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The New Delhi Leaders Declaration: Tech Policy Outcomes of the G20 Summit

India has spent a chunk of its Presidency flagging its DPI ‘successes’—like Aadhaar and UPI—as examples of how technology can improve public service delivery.

PM’s closing remarks at G20 Summit on ‘One Future’ at Bharat Mandapam, in Pragati Maidan, New Delhi on September 10, 2023.

In what’s being touted as an unexpected diplomatic score for India, all G20 member countries adopted the New Delhi Leaders’ Declaration on Saturday afternoon, on day one of the G20 Summit. The joint statement also cemented New Delhi’s year-long efforts to mainstream Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI) in the global tech policy mainstream—all participating countries pledged their support for these policy initiatives.

India has spent a chunk of its Presidency flagging its DPI ‘successes’—like Aadhaar and UPI—as examples of how technology can improve public service delivery. They were specifically positioned as tools that can help developing countries digitise on their own terms (and not at the behest of tech giants). However, as we’ve previously reported, unanimous support for the DPI agenda is tough without the support of the developed world too. On the domestic front, concerns about the security and privacy issues of these digital governance systems remain under-addressed by the government.

“Digital public infrastructure (DPI), as an evolving concept and as a set of shared digital systems, built and leveraged by both the public and private sectors, based on secure and resilient infrastructure, and can be built on open standards and specifications, as well as opensource software can enable [the] delivery of services at societal-scale,” the Declaration observed. “We recognize that safe, secure, trusted, accountable and inclusive digital public infrastructure, respectful of human rights, personal data, privacy and intellectual property rights can foster resilience, and enable service delivery and innovation.”

The Declaration formally welcomed the recent G20 voluntary framework for designing and deploying DPI, and India’s plans to build a virtual global repository of DPI. It also “took note” of India’s proposed “One Future Alliance”, a voluntary initiative assisting in capacity-building, technical matters, and funding support for executing DPI in low and middle-income countries.

It also highlighted the formation of a “Global Initiative on Digital Health” that will build a “comprehensive digital health ecosystem in compliance with respective data protection regulations” within a framework managed by the World Health Organization.

The Declaration further endorsed the voluntary recommendations for advancing “financial inclusion and productivity gains” through DPI, brought by the G20, the World Bank, and the Global Partnership for Financial Inclusion. “We also encourage the continuous development and responsible use of technological innovations including innovative payment systems, to achieve financial inclusion of the last mile and progress towards reducing the cost of remittances,” the Declaration added.

On responsible AI: As AI transforms digital economies, the Declaration reinforced the importance of ensuring “responsible AI development, deployment and use, the protection of human rights, transparency and explainability, fairness, accountability, regulation, safety, appropriate human oversight, ethics, biases, privacy, and data protection”. While discussing the international regulation of AI, the Declaration reinforced past G20 commitments to trustworthy AI, adding that it will pursue a “pro-innovation” approach that maximises AI’s benefits while taking account of its risks.

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India is also the President of the Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence (GPAI) this year, and has hinted that it’s majorly pushing to streamline responsible AI development. Last week, MoS for IT Rajeev Chandrasekhar added that India’s stance on these issues will be shared at the GPAI summit to be held in Delhi this December.

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On crypto and Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDCs): The Declaration predictably welcomed discussions on the implementation of CBDCs, while highlighting the risks of the fast-developing “crypto-asset ecosystem”.

“We continue to closely monitor the risks of the fast-paced developments in the crypto-asset ecosystem. We endorse the Financial Stability Board’s (FSB’s) high-level recommendations for the regulation, supervision and oversight of crypto-assets activities and markets and of global stablecoin arrangements…We welcome the IMF-FSB Synthesis Paper, including a Roadmap, that will support a coordinated and comprehensive policy and regulatory framework taking into account the full range of risks and risks specific to the emerging market and developing economies (EMDEs) and ongoing global implementation of FATF standards to address money laundering and terrorism financing risks. Our Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors will discuss taking forward the Roadmap at their meeting in October 2023. We also welcome the BIS Report on The Crypto Ecosystem: Key Elements and Risks.” — the New Delhi Leaders’ Declaration.

