IGF 2021 WS #266 Data justice: What is to be done?

Wednesday, 8th December, 2021 (12:50 UTC) - Wednesday, 8th December, 2021 (13:50 UTC)
Ballroom A

Organizer 1: Alison Gillwald, Research ICT Africa/Univeristy of Cape Town
Organizer 2: Shilongo Kristophina , Research ICT Africa

Speaker 1: Parminder Jeet Singh, Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group
Speaker 2: Linnet Taylor, Technical Community, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 3: Pansy Tlakula , Government, African Group
Speaker 4: Alex Walden, Private Sector, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 5: Maria Paz Canales, Civil Society, Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC)


Alison Gillwald, Civil Society, African Group

Online Moderator

Shilongo Kristophina , Civil Society, African Group


Anri van der Spuy, Civil Society, African Group


Other - 60 Min
Format description: Online

Policy Question(s)

Economic and social inclusion and sustainable development: What is the relationship between digital policy and development and the established international frameworks for social and economic inclusion set out in the Sustainable Development Goals and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and in treaties such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Conventions on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, on the Rights of the Child, and on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities? How do policy makers and other stakeholders effectively connect these global instruments and interpretations to national contexts?
Promoting equitable development and preventing harm: How can we make use of digital technologies to promote more equitable and peaceful societies that are inclusive, resilient and sustainable? How can we make sure that digital technologies are not developed and used for harmful purposes? What values and norms should guide the development and use of technologies to enable this?

In promoting economic and social inclusion and promoting sustainable development, this session will take a transdisciplinary of the issues and challenges uncovered by the following questions: 1.How can we prevent the production of data replicating existing structural inequalities and historical injustices? 2.What can be done from a data governance and regulatory perspective to achieve more equitable and just outcomes? 3.How can people and communities currently marginalised in the processes data production be made more visible, be better represented and not discriminated against? 4. What economic regulation is required to prevent the perpetuation of inequalities in the global processes of datafication and digitalization, between and within countries? 5. What regulation is required to ensure greater access to data, availability, usability, integrity of data as well as address issues of ownership of data? 6.What are the implications for a fairer global trade and competition regime with regards to data flows and markets? 7. How can data deficits with regards to critical digital indicators be developed for purposes of evidence based policy and planning?


10. Reduced Inequalities

Targets: This session particularly links to the objective to ensure equal opportunity and reduce inequalities of digital development outcomes by eliminating discriminatory practices and promoting appropriate legislation, policies and action. It also seeks to improve the emerging platform market and strengthen the implementation of relevant regulations.


With the global crisis precipitated by COVID-19, the growing dominance and linkages of data, big data analytics, the Internet of Things and algorithms have placed data as a key resource in public health management and economic reconstruction. Considerable research and practice has emerged about the importance of the protection of personal information under conditions of crisis. Less attention has been paid to the data being used in analytics, data dashboards and algorithmic decision-making tools as well as the historical injustices and structural inequalities this perpetuates. Data protection is generally equated with privacy within dominant data governance frameworks, such as the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and more specifically privacy with individualised rights. Much of the rights framing of the harms associated with increased access and use of data in the global processes of digitalisation and datafication are universal. And while this is arguably so, the impacts of such harms are unquestionably uneven and unfair. The risk mitigation strategies therefore require differential responses to achieve more equitable and just outcomes both between countries and within them. A more complete view of data governance focuses on fairness in the way people, and especially marginalised people and communities are made visible, represented, and treated in the production of digital data itself. This however, cannot be transformed without extending notions of data governance beyond negative regulation (data protection compliance) to positive regulation that seeks to redress inequities and enables people to exercise these fundamental rights. There are many other areas of data governance in relation to access, availability, usability, integrity of data as well as concerns about ownership of data that impact on trade and competition that will influence whether outcomes are more equitable and just.

Expected Outcomes

Acknowledging the socio-economic and political disparities between global communities and avoiding the deterministic expectations towards data; this session will augment ongoing discussions on how data governance that reduces it to narrow considerations of individualised privacy and security can be extended to governance and regulatory interventions that will redress exclusion, discrimination and underrepresentation to produce more inclusive, equitable and just outcomes. with the multistakeholder expertise of

We will have an hour discussion in the format of a television conversation. To ensure participation, the session will include two Q&A sessions where we will be accepting questions from the audience to inform the discussion.

Online Participation


Usage of IGF Official Tool.


Key Takeaways (* deadline 2 hours after session)

Data justice work advocates for a move towards a new normative framing of the rule of law, in which data use and practices follows the interest of the people it represents throughout its lifecycle (as opposed to only benefitting corporates or skewed public agendas).

Tokenistic multi-stakeholder frameworks selectively applied to some countries prevents all countries from playing an equal role in developing global data and AI governance policies. This practice contributes to a trickle down effect where policies (such as OECD Principles of AI) which do not reflect the local contexts of low to middle income countries or benefit them inform global practices.

Call to Action (* deadline 2 hours after session)

The global community needs a serious shift in the global digital agenda which requires new infrastructure and new modes of governance. Panelists called for data governance structures which allow the flow of public interest information among citizens and which have safeguards that include rights to information as a basic pillar, appropriately balancing the protection of privacy.

The panelists also think it is important to promote global solidarity and platforms in which all countries equally contribute to the development of global policies on data and AI governance; reflecting all challenges and allowing opportunities for countries with varying socio-economic and political disparities.

