Digital Geneva 2017

Data is at the core of modern society, from our digital footprint via e-mail and social media, through to big data analytics. Artificial intelligence further increases the power and relevance of data. Cross-border data flows is challenged by policy decisions, in a similar way as the movement of goods, services, and people across borders. Data localisation laws, for instance, require companies to keep data on servers located within national territory.

How is data shaping our future? How does data intersect with digital policy? How are Geneva-based organisations using data?

These and other questions will be the focus of Digital Geneva 2017, a series of activities and events leading towards the Internet Governance Forum (Geneva, 18-21 December).

Data features prominently in a number of policy areas, both in Geneva and beyond:

  • Data is central to every state’s national critical infrastructure and security. Human security and wellbeing depends more and more on digitally enabled health, transportation, and other systems.  
  • Modern politics is conditioned by the (mis-)use of data. Data is utilised for election pooling, identification of target groups, and framing of political narratives.
  • The free flow of data and the protection of citizens’ data are increasingly addressed in diplomatic negotiations.
  • The data economy, and in particular, disruptive business models, rely heavily on data.
  • Weather forecasting and climate research require collecting and managing vast amounts of data.
  • Medical and scientific research, as well as education and training, are based on the availability and sharing of data and information.
  • International development co-operation is uding data to increase the effectiveness of assistance in achieving the sustainable development goals (SDGs).

In Geneva, the main operational hub of the United Nations and the international system, data appears in two major realms. First, data is a tool used to develop better policies on health, trade, migration, and climate, to name just few relevant areas. Second, data is a topic of diplomatic negotiations addressing privacy, security, digital trade, and other important issues. In addition, Geneva hosts numerous events and discussions focusing on data from the technology, economic, and policy perspectives.


Data is the main basis for creating information and developing knowledge. Sometimes, this non-necessarily linear process, from data via information and knowledge, can result into wisdom and deeper insights.


Data as a policy & research TOOL

Many organisations in Geneva are using data as a tool for research, evidence-based policy-making, and other policy activities. A lot of expertise on data already exists in Geneva.

For example, CERN – the European Organization for Nuclear Research – which is known for inventing the World Wide Web, is also one of the biggest data processing set-ups globally. CERN’s Data Centre stores more than 30 petabytes of data every year from experiments at the Large Hadron Collider; this data is shared worldwide with scientific research institutions. Learning from CERN about data management could benefit many in Geneva and beyond.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) coordinates one of the most complex data networks worldwide, across its 191 member states and territories. Its Global Observing System collects data from 17 satellites, thousands of aircraft and ships, and nearly 10,000 land-based stations, covering the oceans, land-bodies, and the atmosphere. The WMO’s experience in co-ordinating large networks is relevant for other data projects worldwide.

The financial technology sector and start-up companies around Geneva increasingly deal with securing data. For example, ProtonMail and Silent Circle are two providers of encrypted e-mail communication.

Humanitarian organisations based in Geneva are increasingly looking into new data technologies that can support their activities and help deal with threats to the privacy and security of their beneficiaries. The Humanitarian Data Exchange and the Global Humanitarian Lab of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) are exploring innovative solutions to humanitarian concerns. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) also continues to research ways to make humanitarian aid more innovative.

The United Nations Office in Geneva hosts, an online space for sharing data related to the sustainable development goals (SDGs). The SDG Lab is looking at how big data can help attain the SDGs. At the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), in June, the business and policy community will initiate a dialogue on Artificial Intelligence for Good, with a focus on artificial intelligence, big data, and development.

These and other initiatives will feature centrally in the Digital Geneva 2017 process, with the aim of fostering exchange of experience on the use of data as a policy and research tool.


Data as a governance TOPIC

Data as a governance topic is being addressed by many organisations in Geneva.

Data and technology: The ITU, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), CERN, and other Geneva-based organisations develop standards and infrastructure needed for the data-driven era. Technical standards for data and the Internet of Things are becoming a key policy area.

Data and trade: Data is the basis of the business model for many Internet platforms. Data is also critical for companies and digital entrepreneurs relying on cloud computing and delivering Internet-based products and services, including software, data processing, and database services. The commitment to ensure cross-border data flows is challenged by policy decisions, such as data localisation laws that require companies to keep data on servers located within national territory. Data and trade in particular will be addressed through Geneva-based processes at the World Trade Organization (WTO), the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), and other bodies

Data and security: An enormous amount of data is generated by users every day. Technological developments, such as the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence, depend on big data. At the same time, more and more data is being collected from individual devices and stored centrally, in cloud data centres. Much of today’s cybercrime targets such data centres, making data-related risks one of the main cyber vulnerabilities.

Data protection and privacy: Data security is closely related to data privacy, which is addressed by the UN Human Rights Council. On the one hand, breaches in data security can infringe on privacy rights. On the other hand, privacy may conflict with security when security operations seek access to data to fight crime. Data privacy concerns come into question as consumer data is increasingly used as a basis for business models and financial gain. The topic also has a legal dimension as different jurisdictions often apply different privacy and data protection rules.


Digital Geneva 2017

Digital Geneva 2017 is a series of activities and events focusing on how data is shaping our digital future. It will lead up to the 2017 Internet Governance Forum (18-21 December), the main global gathering of digital policy practitioners with the underlying theme for 2017 of ‘Shaping your digital future’.

Activities and events in 2017

  • Research on data and digital policy: How does data intersect with digital policy? What is the relevance of data within each digital policy issue? Current research, hosted on the GIP Digital Watch observatory, looks at the role, impact, and relevance of data in privacy, security, standards, telecommunications infrastructure, jurisdiction, e-commerce and trade, access, digital divide, capacity development, and many other digital policy areas.
  • Research project on data diplomacy: An ongoing project, commissioned by the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, will contribute towards a discussion on the use of data by diplomatic services and international organisations. In addition, DiploFoundation is developing an online course on data diplomacy. Read the report from the Roundtable on Data Diplomacy: Mapping the Field, on 5 April. Read also GIP head Dr Jovan's Kurbalija's latest articles: The impact of (big) data on geopolitics, negotiations, and the diplomatic modus operandi, and War and peace in the data era.
  • Event reports: Data is the subject of many global and regional discussions. In 2017, a number of events will tackle data exclusively (such as the European Broadcasting Union’s Big Data Conference 2017), while other events will cover data-related issues (such the WSIS Forum 2017, and the IGF). Follow the GIP reports.
  • Monthly briefings: Data is at the centre of the GIP’s monthly briefings on digital policy. Together with the monthly newsletter, the briefings summarise the main developments in the field. Join us online or in situ on Tuesday of every month (11 UTC). Add the upcoming briefings to your calendar - 30 May, 27 June, and 25 July.
  • Luncheon discussions: Regular discussions in Geneva will gather diplomats, data scientists, staff from international organisations, and experts from other professional communities to brainstorm about data as a tool and to share best practices. Contact Dr Roxana Radu ( to join the luncheon discussions.
  • Workshops at main digital policy events: The GIP and DiploFoundation will host workshops at main events including RightsCon, EuroDIG, the WSIS Forum and IGF 2017. Each workshop will tackle different themes. Follow the updates.

These activities are participatory and interactive. We invite you to share your experiences and expertise in the data field, and to join us in brainstorming future plans. Send suggestions and get in touch with the Digital Geneva 2017 team at

For more details and the latest updates, visit


The Geneva Internet Platform is an initiative of the Swiss authorities operated by DiploFoundation.

The Geneva Internet Platform is an initative of the Swiss authorities


Members of the Steering Committee are FDFA, OFCOM, DCAF, ETH-Zürich, and the University of Geneva

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