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IGF 2020 Theme DATA

How can we ensure the benefits of the data revolution contribute to inclusive economic development while also safeguarding the rights of people?

At IGF 2020, the thematic track on data will consider and discuss:

  • The international context that underpins all aspects of data and data governance due to the global nature of the Internet and the transfer of digital information across borders
  • Best approaches to ensure the development of human-centric data governance frameworks at national, regional and international levels that support and operationalise the exercise of human rights and the empowerment of individuals in their digital identity in the use and development of data-driven technologies.
  • How the generation, collection, storage, transfer and processing of data (including personally identifiable data) have enabled previously unimaginable opportunities for social, cultural, and economic development, including all 17 Goals of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
  • The challenges posed by the massive collection, transfer and processing of data through the application of data driven technologies by public as well as private entities on issues such as privacy, freedom of expression and the exercise of other human rights
  • The conditions needed to facilitate data-driven innovation, to ensure competition, and to foster trust in the development of services and new technologies.


This list includes both MAG-suggested sub-themes as well as sub-themes proposed by session organisers.

Artificial Intelligence
Data access
Data and jurisdiction
Data concentration
Data-driven emerging technologies
Data-driven business models
Data flows
Data for good
Data governance
Data literacy
Data localisation
Data protection
Data quality
Data sharing
Data trusts/pools
Digital cooperation
Digital identity
Digital rights
Emergency procedures for data access
Extraterritorial rules
Future of work
Human rights
Inter-organisational collaboration
Open data
Personal data control
Public policy
Surveillance economy
Sustainable business models
Technical standards

Related Sustainable Development Goals

SDG 4. Quality education
SDG 5. Gender equality
SDG 8. Decent work and economic growth
SDG 9. Industry, innovation and infrastructure
SDG 10. Reduced inequalities
SDG 16. Peace, justice and strong institutions


Overarching Policy Questions

The following high-level policy questions have been developed by the IGF secretariat based on an analysis of all IGF 2020 sessions under the theme of “data”. The high-level policy questions reflect overarching concepts and trends reflected across all data sessions at IGF 2020:

High-Level Policy Question 1


Data is a vital resource for the world today: it underpins digital economies, it can help identify emerging environmental and health trends and as well as identify potential solutions, and it is vital for measuring progress towards goals such as the SDGs. Yet much of the world is still not connected to the Internet and has yet to fully leverage the benefits of the digital revolution, resulting in data collection and data sets that are skewed towards early adopter countries, businesses and communities, failing to collect the data needed to assist those most in need of the benefits data analysis can provide (developing countries, minorities, etc.) and further entrenching existing discrimination and disparities.


What policies and concrete actions are needed to ensure that data collection and use can benefit all – including those in developing countries, marginalised communities and the unconnected?

High-Level Policy Question 2


The ability to collect, store and analyse data has increased exponentially over the years and has now underpins almost every aspect of our public and private lives. The borderless nature of the Internet means data can travel across the globe in seconds. And yet, international and national legal and regulatory frameworks have lagged behind in ensuring that human rights and protections available to citizens in the real world are also available in this new world of internationalised data flows.


In a world where technology will always develop faster than laws and regulation, what needs to be done to ensure people’s rights are protected in regard to the collection and use of their data, from localised misuse of data for surveillance of citizens to international data flows related to increasingly globalised trade and use of online platforms, without undermining the lawful economic and other advantages that data processes can provide to citizens, companies and governments?

High-Level Policy Question 3


The COVID-19 pandemic prompted many public authorities around the world to turn to data collection, sharing and analysis to combat the virus, often via expedited policy decision-making processes that omitted the public consultations and engagement that can enable more a deeper understanding of the wider issues involved. Businesses with a majority of employees now working from home did not necessarily have policies in place to manage sensitive data now regularly flowing outside their controlled company networks to potentially insecure, shared home computers or public networks. Citizens have, on the whole, accepted the new levels of data collection and analysis, recognising its role in maintaining their community’s safety. Post-pandemic, however, it remains to be seen how the increased collection and use of data by public authorities during the pandemic might be used to inspire further innovation in data practices for the good of all, or how it might be used to deepen surveillance of citizens and possible breaches of human rights.


With COVID-19-related expedited policy making on data collection and use successfully meeting immediate policy goals as well as helping mitigate long-term economic fallout, what lessons can be learned from the quickly established coalitions of often silo-based stakeholders and decision makers who developed and implemented these policies, and how can the innovations in data policies made during the pandemic be applied in other non-pandemic-related contexts?


Previous Discussions on Data at the IGF

Data governance-related issues have been raised in less structured form since the first IGF, in Athens, Greece, in 2016, where they were most prevalent under the “Openness” main theme. Below are links to high-level messages created on the theme of data over the past few IGFs:

IGF 2019 Berlin Messages on Data
IGF 2018 Development, innovation and economic Issues
Emerging technologies
IGF 2017 See Chair's Summary

See also:

Contact Information

United Nations
Secretariat of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF)

Villa Le Bocage
Palais des Nations,
CH-1211 Geneva 10

igf [at] un [dot] org
+41 (0) 229 173 411