Vadim Glushchenko, Centre of Competence For Global IT Cooperation: It's Time for Countries to Assert Their Digital Sovereignty

Vadim Glushchenko, Centre of Competence For Global IT Cooperation: It's Time for Countries to Assert Their Digital Sovereignty

On February 16, the second round table on the Global Digital Compact, organized by the Center of Competence for Global IT Cooperation, took place. What were the results and how exactly the position of the Russian expert community will be formed, told CNews.ru Vadim Glushchenko, Director of the Center of Competence for Global IT Cooperation. 

Cnews.ru: Centre Of competence for Global IT Cooperation has been in existence since 2020. What are the Centre's areas of activity, its main projects and achievements?

Vadim Glushchenko: The Centre was created to increase the level of cooperation between Russia and the international community in the field of information technologies, to help promote Russian initiatives on international platforms, this is our key goal. We work with Russian and foreign experts, develop new approaches to various issues of digital cooperation and Internet governance, implement projects to improve digital literacy, conduct educational activities, and popularize scientific and technological cooperation. 

In addition, we are an analytical centre and carry out various studies in the field of the digital economy and information and communication technologies. And our third important area is working with young people, involving young professionals in Russian and international IT projects.


CNews.ru: Why is the Global Digital Compact such a pressing issue today? 

Vadim Glushchenko: The issue of creating common rules of the game at the international level has been on the agenda relatively recently. In 2018, under the auspices of UN Secretary-General António Guterres, a high-level group was convened “to strengthen digital cooperation between governments, the private sector, civil society, international organizations, academic institutions, the technical community and other stakeholders.” 

The outcome of its work was the UN Secretary General's Roadmap for Digital Cooperation in May 2020, and in September 2021, Guterres launched the Global Digital Compact initiative in his report “Our Common Agenda”. For the first time in history, it is intended “to outline common principles for an open, free and secure digital future for all.”

The initiative has been well received by the global expert community and a call for proposals has been launched. It is planned that at the interstate level, the draft document will be considered on the margins of the 77th UNGA in September 2023, and the final text of the compact will be approved at the “Summit of the Future” in September 2024.


Cnews.ru: What are the main topics of the Global Digital Compact?  

Vadim Glushchenko: One of the most important topics, in my opinion, is the development of criteria of responsibility for discrimination on the Internet and the distribution of “misleading” content. The issues of connecting everyone on our planet to the World Wide Web, the protection of human rights online and user data management are also very relevant. There are other very important issues that cannot be silenced: protecting privacy, ensuring online security, and preventing the fragmentation of the Internet. There is a separate track on cutting-edge technology, including the regulation of artificial intelligence.


CNews.ru: How realistic is it today to connect the entire population to the Internet? What exactly is behind these words?  

Vadim Glushchenko: We have got used to the fact that the Internet has penetrated every sphere of our life, but a huge number of people still do not have access to information and the benefits of the global network. According to recent data by the International Telecommunication Union, some 2.7 billion people, a third of the entire world's population, do not have access to the Internet. These are mainly in the “Global South” - Africa, South America and Asia. Speaking of connectivity, we are primarily talking about developing broadband infrastructure, upgrading and building new communications networks. This, of course, is not cheap. But if states make such a commitment at the global level, it will give the necessary impetus to solving this problem.


Cnews.ru: Protection of users' personal data is one of the hottest topics. Will it be addressed in the Global Digital Compact?

Vadim Glushchenko: It's hard to say who first uttered: “data is the new oil”, but this apt expression very vividly illustrates the central role of data in today's economy. Not surprisingly, we regularly hear about scandals related to misuse of personal data by certain actors. This undermines people's trust in the Internet as a whole and forces states around the world to develop strong data protection regimes. But can users themselves influence how digital companies use their data? The question is more than pertinent, that is why it will be reflected in the Global Digital Compact. 


CNews.ru: Are uniform rules and criteria for responsibility possible for all players in the Global Digital Compact? 

Vadim Glushchenko: When it comes to global digital platforms, a lot of questions arise. Often these companies behave like monopolists, acting according to their own corporate rules and not subject to the laws of the countries in which they operate and profit. This is why the topic of regulating such technology giants in national jurisdictions has been actively discussed over the past few years. In the Global Digital Compact, it is very important to prescribe common liability criteria for all players, including global digital platforms and the corporations that own them. This is not easy, of course, but I feel that, with so many states having accumulated questions about the digital giants, the chances of a mutually acceptable common approach are very good. 


