On 14 June 2023, taking part in their fourth consultation on the Global Digital Compact, Viraj Desai shared a few comments on governance of digital commons, on behalf of IT for Change.
The Global Digital Compact is expected to “outline shared principles for an open, free, and secure digital future for all”. The informal consultations being held for civil society groups aim to share knowledge and views, as well as allow for contributions on a wide range of digital issues.
As the Secretary General's policy brief on the Global Digital Compact has highlighted, we need to ensure a principled governance of the global digital commons in order to effectively realize the Sustainable Development Goals – this means that the governance of the global internet and digital public goods, including data commons, should be aligned with universally recognized human rights and the vision of Agenda 2030. Towards this, Viraj proposed the following set of actions:
1. We need to take immediate action to reclaim the internet as global knowledge and communication commons, disavowing surveillance capitalism and embracing the generative peer-networking affordances of the horizontal web of the hyperlink. Governments must provide key services such as email, video-conferencing, search engines, etc., as public goods, similar to postal services and basic telecommunication services. They must also explore alternative platform business models grounded in the logic of social and solidarity economy enterprises.
2. We need a new approach to governance of data resources, one which maximizes the public value of data while containing the risk of individual and collective harms. This involves setting clear boundaries on the operations of data markets to protect human rights accompanied by a new commons-based resource governance regime for data that recognizes that we must aggregate data as knowledge commons, and the a priori claims of ‘source communities’ – communities from whose interactions and territories data is aggregated – over such commons. Inspiration for the establishment of such a commons-based governance to data at the multilateral level can be sought in the Nagoya Protocol on the Convention on Biological Diversity, specifically its access and benefit sharing mechanism.
3. In multistakeholder partnership arrangements for the provisioning of digital public goods, including data commons in sectors such as food and health, as being explored at the Committee on Food Security and the World Health Organization, we need strong guard rails to guard against elite capture of data value and conflict of interest issues stemming from the participation of multinational corporations.