UNCTAD calls on countries to make digital data flow for the benefit of all

Press Release: “The world needs a new global governance approach to enable digital data to flow across borders as freely as necessary and possible, says UNCTAD’s Digital Economy Report 2021 released on 29 September.

The UN trade and development body says the new approach should help maximize development gains, ensure those gains are equitably distributed and minimize risks and harms.

It should also enable worldwide data sharing, develop global digital public goods, increase trust and reduce uncertainty in the digital economy.

The report says the new global system should also help avoid further fragmentation of the internet, address policy challenges emerging from the dominant positions of digital platforms and narrow existing inequalities.

“It is more important than ever to embark on a new path for digital and data governance,” says UN Secretary-General António Guterres in his preface to the report.

“The current fragmented data landscape risks us failing to capture value that could accrue from digital technologies and it may create more space for substantial harms related to privacy breaches, cyberattacks and other risks.”

UNCTAD Secretary-General Rebeca Grynspan said: “We urgently need a renewed focus on achieving global digital and data governance, developing global digital public goods, increasing trust and reducing uncertainty in the digital economy. The pandemic has shown the critical importance of sharing health data globally – the issue of digital governance can no longer be postponed.”

Pandemic underscores need for new governance

Digital data play an increasingly important role as an economic and strategic resource, a trend reinforced by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pandemic has shown the importance of sharing health data globally to help countries cope with its consequences, and for research purposes in finding vaccines.

“The increased interconnection and interdependence challenges in the global data economy call for moving away from the silo approach towards a more holistic, coordinated global approach,” UNCTAD Deputy Secretary-General Isabelle Durant said.

“Moreover, new and innovative ways of global governance are urgently needed, as the old ways may not be well suited to respond to the new context,” she added.

New UN data-related body proposed

UNCTAD proposes the formation of a new United Nations coordinating body, with a focus on, and with the skills for, assessing and developing comprehensive global digital and data governance. Its work should be multilateral, multi-stakeholder and multidisciplinary.

It should also seek to remedy the current underrepresentation of developing countries in global and regional data governance initiatives.

The body should also function as a complement to and in coherence with national policies and provide sufficient policy space to ensure countries with different levels of digital readiness and capacities can benefit from the data-driven digital economy…(More)”.