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July 28, 2023
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Towards an Open, Free, and Secure Digital Future

In today’s interconnected world, digital technologies have become as essential as natural resources like air and water. They play a pivotal role in our well-being and development, and their global availability is crucial for optimizing their potential for the common good. However, as with any valuable resource, responsible use and shared access are imperative. 

Recognizing this need, the United Nations proposes a “Global Digital Compact” that envisions an open, free, secure, and human-centered digital future, in alignment with the principles of the UN Charter, Human Rights Declaration, and the 2030 Agenda.

The Global Digital Compact, a key element of the UN Secretary-General António Guterres’s Common Agenda, presents a visionary approach to the future that emphasizes multilateralism, international cooperation, and global solidarity. Encompassing various crucial issues such as climate change, inequality, digital cooperation, human rights, peace and security, global governance, and sustainable development, the compact outlines a comprehensive strategy to tackle these challenges on a global scale. The Global Digital Compact aims to promote responsible and beneficial use of digital technologies, bridge the digital divide, and create a secure and inclusive digital environment. 

The Global Digital Compact sets forth key objectives and actions that aim to address digital challenges and maximize the benefits of digital technologies:

  • Digital Connectivity and Capacity-Building: Bridging the digital divide and ensuring meaningful and affordable internet access for all. This involves empowering individuals with digital skills and capabilities through policies, financial models, and educational initiatives for digital literacy and vocational training.
  • Digital Cooperation for Sustainable Development Goals: Investing in digital public infrastructure and services to advance progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The Compact encourages fostering open and accessible data ecosystems, collaborative research initiatives, and global online resources to support sustainable development efforts.
  • Upholding Human Rights: Placing human rights at the core of the digital future, the Compact aims to end the gender digital divide and ensure the application of international labor rights in the digital realm. It proposes developing a digital human rights advisory mechanism and protecting vulnerable groups.
  • An Inclusive, Open, Secure, and Shared Internet: Safeguarding the free and shared nature of the Internet through accountable multi-stakeholder governance. The Compact advocates against blanket Internet shutdowns and emphasizes the importance of net neutrality, non-discriminatory traffic management, and transparency in online spaces.
  • Digital Trust and Security: Strengthening cooperation to implement norms and guidelines for responsible use of digital technologies. The Compact aims to address harmful online content, expand the global cybersecurity workforce, and promote gender mainstreaming in digital policies.
  • Data Protection and Empowerment: Governing data for the benefit of all and providing individuals with control over their personal data. The Compact emphasizes the need to develop data quality and measurement frameworks, establish legal protections, and promote transparency and interoperability.
  • Agile Governance of AI and Emerging Technologies: Ensuring transparency, safety, and accountability in the use of AI and emerging technologies. The Compact proposes developing an agile governance framework that coordinates policies across sectors to align with human values.
  • Global Digital Commons: Developing and governing digital technologies sustainably, promoting inclusive digital cooperation, and aligning with the UN Charter, 2030 Agenda, and human rights. The Compact encourages multi-stakeholder collaboration, learning, and governance innovation to uphold shared values.

To achieve its goals, the Global Digital Compact emphasizes the importance of effective implementation through sustained collaboration among stakeholders. It envisions a networked multilateral arrangement that encourages participation, establishes norms and standards, and fosters innovative practices. The success of the Compact relies on the active involvement of Member States, private sector actors, civil society organizations, and various United Nations entities. These stakeholders will work together to build an open, free, and secure digital future that benefits all individuals and societies.

To support the implementation of the Global Digital Compact, the policy brief proposes the establishment of a Digital Cooperation Forum—an annual platform for transparent dialogue, knowledge-sharing, and policy solutions. Existing forums and initiatives will form a hub-and-spoke arrangement to provide expertise and support in translating Compact objectives into actionable plans. Additionally, a tripartite advisory group comprising State, non-State, and United Nations stakeholders will be established to prepare the agenda of the Digital Cooperation Forum.

An annual report by the United Nations Secretariat, based on stakeholder contributions, will provide data-driven updates on progress and initiatives related to the Global Digital Compact. The Global Digital Compact offers a promising pathway towards shaping a responsible and inclusive digital future for the benefit of all. By fostering cooperation, collaboration, and knowledge-sharing among stakeholders, the international community can effectively address digital challenges and promote responsible digital governance globally.

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