Progress made in the implementation of and follow-up to the outcomes of the World Summit on the Information Society at the regional and international level

May 2021

Author: Pedro Vilela

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the WSIS process sought to aid stakeholders in cooperating in rebuilding the society through exchanging experiences, practices and orientation with the policymakers, Mr Peter Major (Chair, Commission on Science and Technology for Development aty the United Nations), the moderator of the session, explained.

Ms Shamika Sirimanne (Director of the Division on Technology and Logistics, UNCTAD) introduced 2020 Report of the Secretary-General: Progress made in the implementation of and follow-up to the outcomes of the World Summit on the Information Society at the regional and international levels. The report highlighted how the COVID-19 pandemic made 2020 the most challenging year for the progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It made the role of ICTs and sustainable development more important than ever, as the need to circumvent the social isolation measures through remote work, telemedicine, schooling, and e-commerce, became the norm. However, such trends are likely to continue, accelerating the need for digitalisation and bridging of the digital divide. Issues related to an increasingly digitalised society also to grow: misinformation, electronic waste, carbon emissions, cybersecurity, and privacy concerns.

Mr Volkan Bozkır (President of the General Assembly of the United Nations) made a few remarks about the role the UN must play during the pandemic, harnessing the momentum to bridge the global digital divide by working with countries and harnessing stakeholders to engage in sharing of experiences and best practices, cooperative capacity building and prioritising science, technology and innovation.

Mr Malcolm Johnson (Deputy Secretary-General, ITU) presented several statistics related to this edition of the WSIS Forum, all of which are available at the WSIS website. He briefed the audience on the progress made by WSIS since its inception, and presented the contributions made by ITU in alignment with WSIS action lines and roadmaps.

Substantial progress has been made on several WSIS goals since 2005 in expanding connectivity, stressed Mr Vinton G. Cerf (Vice President and Chief Internet Evangelist, Google). He pointed how, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the internet has supported the continuity of regular life. However, these reduced barriers and increased connectivity also present risks: increased dependence on connectivity, cybersecurity issues, disinformation and misinformation, privacy issues, are some of the collateral effects. They can, however, be addressed through training, law enforcement and proper regulation. It is therefore important to increase cooperation between governments and the private sector in order to protect citizens while using the internet on daily basis.

Mr John Whittingdale (Minister of State for Media and Data, United Kingdom) noted that the United Kingdom sees WSIS as key to creating an internet that works for everyone. The core values of the internet, related to openness, accessibility, and interoperability, must be defended, ensuring its continual benefit to everyone. The internet has supported the continuity of regular life for millions of people in the UK, mitigating social exclusion, explained Whittingdale. The government has sought to support this by providing data, tablets, and support for people with learning disabilities. A lot more can still be done to ensure everyone can benefit from the access to the internet, while the pandemic has exposed the reality of digital exclusion for many countries.

Mr Chengetai Masango (Programme and Technology Manager at United Nations Secretariat for the Internet Governance Forum), speaking on behalf of Ms Anriette Esterhuysen (Chair of the Multi-stakeholder Advisory Group (MAG) Internet Governance Forum), pointed out that the Report of the Secretary General highlighted the following three trends:

  1. connectivity, access and usage, while having increased, continued to be characterised by divide;
  2. digital cooperation; and
  3. new challenges in governance of technology, sovereignty and accountability, such as growing reliance on data and the use of algorithms in everyday life.

Masango stated that this year’s edition of the IGF will be more focused, issue-driven, with two main issues predefined, and four emerging issues to be discussed.

The core properties of the internet are critical to its growth and success. In just a few decades, it has given rise to a rich ecosystem. Those properties are: openness, interoperability, diversity, inclusiveness, and not being centrally designed, stated Mr Joseph Hall (Senior Vice President for Strong Internet at Internet Society).

Mr Franklin García Fermín (Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology, Dominican Republic) spoke about the increasing use and adoption of ICTs by the world, especially by the Dominican Republic, which has around 75% of its population connected. The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the importance of investing in science and technology and developing ICT capabilities, increasing access, and bridging the gap between the developing countries and the developed ones, regarding connectivity.

Egypt believes ICT tools are the foundation of this digital era, and that it is, therefore, imperative to focus on cooperation and innovation in technological research, declared Mr Amr Talaat (Minister of Communications and Information Technology, Egypt).

Mr Munir M. Eldesouki (Assistant Minister of Communications and Information Technology, Acting President of King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology, Saudi Arabia) stressed the need to take a holistic approach to connectivity, applying it across the entire value chain. During the COVID-19 pandemic in Saudi Arabia, all students had access to remote education shortly after the lockdown. Distributing devices was not enough; therefore, the skills and support needed were offered through right guidance. Such scale and complexity of connectivity requires greater cooperation, which is why suchwhich isolated initiatives are not effective anymore.