ITU NEWS asked the United Nations Secretary-General’s Envoy on Technology, AMANDEEP SINGH GILL, about his experience at the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference (PP-22) in Bucharest, Romania, and the mounting push for a Global Digital Compact.
ITU NEWS: What has your experience been like here at the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Plenipotentiary Conference?
AMANDEEP SINGH GILL: The experience has been fantastic. Firstly, the hosts have been very generous in their meticulous preparations. This allows us to get on with our work fruitfully.
Here is a big shoutout to Romania as the hosts of this meeting.
My experience of meeting with the heads of delegations from countries across different regions has been excellent. I see a lot of enthusiasm for the important items on the agenda of ITU – connectivity, addressing the digital divide, and building the infrastructure for the digital economy of tomorrow.
Obviously, there has also been a lot of interest in the elections for ITU’s next leadership team and governing/custodial bodies in 2023-2026.
IN: Let us talk about the Global Digital Compact. It is something which I know is near and dear to your heart. For those uninitiated, tell us what the Global Digital Compact is, how ITU and our member states can contribute to it, and how it is connected to the new Summit of the Future, which is going to be held in September 2024.
ASG: The Summit of the Future in 2024 is an opportunity for the international community to reboot multilateralism and prepare ourselves better for the challenges of tomorrow.
The summit has been decided by the UN General Assembly on the basis of a report that the UN Secretary General was asked to present. This report is called Our Common Agenda – and the Global Digital Compact is one of the proposals in this report. It is to be adopted at the Summit of the Future.
Let me describe our idea of the Global Digital Compact broadly, as its details and contours would be determined by UN member states:
We hope for the Global Digital Compact to be the highest-level-capturing of political will so far, in terms of a comprehensive view of the digital world. It would ideally touch upon the challenges and the risks that digital technologies may pose to human rights, fundamental freedoms, and human agency.
Another focus might be set on the difficulties around data governance and artificial intelligence (AI) governance and on the opportunity to drive progress on the UN Sustainable Development Goals, to connect the unconnected, and to bring technology to the masses so that they can lead better lives.
We want to generate a 360-degree look at the digital world with all its implications, the opportunities. Ultimately, the Global Digital Compact will enable us, as the international community, to better organize ourselves and build a digital future that is open, free, secure, and inclusive.
This is not just something that is for governments alone, because the private sector is a huge player in the digital world. So are civil society, academic networks, and citizens at large. This needs to be a truly multi-stakeholder effort. It can’t only be an intergovernmental effort, and we have to bring all these strands together in an innovative way.
All the diverse voices need to be heard loudly and clearly at the United Nations in New York, so the government representatives are better informed when they work towards the Global Digital Compact.
IN: And how can ITU as a whole organization, as well as its member states individually, contribute to this?
ASG: ITU is a premier partner in the build-up of the Global Digital Compact. My office already works very closely with ITU on issues such as connectivity. We are partners in the project Giga that aims to connect every school on Planet Earth to the Internet.
ITU is one of the oldest organizations in the UN system, which gives it tremendous experience in building standards and regulating the allocation of spectrum.
The whole project around the Global Digital Compact starts with the spectrum, as the ultimate source of value in the digital world. Therefore, we are very excited about the input that will come from ITU. Also, the work we will be doing together is in many cases going to be led by ITU.
IN: I know that you are inviting all participants to a consultation on the Global Digital Compact during PP-22. What will be the objective for you there, what are your expectations, and how will the outcome of this be used to build the Global Digital Compact?
ASG: We are at the start of a very important conversation that will take place over the next year and plan to have a number of consultations. We will present the overall vision of the Global Digital Compact, which consists of several areas – connectivity, digital divides, digital public infrastructure, digital public goods, data protection, data empowerment, international cooperation around AI, misinformation or disinformation, and protecting human rights online.
We hope to receive input and guidance from the ITU community on the areas that the ITU is currently focused on – Internet connectivity, Internet governance, AI, other emerging technologies, and the build-up of standards for some of these emerging technologies.
These are very valuable insights. No other gathering has that kind of deep expertise and the multiplicity of years of experience. The ITU Plenipotentiary Conference is a must-have stop on our calendar of consultations.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.