Digital Economy Report 2021


Cross-border data flows and development: For whom the data flow

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the process of digital transformation and added urgency for Governments to respond. A key challenge is how to govern and harness the surge in digital data for the global good. It has been estimated that global Internet traffic in 2022 will exceed all the Internet traffic up to 2016.

Data have become a key strategic asset for the creation of both private and social value. How these data are handled will greatly affect our ability to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Determining what is the best way forward will be difficult but necessary. Data are multidimensional, and their use has implications not just for trade and economic development but also for human rights, peace and security. Responses are also needed to mitigate the risk of abuse and misuse of data by States, non- State actors or the private sector.

Against this background, I welcome the Digital Economy Report of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, which examines the implications of growing cross-border data flows, especially for developing countries. It proposes to reframe and broaden the international policy debate with a view to building multilateral consensus.

It is more important than ever to embark on a new path for digital and data governance. The current fragmented data landscape risks us failing to capture value that could accrue from digital technologies and it may create more space for substantial harms related to privacy breaches, cyberattacks and other risks.

Digital Economy Report 2021

The Report calls for innovative approaches to governing data and data flows to ensure more equitable distribution of the gains from data flows while addressing risks and concerns. A holistic global policy approach has to reflect the multiple and interlinked dimensions of data and balance different interests and needs in a way that supports inclusive and sustainable development with the full involvement of countries trailing behind in digital readiness.

The United Nations offers a natural platform to advance this agenda with the involvement of all relevant stakeholders. This Report offers valuable insights and analyses, and I commend it to a wide global audience as we strive to close the digital divide and ensure that no one is left behind in the fast-evolving, data-driven digital economy.

Signature
António Guterres
Secretary-General
United Nations