Women online and bridging the digital gender gap by 2030: While generally endorsing equal access to digital services, the Declaration specifically highlighted the need to “identify and eliminate all potential risks that women and girls encounter from increased digitalization, including all forms of online and offline abuse, by encouraging the adoption of safety-by-design approaches in digital tools and technologies.”

Lingering questions

On DPI and cross-border data flows: Interestingly, the Declaration also observed that “in our voluntary efforts to make digital public infrastructure interoperable, we recognize the importance of data free flow with trust and cross-border data flows while respecting applicable legal frameworks”.

Japan first proposed the idea of “data free flows with trust” during its G20 Presidency in 2019, which essentially are a set of governance processes needed to “unleash the benefits of more open and trusted data flows”. At the time, India decided not to tack on to the proposal, arguing that developing countries still need to finalise laws around digital trade. “Data is a potent tool for development and equitable access of data is a critical aspect for us,” said then Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal.

India’s proposed cross-border data regime over the years reflected this stance, suggesting that copies of personal data be stored, or ‘localised’ in India before being transferred abroad. Experts hypothesised that India wanted more control over how its citizens’ data travelled the world.

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However, that complex (and criticised) proposal has been significantly diluted, with India’s recently-enacted Digital Personal Data Protection Act, 2023 (ambiguously) allowing cross border transfers of personal data to all countries, except those blocklisted by the Indian government. Global commitment to free data flows seems to have only strengthened—with the G7 reiterating its support for the concept earlier this year, while India observed the proceedings on the sidelines.

So, now that India’s data laws are finalised, and given the language of the Delhi Declaration, is its stance on data free flows with trust finally shifting?

Is calling the Delhi Declaration a diplomatic ‘win’ toeing the government line?: There’s much to be critical of when it comes to the G20. As we’ve already reported, it’s somewhat unclear if summits like these always move the needle in solving global macroeconomic issues. There’s also the fact that homes in New Delhi’s slums were ‘cleared‘ or shrouded in tarps ahead of G20 events (and that may not be the first time the government has tried to hide the country’s poor during international events either). These (among many others) are serious, under-answered concerns surrounding the institution and the Indian government.

But, the reason the summit is being considered an unexpected success is the behind-the-scenes diplomatic juggling. Without it, the joint statement wouldn’t have emerged—and with it, the support for these tech policy planks becomes more forceful.

For example, the biggest roadblock in getting everyone to sign the Declaration was Russia’s invasion of Ukraine—a key global issue that countries sparred over throughout the year, with Ministerial meetings often unable to produce joint statements because of differing views on the matter. While last year’s Bali G20 declaration admonished Russia’s actions in no uncertain terms, the Delhi Declaration, however, managed to condemn the Ukraine invasion, without naming and shaming Russia, a solution that seems to have satisfied everyone for now.

As The Hindu reported, “when asked about the climbdown by the EU and G-7 countries [who condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine], officials said that the choice they faced was of agreeing to the text or having “no text” at all, which would have led to unfavourable comparisons to the recent BRICS summit in South Africa, where Russia and China had agreed to a joint statement that included the reference to “national positions on Ukraine”. “Let’s say you had no G-20 statement — newspaper headlines would say the G-20 is finished, and they would be right. G-20 could be replaced by blocs like BRICS and G-7. So in a way by having a statement [we] keep the platform and the organisation alive — and that is the broader picture we must see,” said a senior EU official.”

Notwithstanding the ethical concerns of this approach, this diplomatic engineering could now open a pandora’s box for digital public infrastructure—what’s required now is more global vigilance on how these policy planks are operationalised across countries.

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Our G20 coverage

We reported extensively on the summit this year. Browse through more of our coverage here and here.

Featured image courtesy of Press Information Bureau, Government of India.

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I'm interested in stories that explore how countries use the law to govern technology—and what this tells us about how they perceive tech and its impacts on society. To chat, for feedback, or to leave a tip: aarathi@medianama.com

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