Session Report (* deadline 26 October) - click on the ? symbol for instructions



Moderator: Dr Alison Gillwald 

Online moderator: Kristophina Shilongo


Prof. Linnet Taylor 

Parminder Jeet Singh

Jamila Venturini

Prof. Sizwe Snail Ka Mtuze

Alexandria Walden (absent)

Rapporteur: Kristophina Shilongo


The objective of the session was to discuss data justice research and how it could be realised in practice. Data governance over the last decade has largely focused on data protection on the basis of individualised notions of privacy. The panel was convened by Research ICT Africa to engage with the work of the panelists on the extension of widespread negative or compliance regulation and the prevention of privacy breaches. Their work aims to influence positive and enabling policy that would allow for regulation. Regulation arising from such a policy would seek not only to protect and safeguard first generation rights of privacy and access to information but enable the realisation of second and third generation social and economic rights. Positive economic regulation could ensure more equitable access to quality information, provide incentives for investment in local industries and foster state, private sector and civil society interplays that could  redress the current unequal distribution of opportunities and harms associated within the globalised data economy.  Panelists discussed how policy research and theories of data justice could be realised in practice in the policy processes currently underway.

Panelists brought together issues of surveillance, people’s collective right to development and their right to be seen and represented in data systems. They agreed that subjective needs can be brought into the picture when we think of the data economy. 


A new normative framing based on equal global partnership and which centers data subjects needs (and ensures the inclusion of those not yet data subjects)

Structures of governance matter as much as the set objectives and substantive elements of data justice. Global governance without the equal participation of countries and experts in the Global South results in involuntary incorporation of states to dominant global norms and standards. Or in instances where global consensus is achieved it is often tokenistic as economic interests are not equitably distributed. 

To achieve the envisioned just outcomes, the interests and ideas of the marginalised need to be incorporated and considered at the conceptualisation stages of regulatory frameworks. 

Parminder Jeet Singh expressed that experts from the global south and their concepts of data governance are ignored by global governance. eg the Indian governments assembled a committee which conceptualised a framework on community rights which has been ignored for over two years by the international community. 

Part of data justice work aims to facilitate a shift towards a normative framing where data follows the interests of the people it represents through its lifecycle. According to both Prof Taylor, who is part of the leading researchers on data justice and Jamila Venturini who is working on practical ways to implement these ideas - this will require new infrastructure, new modes of governance and goes against large parts of current global data markets as we know them. This includes for example finding new data practices where data does not merely become a commodity on the market after they are aggregated and de-identified.

The panelists agreed that the connection between the knowledge of uses and harms of data and international governance structures is lagging behind the ability to channel and use data. 


Reframing the digital agenda in the global south

Jamila Venturini also shared that current digital agendas in different countries (mostly in the global south) do not make further considerations on the legality, necessity and proportionality in the deployment of specific technology. There is concern about the absence of transparency and participation mechanisms behind these digital agendas. Just data practices should therefore begin at the design stages of technology. 

Most of the discourse behind the promotion of these digital agenda’s in Latin America for instance has to do with development, inclusion and innovation. However there is no room for experimentation when exploring people’s data ( although with reason because of a history of deterministic attitudes towards technology causing harm to vulnerable communities).


Lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic 

The current epidemiology is similar to past epidemiology, however it is digitised (for at least some parts of the world) and therefore it has scope and power. However this power has been fed back to the world and communities in very unequal and uneven ways. 

Although there have been major developments in medical infrastructure due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there are instances where communities have had unequal access to that information because of limited infrastructure, data illiteracy and education, as well as exclusion from decision making processes about what should happen to data. 

Panelists highlighted that current data sources and collection processes are reflecting and refracting the problems that we already have with data and inequalities that data can amplify. 


Data protection as a metamorphosed right of the legal right to access to information  

Panelists agreed that for the Global South, it is imperative that a new digital agenda is created which begins with developing data governance infrastructure that facilitates the achievement of public interests, and safeguards not only  the right to privacy but also to access to information as a foundational pillar. 

Prof Snail shared that for countries like South Africa, access to the internet and the ability to communicate are an important part of ensuring just data outcomes. 

In conclusion panelists agreed that there is a need for a serious shift in the global digital agenda requiring new infrastructure and new modes of governance, otherwise the current cycle of inequity and unequal distribution of opportunities and harms will continue to be reproduced. They also called for data practitioners and policymakers to adopt a golden rule where data serves the interests of those it represents and minimises further exclusion by deliberately including (if they so wish) the most vulnerable in society. This would require economic regulation that actively enables the participation of marginalised people not only as data subjects but as data producers.


Botero, C., del Campo, A., Lucía Camacho, O., Paz Canales, M., Schatzky, M., Simão, B. and Venturini, J. (2021). Covid-19 Observatory Report of the Al Sur Consortium: A critical analysis of the technologies deployed in Latin America against the pandemic. Al Sur Consortium. https://www.alsur.lat/sites/default/files/2021-06/Informe%20Observatorio%20Covid-19%20del%20Consorcio%20Al%20Sur(2).pdf?_x_tr_sch=http&_x_tr_sl=es&_x_tr_tl=en&_x_tr_hl=en-GB&_x_tr_pto=sc 

Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence and The Alan Turing Institute. (2021). Advancing Data Justice Research and Practice.   2021 GPAI Paris Summit, Paris, France. 


Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology. (2020). Report by the Committee of Experts on Non-Personal Data Governance Framework. Government of India. https://static.mygov.in/rest/s3fs-public/mygov_159453381955063671.pdf 

Singh, P. J., & Gurumurthy, A. (2021). Economic Governance of Data—Balancing individualist property approaches with a community rights framework. IT for Change. ​​http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3873141

Taylor, L. (2017). What is data justice? The case for connecting digital rights and freedoms globally. Big Data & Society. https://doi.org/10.1177/2053951717736335