Ethical dimensions of ICTs

15 Jun 2017 09:00h - 10:45h

Event report

[Read more session reports from WSIS Forum 2017]

At the start of the session, the moderator, Mr Justin Caso (Institute of Electric and Electronics Engineers (IEEE)) asked the panelists what their take was on the role security and privacy have in using ICTs for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Mr Deepak Maheshwari (Director, Government Affairs, India & ASEAN, Symantec Software Solutions) pointed out that there is no inherent opposition between security and privacy. We should tend toward solutions to incorporate both. This will require a joint effort from industry, governments, and users. The increasing amount of data which is collected will also give better insight to the regulatory and policy bodies in making future decisions. As a framework for going forward, he mentioned the need for proper systems that provides privacy and ensures security, transparency, and accountability for all stakeholders. In his words, we also need actions in promoting good online hygiene, the use of encryption, and simplicity of privacy notions so that they can be easy to understand by users. We need to develop a common vocabulary, and standards are needed to make it compatible and interoperable, he added.

Ms Ichrak Mars (IEEE SIGHT Tunisia) talked about her organisation’s effort in providing Internet access to the rural areas of Tunisia. This project was not just about connecting the unconnected, it was more about the education and empowerment of people through ICT. She added that the digital gap between rural and urban areas is wide, not necessarily form the connection point, as much as from a content and meaningful use of ICT point. Since it is important to start early with education, the challenge was to convince teachers and professors to adopt new techniques and blend them with familiar ones.

Ms Kay Firth-Butterfield (Vice chair of the IEEE Global Initiative for Ethical Considerations in Artificial Intelligence and Autonomous systems) described the work of the initiative, started in May 2014. The aim of initiative is to line technology developments with ethical values in order to foster innovation and help progress. ‘Human progress can include intentional prioritisation of the individual, community, and societal ethical value’, she added. The mission of the initiative is to train and educate technologists to prioritise ethical values in their work on autonomous and intelligent systems. The first informative report was published in 2015. The next version will be available in November 2017, and will incorporate comments from the community with 13 different committees. Next on the agenda is to create projects through the IEEE. One project she mentioned is standard related, the transparency of autonomous systems and possibility to always know why it made a certain decision. Transparency is absolutely key in order to trust autonomous systems. The work of the initiative is public and accessible through regular IEEE channels.

Mr Manu Bhardwaj (IEEE Internet Initiative and Vice President for Research and Insights at the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth) talked further about how to engage all stakeholders in reaching the SDGs. He pointed out a great generational gap which has  not changed much since 1998, when regulators wanted to criminalise an entire generation for using the Napster music-sharing service. Individual empowerment is needed, as is education he added, in order to make informed decisions. He mentioned indicators, such as: transparency, privacy, security, respect of  the context, access and accuracy of data, and the accountability of companies as a way forward to a comprehensive ‘consumer privacy bill of rights’. He added that technology can also protect our privacy (For ex: the ‘Do not track me’ browser feature).

On the question of how to make privacy easier to understand, Maheshwari proposed the model of the ‘nutrient value’ on every off-the-shelf product, with basic information on connectivity, privacy, security, functionality. On the question of child privacy, Firth-Butterfield added that the issue goes beyond the sharing of information on social networks. There is a need for privacy literacy and education in this area. This is particularly important with the emergence of smart toys and other Internet of Things devices.

The panellists concluded that we need to set the cultural change in the society in motion. We need to be active from the beginning – not just get involved afterwards, pointing out that privacy at the design stage is critical.


by Arvin Kamberi