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The Tech for Democracy initiative

Digital technologies can foster and widen democratic and inclusive societies. It can bring people together and closer to the decisions that influence their lives. Digital solutions can promote human rights, enhance people’s engagement and make democratic institutions stronger and more responsive. Yet, at the same time, digital technologies are a severe threat to democracies globally and our democratic practices. This calls for joint action. We must find ways to make technology work for, not against, democracy.

The Tech for Democracy initiative brings together states, multilateral organizations, tech sector representatives, and civil society to power up a multi-stakeholder push for protecting and promoting democracy and human rights in an era of rapid technological development. A virtual conference on November 18 2021 will kick-off a multi-stakeholder dialogue and lay the ground for a year of action. In June 2022, a high-level physical conference in Copenhagen takes stock of the progress made and provides a platform for raising commitments to strengthening digital democracy as a stepping-stone to the US Summit for Democracy.

Digital technologies hold great potential for strengthening democracy and democratic processes, enhancing civic engagement, and promoting human rights. A key aspect will be to support new forms of participatory mechanisms by integrating technology into established democratic processes. Digital platforms, social media, and digital governance can improve freedom of expression and information, engage people in political processes, and enhance accountability and transparency. New social movements are flourishing globally, and especially young people engage in politics using digital platforms.

However, the exploitation of new technology poses a challenge to both mature and aspiring democracies. Global internet freedom has declined ten years in a row. Internet shutdowns have become a popular tool for authoritarian regimes to quell dissent. Digital surveillance techniques are used to impose social control, oppress marginalized groups, and stifle legitimate opposition. Civic space is shrinking both offline and online. Democracy activists, human rights defenders, and protest movements all over the world are under digital attack. Numerous examples have shown that the internet can be weaponized to launch disinformation campaigns, meddle with democratic elections, sow division, and weaken alliances. Moreover, social media’s algorithms can fuel polarization, spread misinformation, and create echo chambers eroding trust in democratic institutions and practices.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a catalyst for a massive digital leap, and digital technologies have never been more pervasive in the lives of people around the globe. Yet, private actors increasingly shape this global transition while the rules-based international order and international norms are under pressure, also in the digital sphere. Democratic governments, parliaments, and the people they represent have lost some of their ability to choose the direction for their societies. They need to get back in the driver’s seat of technological development. At the same time, geopolitical competition is increasing, and the development, application and regulation of new technology will be decisive in shaping the future. It is crucial that defenders of democratic values and human rights stand together to harness the potential of digital technologies.

To make technology work for, not against, democracy, governments, multilateral organizations, tech companies and civil society must come together to renew our shared commitment to a responsible, democratic and safe technological development. We must forge new partnerships to deliver concrete solutions and support civil society’s digital resilience and mobilization. A meaningful inclusion of civil society is vital to ensure a broad representation and to leave no one behind in the technological development. The Tech for Democracy initiative focuses on concrete solutions to make digital technology support democracy and human rights – and rediscover the techno-optimism of the internet’s early days.

The Tech for Democracy initiative kick-starts a multi-stakeholder push for protecting and promoting democracy and human rights in an era of rapid technological development. To initiate action, on 18 November 2021, Denmark’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Jeppe Kofod, and Minister for Development Cooperation, Mr. Flemming Møller Mortensen, host a virtual conference Tech for Democracy 2021. The virtual conference connects representatives from governments, multilateral organizations, the tech industry, and civil society from global as well as local civil society organizations and activists.

In the run-up to 18 November, a series of online events Days of Action and consultations will gather input from diverse voices. Focus is on leaving no one - and no voice - behind and identify people-centered solutions and ways to support civil society and local initiatives. The virtual conference 18 November will launch a year of action focusing on how to make tech work for democracy and human rights. In June 2022, a high-level physical conference in Copenhagen will show concrete action taken by multi-stakeholder partnerships, reconfirm international commitment, and feed into the US Summit for Democracy.

Concrete deliverables for the Tech for Democracy initiative include:
political commitment (the Copenhagen Pledge on Tech for Democracy) by governments, multilateral organizations, tech industry and civil society, to make technology work for, not against, democracy and human rights. The pledge is the overall value framework for the Tech for Democracy initiative. The Pledge underlines the joint responsibility to develop, promote, use and regulate technology to the benefit of democracy and reaffirm the vision of an open, accessible, interoperable, secure and reliable internet. Throughout 2022, Tech for Democracy and all partners will identify solutions to deliver on the Pledge.

New partnerships are required to deliver on the Pledge. As part of the Tech for Democracy initiative, multi-stakeholder action coalitions will be facilitated and launched to deliver solutions in line with the Pledge. Governments, multilateral organizations, tech companies, and civil society must join forces to deliver concrete action. A number of action coalitions will be launched during the year of action to exemplify how change can be promoted using technology for democracy, and inspire additional action and commitments.

As part of the Tech for Democracy initiative, it will be essential to find ways to empower civil society, independent media and democracy defenders. Denmark is ready to do our part. 

Stay updated at our website: Tech for Democracy 2021


The Tech for Democracy project group in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
[email protected]