Framing the GDC Right

By Amrita Choudhury.

This article does not reflect the views of all Indians or civil society organisations of global South. It reflects the views of the author and the submissions made into the Global Digital Compact (GDC) process by Indian and global South entities.

We are living in a world that is fragmented by geopolitics, between the haves and have nots, developing and developed nations, etc.

Application of technology has brought about a digital transformation and empowered the lives of millions across the world and digital technologies today have a far reaching impact in all our lives. Understanding the power of technology, most developing countries are aspiring to leapfrog and take advantage of this digital revolution. Even in India we are witnessing a digital transformation under the Digital India program1 that aims to transform India into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy.

On the other hand, we are also observing that the lack of technological adoption or transfer in many parts of the world is leading to a huge digital and technological divide, where many developing countries especially LDCs are being further pushed behind. All this makes it hard for achieving the 2030 Agenda of Sustainable Development.2

The much discussed UN led Global Digital Compact (GDC) aims to address this anomaly and “outline shared principles for an open, free and secure digital future for all”. Once agreed upon by UN member states, the GDC will be an annex to the Pact for the Future which will be the outcome document of the Summit of the Future to be held in September this year.

The GDC is expected to cover issues related to digital connectivity, artificial intelligence, Internet fragmentation, providing people with options as to how their data is used, application of human rights online, and promoting a trustworthy Internet by introducing accountability criteria for discrimination and misleading content.

Since the GDC will have a far reaching impact in all our lives, it needs to be framed right, so that the interests of the developing nations can be given priority.

So far from what we have witnessed, the GDC process and timelines had been unclear and at times even confusing. It was only recently that the timelines for the GDC negotiations were shared by the co-facilitators.3

To frame it rightly the GDC process needs to be improved by adopting a truly multistakeholder process not only during the consultative phase but also during the decision making, implementation and monitoring phase.

The GDC process, based on our observation till now, has been a top down, and not friendly for non-state actors, especially civil societies of developing countries. For example, during the deep dives and the first informal consultation, the engagement of non-government stakeholders has been limited to select few stakeholders (being selected on first come first basis, with everyone not getting a chance to speak; even those selected getting a chance to read the messages with 2-3 minutes), without any discussions and debates and with no interaction with the UN member state delegates. Further, there is no clear evidence that the inputs shared by non-state actors have even been considered. Moreover, the process of making an intervention has been far from inclusive. Firstly, for people from Asia the time for these stakeholder consultations have never been suitable. The mode to request for speaking and if selected, to keep the video on till asked to speak, is a big ask from participants from developing countries where bandwidth is a challenge.

The submissions made to the initial online consultation, from the Indian government4 and Indian civil society organisations5 stresses the priority of ensuring universal and meaningful connectivity to all which is human rights respecting, create a new global social contract for a socially just digital transition, harnessing the benefits of digital technologies for inclusive, equitable opportunities, digital inclusion and literacy, incorporating digital competencies into the education system and skill development, digital commons to be used as a global public good, enhancing investment in digital infrastructure, promote and set standards for open, inclusive, and safe DPIs, support the replication of DPI/DPGs between countries, avoiding Internet fragmentation; protect data from potential harms and misuse and negative impacts, secure state and corporate accountability for protecting women’s human rights, create institutional arrangements to ensure network and data resources become part of the commons; sustainability of the planet, regulate AI so that it promotes the public good, while minimising the risks and challenges associated with its development and deployment through multistakeholder engagement.

Similar sentiments were shared during the first informal consultation by most member states of developing countries including India. They want the GDC to ensure digital equity, inclusivity, and accessibility. The GDC should promote technology transfer from developed to developing country; strengthen digital cooperation and bridge the digital divide; focus on expanding the role of digital technologies as enablers of 2030 agenda and SDGs; avoid internet fragmentation; increase investments in digital infrastructure, find avenues to counter disinformation and misinformation; data protection; harness the potential of emerging technology; ensure transparency of content regulation by Big Tech, rely on existing processes and not reinvent the wheel.

Our ask from the GDC

If GDC truly wants to achieve the goals it has set up, then the GDC framework should reflect:

  • A shared vision that comprises of people centric, developing world centric, gender and human rights respecting approach, so that no one is left behind.
  • To achieve the SDG, the principles of GDC should be based on human rights, respecting inclusivity, and digital equity so that the present inequality of the digital economy can be addressed, and the benefits of digitalization can be equitably shared across all countries and people.
  • The GDC process should be inclusive and multistakeholder in nature. While the final negotiations will be done by UN member states, the inclusion of the multistakeholder community in the process even after the zero draft should be allowed. That is because to achieve the objectives of the GDC and even the SDG goals, in today’s digital world, no stakeholder including the government can work in silos. The implementation and the success of the GDC will need the buy in and meaningful participation of the multistakeholder community which includes civil society, private sector, technical community, etc. in their respective roles. Therefore, it is imperative that all stakeholders are encouraged to engage in the dialogue at all stages of the process.
  • The Governance of AI should be responsible, human centric, human rights respecting and principle based. It should be drafted by a multistakeholder community with an aim to address the risks, biases and harms while leveraging the benefits it offers to people and societies.
  • The GDC should not only recommend guiding principles for the Internet of the future, but also identify and lay down clear actions to achieve these objectives and goals.
  • The GDC process should utilise the existing mechanisms, rather than reinvent the wheel or creating new mechanisms to support the implementation of the GDC. It may be beneficial to look at the existing norms and principles in the digital space (such as the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) outcomes, WSIS Action lines) as a starting point and build on them.
  • Further, the UN Internet Governance Forum (IGF) which is an outcome of the WSIS is an ideal venue for the followup on the GDC. The IGF is functioning, effective and there is a strong recognition of the IGF as a platform by people from the developing world.
  • We would propose that the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and UN IGF be tasked, in collaboration with other UN agencies involved, to develop a proposal for specific modalities that link GDC follow up and implementation with post WSIS+20 follow up implementation.



  1. Digital India ↩︎
  2. 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development ↩︎
  3. Letter from GDC Co-facilitators with Timelines 15 December 2023 ↩︎
  4. Submission by G77 and China and GDC Asia Regional Consultation ↩︎
  5. Joint Submission by CCAOI and 72 stakeholders from APAC , Submission by DEF; Submission by IT For Change and FES ↩︎