the GDC process will be strictly inter-governmental, the UN has expressed some interest in “… hearing from everyone everywhere — individuals, groups, associations, organizations, entities — on what they want to see in the Global Digital Compact.”

While the GDC process has so far encouraged some multistakeholder participation in its public consultations, the upcoming Secretary-General’s Policy Brief and development of the Issues Paper that will be used to inform multilateral negotiations of the GDC will reflect if multistakeholder views have been genuinely listened to and treated in a balanced manner. Given the global impact that the GDC is expected to have, it is imperative that the shaping of the GDC goes through a process that is open, multistakeholder, and inclusive of all views. 

APNIC has contributed to the GDC consultations and is closely following the process. It is an important intergovernmental process particularly for the technical community due to the implications to multistakeholderism and by extension, its impact on the IGF as the UN’s premier multistakeholder forum. In particular, APNIC has supported voices from the Asia Pacific region to engage and be heard by the GDC process. Hence, APNIC took a collaborative approach to GDC contributions by supporting and co-signing the following submissions from the Asia Pacific region to the UN Global Digital Compact: 

  1. APNIC worked with CCAOI (Cyber Cafe Association of India) on a joint submission, which gained support from over 70 individuals and organizations in the Asia Pacific region. The submission focuses on improving access and connectivity, and avoiding Internet fragmentation.   
  1. APNIC co-signed a submission with Japan Network Information Center (JPNIC), which focuses on the importance of protecting our important functions and services, while preserving independence from specific regulatory regimes. 
  1. APNIC co-drafted a joint submission with many stakeholders of the Internet community in Australia. This submission emphasized supporting the multistakeholder model for Internet governance and encouraged continued support for the IGF as the platform for Internet governance discussions. 
  1. I, as a member of the UN IGF Multistakeholder Advisory Group (MAG), was also involved in co-drafting a submission by the IGF MAG. 

These submissions were made through the GDC online platform established by the UNSG’s Tech Envoy’s Office, where interested parties can access resources such as the Roadmap for Digital Cooperation and Our Common Agenda, as well as view contributions from others.  

Interested parties can also engage in the public consultations that are currently led by co-facilitators Rwanda and Sweden via an intergovernmental process through a series of thematic ‘deep dives’. 

The United Nations will compile and present the collective input received to inform the deliberations of the Global Digital Compact, which is scheduled to take place in 2024 as part of the Summit of the Future.  

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The views expressed by the authors of this blog are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of APNIC. Please note a Code of Conduct applies to this blog.

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