Cnews.ru: Are there plans to regulate the development of AI technology and how will this be done?

Vadim Glushchenko: We see how rapidly AI technology is developing, and users have legitimate concerns and questions about how safe AI algorithms are for them. Not surprisingly, many countries, including Russia, are working to legally regulate the development and use of AI technologies. And, as envisioned by the UN Secretary General, the Global Digital Compact will be the first truly international instrument to lay down the general principles of such regulation.

CNews.ru: The first roundtable on the Global Digital Compact was held in December, who participated?  

Vadim Glushchenko: We took the initiative to formulate proposals from part of the Russian expert community into the draft of the future treaty and invited a number of authoritative organizations with which we have traditionally cooperated to participate in this process. FSBI NIIR, the Coordination Centre of domains .RU/.РФ, IGMU Higher School of Economics, ANO Dialog and e-Legion took part in the first round table. 

It is important that, along with the government, representatives of industry, academic community, the technical community and civil society have a unique chance to make their contribution to the Global Digital Compact. Proposals will be accepted until March 31, 2023. Our task is to reflect as fully and qualitatively as possible the common position of the organizations that have expressed an interest in co-sponsoring a document that will surely go down in history as the first set of rules of the game in the online environment.


Cnews.ru: On 16 February, the second round table on the issue took place. What was the outcome? 

Vadim Glushchenko: This time, our Centre presented a new case study in conjunction with the Global Digital Compact process, Current Trends in Internet Regulation: From Open Space of Unlimited Freedom to Regional and Country Fragmentation. One of its key conclusions is that because of the growing contradictions between states and big digital businesses in the governance of the World Wide Web, a unified, indivisible and fair digital space is difficult to achieve in the foreseeable future. Indeed, over the past few years, rather than a unified and coordinated action by the Internet community worldwide, we have seen a tendency to “roll back” the global network into separate country or regional zones. This means that the global expert community will have to work hard to reconcile its positions on various aspects of Internet fragmentation.

Moreover, during the roundtable discussion, a number of ideas were put forward that could become part of the general proposals made by Russian experts. For example, to distinguish “zones of responsibility” between corporate rules and national legislation, as well as to enshrine the right of users to receive information in their native languages. 

By the way, the participants of the round table were so inspired by the joint work that they proposed to create a debate club to discuss other issues related to Internet governance and digital cooperation. There were some really topical issues that need to be continued and not linked to the topic of the Global Digital Compact. 


Cnews.ru: Is there already an understanding of what proposals the Centre will make? 

Vadim Glushchenko: We are particularly interested in the regulation of global digital platforms. In our view, it is also important that the future compact should address the issue of digital sovereignty of countries and emphasize the key role of the state in the governance of the global network. Of course, the document should reflect the interests of different stakeholders, but we should remember that ultimately the responsibility for what happens in the national segment of the Internet in a particular country lies with the state. 


CNews.ru: Which international partners would you say are your partners?  

Vadim Glushchenko: We see that in many ways our vision coincides with the interests and objectives that the countries of the Global South are formulating for themselves. This can also be said about the BRICS countries - for all the differences, there is an understanding that we are moving in the same direction and advocating the same principles. 


Cnews.ru: What are the Centre's next steps and plans for 2023? 

Vadim Glushchenko: Work on the Global Digital Compact is just one of our projects. Every year, together with the .RU/.RF Coordination Centre, we organize the Russian Internet Governance Forum (RIGF), scheduled for April 6-7, and also hold the Russian Youth Internet Governance Forum (Youth RIGF), this year on May 17. We are pleased to invite everyone to these interesting events! 

As in previous years, we will take an active part in economic forums in St. Petersburg, in the Far East, and this year also in the Russia-Africa Forum. Working with IT start-ups and their promotion will be a separate important area for the Centre. We are cooperating with Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan in this area, and are planning to enter an international conference on supporting and developing technology start-ups. 

And, of course, we continue to work as an analytical centre: in two years we have produced 25 thematic products - studies, reviews and articles. So for our organization, 2023 promises to be a very busy year.


Digital sovereignty
Global Digital Compact