Information and communications technologies (ICTs) have for long been described as key tools in achieving growth and development, on an economic, social, cultural, and political level. The continuous innovation in this area has led to the development of ICT applications that are now used not only as means of communications, but also in various fields such as e-commerce, e-government, e-health, etc.
The role of ICTs as instruments for achieving sustainable development at a global level has been recognised by various intergovernmental organisations, which have many times stressed the need to ensure that such technologies are globally accessible and can effectively be used to fulfill their developmental potential.
The International Parliamentary Union (IPU) is one of the organisations that have explored such issues and have adopted instruments outlining recommendations for parliaments and governments on how to better make use of ICTs. The 'Resolution on the Contribution of new information and communication technologies to good governance, the improvement of parliamentary democracy and the management of globalisation', adopted at the 109th IPU Assembly, in October 2003, is one example in this regard.
The Resolution emphasises the fact that ICTs can bring about significant political, economic, and social changes, and draws attention to the fact that more efforts need to be made in order to overcome the financial, economic, and social restrictions and barriers that hinder the use of ICTs in developing societies. A list of recommendations for parliaments and governments are then outlined. Parliaments are called on to make full use of ICTs to enhance the effectiveness, efficiency, and transparency of their activities, and better communicate with the citizens. They are also asked to take legislative actions aimed at creating an enabling environment for the dissemination, development, and secure use of ICTs. Governments, on the other hand, are urged to take measures for bridging the digital divide, in its various dimensions (including with regard to affordability of access, digital literacy, and gender equality). The Resolution also addresses the use of ICTs for criminal purposes, and it calls for enhanced national efforts and international cooperation in preventing and combating this phenomenon. The role of ICTs in facilitating the exercise and defence of human rights is outlined as well, and freedom of expression in cyberspace is reaffirmed as a key principle that needs to be respected.
As a follow-up to the adoption of this Resolution, the IPU and its member states have engaged in a number of activities aimed at promoting an enhanced use of ICTs as tools for development. As mandated by the Resolution, the IPU was involved in the 2003-2005 phases of the World Summit on the Information Society, and it was later designated as a co-facilitator for the WSIS Action Line C1 on ‘The role of public authorities and all stakeholders in the promotion of ICT for development’. In 2005, the Union set up a Global Centre on ICT in Parliament (in partnership with the United Nations Department for Economic and Social Affairs); one of the main objectives of this centre is to 'reinforce the role of parliaments in establishing the legislative frameworks required for the development of sustainable ICT policies and an inclusive information society’. The ‘World e-Parliament Report’ is another IPU activity worthwhile mentioning; the report look at the progress make by parliaments in using ICTs for exercising their constitutional functions.