Outcomes of the high-level policy sessions and conclusion of highlevel track by chairman
The session gathered moderators from sessions held in previous weeks of the WSIS Forum 2020, who shared conclusions from their respective sessions. In general, we see that information and communications technology (ICT) related challenges not only persist, but have increased due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some improvements have been made, however.
Half of the world’s population still does not have access to the Internet. The digital divide persists and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is committed to connecting the rest of the population. In India, for example, a whole range of challenges and factors require address in bridging the digital divide–such as a large, diverse population, rural islands, or difficult terrains. Connectivity has never been as important as during the ongoing pandemic. Networks play a crucial role in enabling countries to remain connected. Bridging the digital divide is vital for reducing poverty. Mr David Wright (Director, UK Safer Internet Centre) shared a lesson from Estonia: ‘Technology is not the protagonist, the mindset and culture of people is more important. People need to trust technology and have the capability to use it’. Internet connectivity and people actually using it is what makes connectivity meaningful. Ms Supavadee Aramvith (Associate Professor, Department of Electrical Engineering, Chulalongkorn University, Thailand) notes that the digital divide is a challenge in connection to SDGs 4, 5, 10, and 17, requiring an assessment of the quality of connectivity, educational, and demographic differences. For Turkey, capacity building in ICTs is now one of the first priorities. The pandemic has shown connectivity to be critical to economic and social participation. Aramvith highlighted the important role that a network has played in the Dominican Republic in bringing connectivity into a community. In China, bridging the digital divide would aid in reducing poverty.
Discussions have shown that confidence in using ICTs is important. ‘Without confidence security won’t work’, said Mr Giacomo Mazzone (Head of Institutional Relation and Members Relations South, European Broadcasting Union (EBU)). Azerbaijan sees the COVID-19 crisis as an opportunity for each government to create conditions for people to trust the Internet and the services provided thereby, especially governmental services. Indonesia and Oman are working on national cyberattack defences that work on international levels. The ITU should work with nations to develop strategies around cybersecurity, including online child protection laws, and to continue monitoring the global cybersecurity index. Dr Abdulkarim Oloyede (Senior Lecturer, Department of Telecommunications Science, University of Ilorin, Nigeria) said that all stakeholders have unanimously agreed to take responsibility to ensure security online. The Dominican Republic is developing a national strategy on cybersecurity.
Gender equality and the inclusion of women in ICTs is important in bridging existing digital and economic gaps. Mr Babusi Nyoni (Chief Executive Officer, Sila Health) noted the importance of grassroots education for young girls and women. He mentioned a tech-centre in Kenya and an ‘All girls code’ in Lebanon, as good practice examples. Training for girls and women has also been highlighted for their inclusion in online businesses. The lack of gender representation is also notable in ‘disruptive technologies’ where the divide is growing. The wide scale of international cooperation for enhancing the use of ICTs will enable and promote empowerment of women. Dr Gurvirender Tejay (Associate Professor of Information Systems, College of Business, University of Colorado) notes among trends radicalisation, hate speech, and cyberbullying towards children and women. In Pakistan, an increase of digital skills for women and the promotion of girls is noted by Aramvith.
It is also important to include persons with disabilities and to work on accessibility. There is an absence of entities in governments dedicated to ICT accessibility and persons involved, said Ms Denisse Salas (Master Scrum, Swiss Engineering Geneva).
Governments are moving towards a more robust digital economy, says Mr Juan Peirano (Policy Advisor, Internet Society (ISOC)). Ms Merle Maigre (Executive Vice President, CybExer Technologies, Estonia) and Oloyede agree that ICTs have been vital in keeping economies vital during the pandemic. It is an important enabler for the growth of small and medium enterprises and developing economies. For Tejay, the pandemic is an opportunity to connect communities, and to enhance online education and entrepreneurship. The current situation should be used to work on creating future jobs.
In order to insure people’s privacy and Internet universality, international cooperation in policy making is crucial. Current challenges are pushing boundaries for new research opportunities, from connecting the unconnected to personal data protection, notes Peirano. The rule of law, transparency, and regulatory frameworks that reflect national realities are essential for a people-centered information society, said Maigre.
Mazzone noted the importance of regulatory frameworks for AI and its implementation. An international treaty on AI is needed. AI and blockchain provide opportunities for analysis, understanding management, and recovery from the ongoing crises. It helps innovation within public services and helps institutions become more efficient, said Ms Timea Suto (Knowledge Manager International Chamber of Commerce (ICC)).
At the end, Mr Houlin Zhao (Secretary-General, ITU) invited greater input and greater multistakeholder collaboration. He believes that resilient and affordable ICTs are a prerequisite to progress. ‘The new normal will be digital, and the only way to ensure an inclusive society is by enhancing multistakeholder partnerships’, he concluded.