The enormous power of digital technology to transform lives and accelerate development is threatened by its potential to harm people and the environment. In this context, international cooperation is an important component to mediate harms and promote the responsible development and use of data and digital tech.
That’s why the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data (Global Partnership) submitted input to the United Nations (UN) Tech Envoy’s consultation to collect a diverse range of views to shape an international agreement to unlock the benefits of digital technologies. Digital transformation runs on data, as we’ve written before, and our input is drawn from extensive work to promote responsible and responsive data systems.
About the Global Digital Compact
The United Nations Tech Envoy is seeking input through April 2023 from organizations and individuals (“everyone, everywhere”) to contribute to a Global Digital Compact to “outline shared principles for an open, free and secure digital future for all.”
The UN Secretary-General’s 2021 report Our Common Agenda laid the groundwork for developing the compact through public consultation. The Global Digital Compact is set to be agreed upon at the Summit of the Future in 2024, and individuals and organizations are encouraged to submit input online through April 30.
The consultation includes eight broad topics for input: (1) connecting all people to the internet, (2) avoiding internet fragmentation, (3) protecting data, (4) applying human rights online, (5) accountability for discrimination and misleading content, (6) regulation of artificial intelligence, (7) digital commons as a global public good, and (8) other areas. Under each topic, the consultation contains opportunities to submit feedback on three aspects: core principles, key commitments, and other comments.
About our contribution
The Global Partnership submitted input under (3) protecting data, based on what we have heard from our network of more than 700 partners and our organizational experience in leading the Data Values Project (see the Data Values white paper, Reimagining Data and Power, for more details), developing the #DataValues Manifesto, and funding research that showed that investing in data systems is spending to save.
We encourage you to weigh in to shape the Global Digital Compact, too. Creating a fair data future requires crowding in diverse voices and including views from groups that have been historically sidelined from decision making around data and digital systems.
The Global Partnership’s submission is as follows:
1. Core principles that all governments, companies, civil society organisations and other stakeholders should adhere to (2500 characters, including spaces)
"Data is integral to each issue covered by the consultation. Data underpins AI algorithms and, if left unchecked, replicates biases baked into the data. Expanding connectivity drives inclusion in digital systems, but people giving up personal data opens new avenues for surveillance and persecution. Protecting human rights online requires transparent and accountable management of the data people leave behind as they use the Internet.
Addressing data issues under data protection is limiting. This approach treats people as passive subjects to be protected rather than as active agents who can shape their digital futures. It implies a heavy focus on legislation and regulation, which are necessary but not sufficient for accountable data governance and can be made more effective through participatory mechanisms. It ignores the need to invest in foundational data systems (see section 3 for details) which are required to take full advantage of digital transformation.
Therefore, data should be treated as a cross-cutting enabler of an open, secure, and fair digital future.
Data needs to serve everyone, and getting it right is as much a political endeavor as it is a technical one. We must build data systems that help and empower people, instead of harming and excluding them. This demands change in the ways we design, collect, fund, manage, and use data.
We propose 5 principles:
- Support people to shape how they are represented in data: People must have a say in data design and collection that affects their lives. Everyone deserves to have their needs, priorities, and experiences—as they define them—captured in data.
- Invest in public participation for accountability: People must be included in decisions related to data use and re-use. This is essential to hold leaders accountable, protect people from harm, and improve lives.
- Democratize data skills for greater equality: Everyone, everywhere must gain confidence to engage with and use data. Wide-spread data confidence is a building block of a fair data future.
- Create cultures of transparency, data sharing, and use: All leaders must invest in strengthening cultures of data use and re-use. Repeated positive experiences of regulating, sharing, and using data for public good will build trust.
- Fund open and responsive data systems so that all people share in the benefits of data: Governments and donors must dedicate more funding to data systems that support action and promote participation and inclusion from start to finish.
2. Key commitments, pledges, or actions that in your view should be taken by different stakeholders – governments, private sector, civil society, etc. (2500 characters)
The Global Digital Compact is an opportunity to establish agreements, standards, and protocols around data collection and governance which put people at the center by embedding individual and community agency in data use and reuse. The Compact could include these commitments:
Governments establish mechanisms for civil society and communities to shape data collection and participate in decisions about how their data will be governed. Public officials communicate transparently about data laws, policies, and their implications and lead by example, allowing themselves to be held accountable and holding other powerful actors accountable for harmful data-related practices. Donor governments invest 0.8% of ODA in data systems, lower-income countries allocate a minimum of 0.5%, and middle-income countries 0.1%, of annual expenditure to data systems.
Donors and international agencies accompany digital development with financial and technical support for governments and organizations to foster inclusion and participation. They create and support mechanisms to listen to communities and establish feedback loops within their own organizations and in the projects they fund. They recognize that digital development is not only about tools and products, and they invest in skills, capacity, and partnerships to build a culture of data use. They share knowledge and align their priorities with national plans, and they complement existing initiatives rather than carrying out duplicative activities.
Businesses acknowledge the power they wield and take steps to promote more equitable societies that protect individual and community data rights. They engage in cross-sectoral partnerships, contribute data for social good, and establish user-centric and participatory approaches to build products and services that do not reinforce inequalities. They develop business practices and products that align with people’s aspirations, are not extractive, and that empower people to shape how their data is used.
Civil society organizations represent communities’ needs and interests by supporting their participation in data production and governance. They collect and share data from people and communities and use data to hold governments accountable for their responsiveness to communities. They play a dual role of partners to governments, international agencies, private companies, and activists pushing for greater transparency and accountability in data production and use.
3. Any other comments
The concept of foundational data systems is drawn from the World Bank’s 2021 World Development Report, Data for Better Lives. This includes four foundational pillars—institutions, governance frameworks, infrastructure, and economic policies—which provide the basis for an effective and efficient system. These foundations are supported by a groundwork of enablers—demand, funding, human capital, and trust—which provide the inputs needed to sustain the pillars.