We missed this earlier: The outcome document of the recent G20 Digital Economy Working Group in Bengaluru included a set of principles and functions to be followed while developing digital public infrastructure (DPI). The voluntary framework will serve as a “neutral reference” that countries can use based on their own DPI contexts.
The G20 members agreed on every point on the agenda (barring Russia’s invasion of Ukraine), including on DPI and the framework. This support for DPI at large could be viewed as a win for India, whose G20 Presidency has seen it attempt to rally global support for digital public goods and infrastructure. Notwithstanding the privacy concerns (among others) surrounding them back home, technologies like UPI and Aadhaar have been flagged by India this year as examples of how digital public infrastructure can support governance, particularly in developing countries. India will also be planning and developing a virtual Global Digital Public Infrastructure Repository filled with DPI development and deployment experiences from different countries, the outcome document noted.
However, while these policy planks have received some support from low-income countries (often in the form of MoUs), and the likes of the United States, rumour has it that not all developed countries are ready yet to fully latch on to India’s DPI bandwagon.
Why does this G20 meeting matter? The G20 summit will be held in New Delhi on September 9th and 10th this year. How India’s DPI agenda will be framed and received globally can be partially inferred from the smoke signals of meetings like these.
Or, in other words: “a G20 Leaders’ Declaration will be adopted at the conclusion of the New Delhi Summit, stating Leaders’ commitment towards the priorities discussed and agreed upon during the respective ministerial and working group meetings”.
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How is DPI defined under the framework? “A set of shared digital systems, the key idea behind which is designing minimal digital building blocks that can be used modularly by governments, businesses, academia, and civil society to enable society-wide development,” the outcome document explained. “The ‘public’ in digital public infrastructure can refer to public benefit and access, subject to appropriate governance and oversight by public authorities.”
Three core functions that DPI can be used for: Interoperable digital systems can be used for:
- Identification: Securely identifying the identity of people and businesses, and developing “complementary trust services” like verifiable credentials and digital signatures.
- Payment: Transferring money between people, businesses, and governments easily and instantly.
- Data sharing with consent (when applicable): Seamless flows of personal data across private and public sectors, while keeping in mind applicable personal data protection safeguards and governance frameworks.
The three components of DPI:
- Technology: Interoperable digital systems (like software codes, standards, and protocols) can provide reusable or standalone services that can be “flexibly” used across sectors. This tech can either be proprietary, open-source, or both.
- Governance: Facilitating large-scale user adoption demands building trust—which is what governance can do. Governance frameworks can provide safeguards protecting human rights, personal data, intellectual property, and privacy, while also allowing for transparent grievance redressal. They can also include accountable institutions to monitor oversight of DPI, or policies to ensure long-term funding to ensure uninterrupted operations of DPI.
- Community: Private and civil society members can “collaborate to enable innovation and unlock value”.
The twelve principles undergirding DPI development and deployment:
- Inclusivity: Economic, technical, or social barriers should be eliminated to enable inclusion, empower end-users, improve last-mile access, and avoid “erroneous” algorithmic biases.
- Interoperability: This should be enabled by using and building DPI with open standards and specifications, with a “technology-neutral” approach. This should be done while keeping in mind safeguards, legal considerations, and technical constraints.
- Modularity and extensibility: Develop DPIs using a building block or modular architectural approach—these allow changes or modifications to the service to be accommodated without disruptions.
- Scalability: Flexible designs should be used to easily accommodate unexpected increases in demand, and/or to fulfil expansion needs without changing pre-existing systems.
- Facilitating public benefit, trust, and transparency through governance: Maximising these values while respecting legal frameworks requires laws and regulations for DPI to ensure that the tech is safe, secure, trusted, and governed transparently. It should also promote inclusion and competition while adhering to data protection and privacy principles.
- Human rights: Approaches adopted should respect human rights while planning, designing, building, and operating the DPI.
- Privacy and security: Approaches to building DPI should embed privacy-enhancing and security tech within the services core design to ensure privacy and data protection, as well as “resilience based on standards offering appropriate levels of protection”.
- IP Protection: “Adequate and effective” mechanisms to protect and enforce the intellectual property rights of technology rights holders should be developed based on pre-existing legal frameworks.
- Grievance redressal: Transparent and accessible grievance redressal mechanisms should be designed, which focus on “actions for resolution”.
- Sustainability: The DPI’s sustainability should be ensured through “adequate” financing and tech support to allow for uninterrupted and seamless delivery of the service.
- Collaboration: Community actors should be encouraged to participate while planning, designing, building, and operating the DPI to facilitate “openness and collaboration”.
- Sustainable development: Aim to develop DPI that helps achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.
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