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United for an Open Digital Future

Unidos por un Futuro Digital Abierto

Rudi Borrmann|

An important sign of a thriving democracy is when citizens have the freedom to express themselves without fear of persecution and this includes expression across constantly emerging digital platforms and social media which now connects nearly half the world. 

In Argentina, where I serve as Deputy Secretary for Public Innovation and Open Government, we are focused on how the rapidly evolving digital landscape impacts the relationship between the government and its citizens. We are pleased that in the latest Freedom of the Internet report, Argentina is classified as a free society, but we also know that much more needs to be done and that it can’t be done by governments alone.

The incredible growth of digital tech has been spurred by the private and public sectors and by the billions who utilize it every day. The solutions on how we continue this trajectory of growth while accounting for potential areas of misuse must be sourced in an inclusive manner. We need a global effort, regardless of who we are, where we come from, or what sector we belong to. Whether it’s regulating the accountability of algorithms and artificial intelligence, ensuring accurate information is being shared online, closing all forms of digital divides or protecting civic space for citizens.  

Argentina is ready and able to play a lead role in this effort, as we’ve demonstrated at the G20 digital governance discussions, where we promoted concrete deliverables on bridging the digital gender divide or improving how we measure the impact of digitalization, always pushing for a multistakeholder approach into these issues. It is one of the reasons we joined the Open Government Partnership (OGP) and are now honored to co-chair the OGP Steering Committee with Robin Hodess of The B Team. Together, we are making digital governance a key priority.

In Argentina, we have seen OGP make a difference in expanding access to justice services and institutions and addressing gender-based violence and gender inequalities. Technology has played an important role in several of our OGP commitments like the National Habitat Platform, or making the national budget easier to understand with the Presupuesto Abierto site or making the extractives sector more transparent through the Argentine Mining Information platform, and the National Gas Inventory of Greenhouse Effect of Argentina. At the local level, the City of Buenos Aires has developed BA Obras, a platform that allows citizens to follow all the public works in the city. 

We have seen additional examples of this promising use of technology for open government in other OGP members like Italy and Estonia to promote citizen engagement or like South Africa and Ukraine to push for more budget transparency and accountability.

Unfortunately, we have also seen accountable countries struggle with the ethical use of personal and sensitive data, the dissemination of fake news, and hate propaganda. As  Freedom House reports, authoritarian rulers are also using digital technology to enrich themselves and sow division.

We need to ensure that our democracies, public spaces (physical and virtual), and our institutions are protected in the digital era. It is imperative that we mitigate the potential harm of digital technologies while working to ensure that they have a positive impact on democracies around the world.

There are three ways OGP members can help us achieve this:  

  1. Co-create strong, transformative, and concrete commitments in OGP Action Plans that address digital governance issues and reflect the needs of both government and citizens, including by working with civil society partners, the private sector, and experts who can contribute to this discussion. 
  2. Join the coalition of OGP participating governments, Steering Committee members, and private sector partners to debate and advance a common set of principles to underlie digital policy frameworks in line with our core values of transparency and citizen participation. I congratulate groups like the Digital 9 (comprised of Estonia, Israel, New Zealand, South Korea, the United Kingdom, Canada, Uruguay, Mexico, and Portugal) for initiating several of these conversations.
  3. Strengthen innovative partnerships and collaborations across government, including the local level, so that policies on digital governance are consistent, applicable, and relevant.

We recognize that this issue has no formal boundaries and impacts governments everywhere, from Argentina to Germany, from Nigeria to South Korea. It is crucial for all governments, both national and local – regardless of the size of their population or economy – to welcome others to the table wherever these conversations are taking place. This should be a truly inclusive global effort, not just led by a select few. We all have domestic conversations about digital technology, but the solutions must be global and we can push for innovative ways to cooperate, share, and learn.

Looking forward, we will identify key global and regional forums to advance this conversation. One such opportunity to further learn, connect and promote this dialogue will be the RightsCon Summit, happening in Costa Rica (an OGP Country) from June 9-12, 2020. The organizers of RightsCon, the non-governmental organization Access Now, will work alongside key stakeholders from around the world, including the Government of Costa Rica, to build a collaborative digital agenda that takes on pressing issues like accountability of automated decision-making, data protection, civil society participation, and human rights.

As we grow the open government community’s awareness and experience in the area of digital governance, we welcome additional collaborations and suggestions for global platforms to connect the open government and digital communities. 

The time for the open government community to come together to help tackle these challenges is now. OGP brings its unique experience on collaboration, dialogue, and innovation carried out by a community of +70 countries and more than 3000 civil society organizations. 

Today we rely heavily on digital technologies to deliver public services, to dialogue with citizens, to remain accountable regardless of our forms of government or political ideologies. It is critical for us to work on concrete actions to tackle the promises and challenges of digital technologies with a special focus on the divides that technology could create. We must also do this while protecting the security and privacy of our citizens.

Photo Credit: UKBlackTech

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