Sorina Teleanu   14 Jun 2017   Internet Governance

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The WSIS Forum 2017 continued today with six high-level policy sessions and several workshops, featuring discussions on issues such as the digital economy, cybersecurity, gender mainstreaming, and online extremism. The high-level concluding session summarised all of the high level sessions, while emphasising the importance of cooperation between all stakeholders in the Internet governance and ICT for development arenas, at national, regional, and global levels.

Policies and initiatives aimed at creating an enabling environment for a sustainable information society were explored in High-Level Policy Session 9. Examples included national plans designed to expand telecommunications coverage, the creation of national incubators for technology companies, the introduction of e-government services, and the adoption of regulatory frameworks in areas such as data protection and cybercrime. It was underlined that, in order to design sustainable solutions for the creation of a vibrant digital ecosystem, equal consideration should be given to economic, social (human rights, local content,and innovation), and governance (inclusion of different stakeholders) aspects.

The digital economy and trade were the focus of session 10. The digital economy is expanding in many directions, but the uptake of e-commerce and digital trade is still low in many developing countries. At national level, one first step to encourage the growth of the digital economy is to address the issue of connectivity; focus should be put on the deployment of broadband networks as the basis for digitisation. The creation of an enabling regulatory environment is equally important, and public policies should be designed to facilitate innovation and competition. At international level, one of the main challenges to be addressed is related to the absence of harmonised rules and standards on issues such as digital signatures and e-payments.

High-Level Policy Session 11 featured discussions on building confidence and security in the use of ICTs. As the Internet and other ICTs have become essential parts of society, ensuring trust in the use of these tools is an essential task. And it is an increasingly difficult one, given the continuous emergence of new cybersecurity risks and threats. As security breaches can affect end-users, small businesses, public entities, and large organisations alike, addressing these challenges is a joint responsibility and should involve a collaborative approach. Cybersecurity is not just a technical issue, under the sole responsibility of the technical community. It has a very strong human component, and awareness raising and education for end-users are key aspects to be considered in any cybersecurity policy or strategy. Capacity building at governmental level, intelligence sharing when it comes to cybersecurity vulnerabilities, and collaboration among various stakeholders are equally important.

Cybersecurity issues were also addressed in High-Level Policy Session 12 and in session 375. A point was made that, despite the lack of an international instrument dealing with cybersecurity, countries make progress in developing their own laws and policies, and by entering into bilateral and multilateral agreements.

There were also discussions on the issue of global connectivity and the need for incentives and subsidies for people to connect to the Internet. However, connectivity alone does not produce information equality, and additional measures are needed in areas such as affordability, education, and linguistic diversity.

Assessing the level of Internet development around the world is a considerable challenge for both governments and other stakeholders. There is a need for appropriate indicators in this regard, and there are several initiatives focused on this issue, such as UNESCO’s Defining Internet Universality Indicators project, the Knowledge For Development Global Partnership, and the European Commission’s Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) (session 289).

The use of ICTs in addressing climate change was tackled as well, and it was noted that technologies such as the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence have immense potential in this area.

High-Level Policy Session 13 discussed gender mainstreaming strategies and challenges. Gender equality and women's empowerment are seen as human rights and indispensable elements in achieving the SDGs. But the gender digital gap continues to be wide (and even growing) around the world, especially in least developed countries. Many governments, international organisations, and companies are now including gender mainstreaming on their agendas, and putting in place initiatives that are aimed at better integrating women into our digital society. In order to be effective, such initiatives should complement one another, and focus on empowering women to progress along the digital inclusion continuum, not only as users of ICTs, but also as entrepreneurs and policymakers.

Session 14 revolved around the issue of innovation in the digital economy. A point was made that the digital economy brings new business models, new infrastructures and ICT applications, as well as a need for new educational systems. Governments are responsible for creating a solid foundation for the digital economy to grow and for individuals to unleash their innovative potential. This is a challenge particularly in developing countries, where local innovators face difficulties in entering the market, and their businesses are not adequately supported by public policies. Such policies are needed to encourage, promote, and support local innovations, as they can significantly contribute to building stronger knowledge societies and support national digital economies.

The digital economy brings both opportunities and challenges for the world of work. Job opportunities are created on an ongoing basis, but those are targeted at individuals who are equipped with digital skills (session 291). It is therefore important to ensure that the workforce, and in particular young people, is equipped with the skills that allow them to succeed in the digital economy. These include not only the ability to use ICTs, but also coding and programming, cybersecurity, digital entrepreneurship, and digital marketing, among others. Digital skills training should be the focus of both governments and the private sector, and there needs to be a better correlation between what schools teach and which skills are needed on the market.

Intensive discussions were held on ways to counter radicalisation and violent extremism online (session 292). Social media platforms grant ‘radicalisers’ crucial advantages in terms of anonymity, mobility, and ubiquity. It is therefore important to make platforms more accountable. But there is a need for regulatory clarity and predictability when it comes to Internet intermediary responsibility, as well as clear definitions for terms such as ‘radicalising content’. Moreover, it was stressed that measures such as content blocking and censorship are generally not efficient in countering online radicalisation. When content take-down policies are put in place, there needs to be transparency and accountability from both governments and companies, and proper consideration must be given to protecting human rights. The issue of fake news was also addressed, and it was said that one possible way to tackle the negative implications of this phenomenon is by creating a framework that supports journalism and good quality information in the online ecosystem.

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