Sorina Teleanu   16 Jun 2017   Internet Governance

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Digital divide, cybersecurity, human rights, the digital economy, and new technologies were among the main digital policy issues discussed during day 4 at WSIS Forum 2017.

As was the case on the previous days, the role of information and communications technologies (ICTs) and digital solutions in driving progress towards the sustainable development goals (SDGs) was strongly emphasised.

Several elements were underlined as crucial in mobilising ICTs to achieve the SDGs: deploying ICT infrastructures, building confidence and trust in the use of ICTs (session 300), promoting digital literacy, and having proper regulatory frameworks in place that support innovation (session 303). It was stressed that innovation is essential for the digital transformation of our society; to this aim, more emphasis should be put on innovation and creative knowledge in the education system (session 324).

The digital divide was a recurrent topic. The digital gap between countries, and between urban and rural areas, is present not only in terms of connectivity, but also when it comes to the availability of local content and the capacity to use ICTs meaningfully (session 299). Building national broadband infrastructures, investing in education, and supporting the development of local content are crucial elements in bridging these divides (session 310). When it comes to enhancing connectivity, more consideration should be given to supporting Internet Exchange Points (session 327) and streamlining the use of spectrum resources, including through an efficient use of TV white spaces (session 323).

Concerns were raised over the fact that a ‘second digital divide’ may appear, caused by the absence of new technologies – such as the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), cloud computing – in developing countries. Measures that can be taken to avoid this risk include international public-private partnerships, collaboration across sectors, policies for supporting digitisation and innovation, and technology transfers (session 330).  

IoT technologies were praised for their potential to spur development and digitally empower societies. Smart cities become reality around the world, mapping the road to sustainable development. They bring not only economic opportunities, but also efficiency and sustainability, through their multiple dimensions (smart economy, smart environment, smart governance, smart mobility, and smart living) (sessions 310 and 322).

AI, machine learning, and robotics are also seen as essential contributors to sustainable development. These technologies have the potential for social good, through their ability to gather and analyse data concerning crucial issues such as health, education, poverty, and environment (session 303). But they also raise challenges, given their impact on economic, social, and cultural aspects of the society (such as in the area of jobs and employment). These challenges require careful consideration from all stakeholders, and particular attention needs to be paid to issues related to transparency, accountability, and ethics (sessions 299, 328, and 408).

The benefits and challenges of the digital economy were discussed in several sessions. For countries to truly benefit from digitisation and become part of the global digital economy, multidisciplinary strategies need to be put in place. These strategies should cover issues such as education and capacity development for individuals and business to make better use of ICTs, supporting e-commerce, creating an enabling environment that attracts foreign investments, and encouraging public-private partnerships (session 302).

The role of digital financial services (DFS) as instruments for financial inclusion was also discussed, and it was said that improvements need to be made in areas such as competition on the DSF ecosystem, consumer protection, security and privacy, and electronic payment acceptance (session 313).

Access to information and knowledge is a key prerequisite in the digital age. A discussion was held on the role of software in supporting innovation, access to information, and sustainable development, and it was stressed that software sources should be preserved and shared as part of the human heritage (session 295).

In the area of development, emphasis was put on the role of ICTs in increasing the efficiency and productivity of various sectors. The potential of e-agriculture in sustaining economic growth, poverty alleviation, and global hunger reduction was showcased. Governments were encouraged to adopt e-agriculture strategies and support capacity development and innovation (such as the use of IoT solutions) in this area (sessions 296 and 309).

E-government services were considered important in supporting participatory decision-making, and economic and social development. When devising their national e-government strategies, governments should consider, among others, aspects related to open data, open standards, interoperability between systems and applications, and user-centric approaches (session 308). Examples of ICT applications in health, disaster prevention and management, and environment protection were also mentioned, and it was said that these are particularly relevant in areas where traditional services are less available (session 307). As the demand for these and other digital services increases, so does the demand for better infrastructure. But digital development strategies should take into account not only the need for infrastructures; equally important are measures targeted at encouraging digital adoption across all industries, policy reforms, privatisation, and open markets (session 413).

When it comes to digital rights, many discussions revolved around the issue of privacy and data protection. It was underlined that there is no inherent tension between privacy and security, and the industry, governments, and end-users should look for solutions incorporating both. Actions are also needed in promoting privacy literacy, good online hygiene, use of encryption tools, and simplicity of privacy notions (sessions 299 and 325). However, governmental policies might not matter if end-users are willing to make trade-offs and ‘sell’ their data for currency-free services (session 413).

When it comes to children’s rights in the digital age, the right to freedom of expression, privacy, and the importance of consulting children when implementing policies in these areas were outlined as essential for governments and other actors to consider. Strategies aimed at dealing with child online safety need to have a children’s rights perspective (session 381). Gender equality and a better inclusion of women and persons with disabilities in the information society were outlined as other key human-rights-related issues that deserve more attention (session 312). More efforts are needed to provide girls and women with access to ICTs, digital skills, and the opportunity to become creators of technologies, in addition to being mere users (session 334). Protecting journalists and their sources is also important in the digital age, and measures to be taken in this regard include awareness raising, education and training in digital safety, and limitations to mass surveillance, targeted surveillance, and data retention (session 325).

The role of big data in advancing the development agenda was discussed. Big data analytics can contribute to the implementation of the SDGs, not only in monitoring the progress, but also in evidence-based policy making. But the use of big data needs to be aligned with human rights (session 306).

Several discussions revolved around the issue of cybersecurity. National Computer Incident Response Teams (CSIRT) were showcased as essential elements when it comes to having coordinated responses to cybersecurity incidents (session 301). Concerns were raised over the fact that, despite its growing importance, the notion of cybersecurity is still not well-structured, and the community is still very far from universally agreed indicators for assessing cybersecurity (session 320).

The value of the multistakeholder approaches to Internet governance was underlined, and it was stressed that there is a need to strengthen the participation of stakeholders from developing countries, marginalised groups, and young people in Internet governance processes (session 317). Capacity development initiatives are essential in this regard, they need to be constantly adapted to the changing environment, to serve communities and achieve their goals adequately (session 298). National and regional Internet Governance Forum initiatives were mentioned for their role in creating linkages between local and regional realities and the global digital policy spaces (session 314). A point was made that multistakeholderism is also a good approach to consider when it comes to elaborating ICT-related regulations (session 305).

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