Digital transformation a hot topic at the UN General Assembly

UN emblem and podium in the General Assembly Hall. Source: UN.

As UN representatives met virtually this year, digital issues also prevailed on the agenda.

The Covid-19 pandemic took centre stage at the United Nations General Assembly last week. However, digital issues also made their mark, taking up a greater presence than ever, according to an analysis published by the Geneva Internet Platform (GIP) last week.

Digital policy issues featured in a quarter of the statements made by UN representatives, alongside debates on Covid-19, climate action, world conflicts, and multilateralism reforms.

Digital issues. Among the issues discussed, GIP, a Swiss initiative operated by the DiploFoundation, observed:

  • Covid-19 and digital: some delegations underlined the acceleration of the use of and access to information communication technologies (ICTs) as a result of the pandemic, while others warned about associated negative effects such as propaganda and online hate speech.

  • Non-traditional security threats: an increase of cyber-attacks especially against healthcare institutions was observed during the pandemic. A trusted, open and inclusive cyberspace with proper international regulations is a priority.

  • Digital divide: the current situation has exacerbated the digital divide, especially in developing countries. Strategies to better the skills of the population to face the future are needed.

  • Digitalisation of public services: the digital transformation of the public sector is noteworthy. Technologies and platforms enabled administrations to continue their activity.

Data analysis. The Diplo’s Data and AI lab produced an analysis of the different statements made during the debate, as presented in the figure below.

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UNGA 75: Digital policy mentions by region and categories (baskets). Source: GIP.

Most mentions of digital policy issues were made by European states. In terms of developments, the most common issues by all regions were related to the digital divide, access to ICTs or the environment. Infrastructure was also a heavily featured subject, with European delegations insisting on AI and other advanced technologies. Issues related to human rights were less popular.

Geneva Internet Platform