Expert Speak Digital Frontiers
Published on Jun 01, 2021
A digital agenda for India's G20 presidency In 2008, as the global financial crisis ravaged economies worldwide, a group of 20 countries came together to craft a unified response. The strong bonds between the financial institutions of these nations, a consensus-building approach, and representative membership helped the G20 achieve this objective with considerable success. It is now recognised as the pre-eminent forum for rulemaking on international finance. Since 2016, the G20 has also included digital technologies as a central pillar of its agenda. In some ways, this was a natural development. Like international finance, it is complex, borderless, and stands threatened by the protectionist instincts of some countries. So it isn’t a surprise that the G20 should take the lead to craft a framework for digital technologies too. In 2023, India will assume the presidency of the G20 and will have to craft a framework on digital technology that is acceptable domestically and in the international community. Specifically, it must use its presidency to address the growing protectionism around digital technologies. To do so, it must focus on two crucial shortcomings that are a result of the hitherto unregulated development of the internet: A lack of trust that private data of citizens will be adequately protected by foreign entities, and large digital divides which have skewed the benefits of digitalisation towards a few nations.
Specifically, it must use its presidency to address the growing protectionism around digital technologies. To do so, it must focus on two crucial shortcomings that are a result of the hitherto unregulated development of the internet: A lack of trust that private data of citizens will be adequately protected by foreign entities, and large digital divides which have skewed the benefits of digitalisation towards a few nations
A report by the Esya Centre, titled “Promoting Trust and Inclusivity in a Digital World” outlines an agenda that addresses these shortcomings. To begin with, the country must encourage the establishment of digital corridors, to facilitate the free flow of data in critical sectors such as healthcare. The birth of multiple COVID-19 vaccines in under a year is proof that the marriage of technology and healthcare can lead to transformative outcomes. During its presidency, India should propose a working group to discuss cross-border flows of health data and adequacy requirements for telemedicine. India will be well placed to anchor these discussions, thanks to its experience with the National Digital Health Mission and telehealth initiatives, such as the eSanjeevani OPD. Next, India could pilot a ‘digital twins’ initiative that would pair cities across member nations and assist them in implementing digital infrastructure projects. Over the last two years, the G20 has included InfraTech as a key component of its agenda. The ‘digital twins’ initiative will bridge infrastructure gaps across member states and erase any readiness-related obstructions. However, the benefits of digital corridors and enhanced digital infrastructure will only bear fruit once they are widely adopted. Micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) can be the first sector to use these instruments and unlock their full potential. It is their lack of capacity to harness digital technologies which prevents MSMEs from becoming a part of the global value chain.  The G20 can be a forum to advance discussions on the promotion of investment in digital capacity building for MSMEs as well as policy and regulatory measures that improve their ability to operate seamlessly across borders. This can be achieved by reducing the compliance burdens faced by MSMEs using appropriate trade facilitations measures and providing technical assistance to help them import and export their goods and services. Additionally, even though India did not sign the Osaka Declaration in 2019, which outlined principles for cross-border “Data Free Flow with Trust”, the country has a proactive approach towards open government data. During its presidency, India could propose to expand the scope of open government data principles beyond the realm of anti-corruption. They can emphasise on the creation of a standardised, interoperable, integrated cloud framework to enable the seamless sharing of data available with different levels of government.  This unified framework could help administrations arrive at policy decisions based on evidence and verifiable data. GI Cloud or MeghRaj, the Government of India’s integrated cloud framework, is an example of how such initiatives can be used to accelerate public service delivery.
The Indo-Pacific region is particularly under threat from cyberattacks. Studies have concluded that the region’s population lack digital skills and their weak cyber security systems cost nations upwards of US $300 billion a year
If India wants to achieve any significant progress in the aforementioned focus areas, it must proactively work to ensure regional cooperation. In 2020, the G20 hosted the first Cybersecurity Dialogue which highlighted the new and emerging challenges posed by debilitating cyberattacks, such as the ransomware attack on the state of Baltimore. The Indo-Pacific region is particularly under threat from cyberattacks. Studies have concluded that the region’s population lack digital skills and their weak cyber security systems cost nations upwards of US $300 billion a year. India should propose a joint training initiative for Computer Emergency Response Teams or (CERTs) of the Indo-Pacific countries. The initiative would bring together CERT officials in the region to undertake collaborative learning, skill development, and share best practices to enhance timely and secure information sharing under the Information Exchange Policy developed by the Forum for Security Incident Response Team. The G20 presidency in 2023 provides India the perfect opportunity to craft a new digital governance framework that is inclusive and trust-based. The broad contours of the country’s tenure are in place but its success depends entirely on India’s ability to demonstrate its status as an inclusive, responsible, and mature digital powerhouse.
The full report by the Esya Centre, Promoting Trust and Inclusivity in a Digital World, can be accessed here.
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