HL Policy Session 10: Inclusiveness - access to information and knowledge for all

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H.E. Mr Luís Goes Pinheiro (Secretary of State for Administrative Modernization, Portugal) gave an account of Portugal, explaining that Portugal’s priority has been the development of online services to offer digital public services. This was one of the reasons Portugal joined the D9, a group comprising the most developed countries in the area of e-Government. Pinheiro added that Portugal has been putting the majority of its efforts into developing an online gateway for access to public services such as tax declarations and renewal of driver’s licences. He mentioned that doctors are prescribing medicines using apps and laptops, and people go to the pharmacies and fill their prescriptions by showing a code they get on their phone. The judiciary, he said, had also embraced the online service concept, with judges, lawyers, and public prosecutors using electronic systems to deal with court disputes. Pinheiro concluded by stating that the adoption of e-government platforms had made public administration in Portugal more customer oriented than it used to be.

Ms Roshni Sen (Principal Secretary, Government of West Bengal, India) tackled the question of how India ensured integrated sustainable development through its various schemes and initiatives and what communication channels were being used to mitigate the information asymmetry. Roshni stated that from her experience as a public servant, she felt that integration and sustainable development was possible, only if they happened at the grassroots. While the policy level was important, the main challenge lay at the local level. She pointed out that traditional top-down communication was ineffective. With the help of ICT, she said, India had designed a cross-district knowledge-sharing platform so that the districts could learn from each other's experience, and also replicate best practices. With regard to information asymmetry, Roshni emphasised the need to address the imbalance with the relevant stakeholders at local level to achieve better information dissemination.

Dr Esmie T. Kainja (Permanent Secretary for Information and Communications Technology, Malawi) said that Malawi was working hard to ensure that inclusiveness and access to information were indeed accessible to all. Her discussion centred on three areas: legal and policy framework, infrastructure, and issues of governance. Kainja explained that Malawi had developed a National Access to Information Policy, and a National ICT Policy. She added that Malawi had learned from the lack of inclusion of accountability mechanisms in the millennium development goals, prompting the country to swiftly develop the access to information legislation in 2016. Kainja was categorical that this provided the right of access to information among members of the public. Additionally, Malawi as a country had developed two other acts: the Communications Act of 2016, and the e-Transaction and Cybersecurity Act of the same year. She noted that this had helped Malawi to improve ICT utilisation and access, as well as facilitate easy access to the Universal Service Fund, which essentially aims to improve the quality of service delivery. On the part of infrastructure development, Kainja explained that Malawi had developed an optic fibre backbone that has connected the whole country. She added that a submarine cable connecting Malawi to Tanzania, and Mozambique and the interior, had helped the country to connect the cities and the district councils. On top of the infrastructure development, Kainja reported that Malawi had also constructed ICT multi-purpose community centres, and this had helped the youth particularly to access market information, employment, and education. She added that there were plans to develop 136 centres to enhance connectivity, and that by the end of the programme, each constituency would have a telecentre.

H.E. Mrs Aurélie Adam Soule Zoumarou (Ministre, Ministere de l'Economie numérique et de la Communication, Benin) mentioned that Benin had put in place a digital code to act as a guideline to sector members on how to exchange personal data and ensure the data was protected. She added that Benin was trying to strengthen the presence of a backbone network in many communities, and noted that Benin had also become part of the open government initiative with a view to providing open access data to the citizenry.

Mr Göran Marby (CEO and President, ICANN), in explaining how ICANN contributed to inclusiveness in its work, noted that it had adopted a multistakeholder model that ensured fair representation of the Internet community. He also pointed out that the next billion Internet users will come primarily from rural areas, and that they will not have English as a language. Marby stated that ICANN had instituted the Internationalized Domain Names (IDN) programme to assist in the development and promotion of a multilingual Internet, a factor that would allow people to use domain names in their local languages and scripts. In his summary, Marby noted that while there was a lot of negativism around the Internet as a concept, it was very important that we make a distinction between the Internet as the technical platform, and the applications that sit on top of it. He cited fake news and bad information, stating that these came from on top of the Internet and actually not from the Internet itself.

Ms Lynn St Amour (Chair of the Internet Governance Forum Multistakeholder Advisory Group), replying to a question on what the IGF and all stakeholders could do to ensure that Internet governance processes were truly inclusive at all levels, noted that the IGF 2019 would be held in Berlin, Germany, in November. She said the focus was on three main tracks: data governance, safety and security, and digital inclusion. St Amour explained that digital inclusion was bringing individuals into the process and into the discussions, and ensuring that everyone had the same opportunity to participate and to contribute. She added that the digital inclusion track at the IGF aimed to provide a framework that would foster digital contribution, and result in a stronger economy and enhanced economic development. She reminded the audience of the public call, inviting submissions for workshop proposals for the IGF. St Amour also pointed out that security, safety, and trust were prerequisites to economic growth, and that a healthy digital environment was beneficial to all. She called for a safe and secure Internet for digital consumers, one where corporates and individuals that misuse digital consumers’ trust are held accountable.

Asked by the moderator how equality and connection to digital resources was affecting children and young people, Ms Jasmina Byrne (Chief of Policy, UNICEF) explained that the Internet and digital access was becoming a determinant of equal opportunity for children. Byrne emphasised that the Internet enabled them to benefit from access to information, education, and cultural material, as well as preparing them for jobs of the future. Further, she said that the Internet also provided opportunities for civic engagement and participation for young people. Byrne stated that while only 30% of young people aged between 15 and 24 were not connected online, these percentages were as high as 60% in Africa, and only about 4% in Europe. Byrne called for national and international policy that acted for the rights of children and their needs. With artificial intelligence (AI) becoming a crucial part of the twenty-first century, Byrne reiterated that children's safety, privacy, and protection needed to be of paramount consideration for all digital or AI-enabled products and services, irrespective of whether they were designed for children.

In her remarks, Dr Araba Sey (Head of Research/Principal Research Fellow, United Nations University Institute on Computing and Society (UNU-CS) reiterated that significant strides had been made in closing gender digital divide globally. This, she said, was according to research led by the UN university. Sey added that while there were positive achievements, gender gaps still persisted in most areas. She pointed out that technologies appeared to be replicating existing gender equalities, and new gender divides were emerging, which has the potential to negate previous gains made if not proactively addressed. She gave an example of mobile phones. While they had enabled greater digital access for women, in many parts of the world women were still less likely than men to personally own a mobile phone or use the mobile Internet. She added that while advances had been made in encouraging girls to study technology subjects, gender-based barriers in the workplace hampered women's ability to thrive in these professions, especially in leadership positions. Sey felt that the remedy to this was to make the digital society more inclusive for women and girls, and address social and cultural barriers to inclusion.

Mr Alexander Ntoko (Chief of the Operations and Planning Department, WSIS Action Line Facilitator ITU) felt that language was the key element for inclusiveness. He cited a study by the ITU that revealed that if half a million web pages were translated into the six UN languages, they would only reach about half the population of the world. This, he said, was because there were local languages that were still not covered, with Africa alone boasting more than 3000 languages.

 

By Bonface Witaba

Organisers

  • WSIS
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