Broadband/Network | Emerging Trends
October 8, 2013

Digital enlightenment

By Dr Hamadoun I. Touré

In today’s digital society, it is important to recognise the great changes we are witnessing. We are living through a unique period of global digital enlightenment; consider the ways in which global communications have rapidly developed in the first thirteen years of the new Millennium.

There are many great examples of this; in the year 2000, mobile penetration in Africa was fewer than 2%, but by early 2014 this figure will rise to over 63%. The rise of mobile broadband has been even more spectacular with growth rates of over 30% per year, making it the fastest growing technology in human history. By the end of 2013, ITU expects there to be almost 2.1 billion active mobile broadband subscriptions globally.

However, as our dependence on new technologies grows, we face new challenges and tensions, as is often discussed by the global media. Although ICTs increasingly enrich our lives, there are also new online dangers that can have very real and lasting consequences.

Indeed, measures intended to protect, and deliver security and safety, can sometimes end up causing harm. In this context, a fundamental – if somewhat rhetorical – question is how to maximise the benefits of new opportunities, whilst minimising corresponding risks?

Increasingly there is a need to do more to ensure security when using ICTs at all levels – local, national, regional and international. In a new report by security specialist McAfee and the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, it is estimated that global cybercrime costs 500 billion US dollars annually.

A forward-looking, multilateral and multi-stakeholder approach must be implemented in order to overcome such risks posed by the illicit use of ICTs. As the UN specialised agency for ICTs, we take the issue of cyber security very seriously, and as such, we communicate with multiple stakeholder groups, and provide a neutral forum for discussion.

Following the World Summit on the Information Society, WSIS, heads of state and world leaders entrusted ITU to take the lead in coordinating international efforts in the field of cybersecurity. As such, as have launched the Global Cybersecurity Agenda, the GCA, which is a framework for international cooperation aimed at enhancing confidence and security in the information society.

Whilst the positive impacts of ICTs are largely felt around the world, there is a growing debate surrounding privacy. The issue is no longer simply about how to protect ourselves; it is about finding the balance between individual rights and collective protection.

It is clearly essential to protect;

– the right to the freedom of expression;

– the right to communicate;

– and the right to privacy.

But this raises questions; is it possible to do one thing without affecting the other? How do we find the right balance? Significantly, in July last year, the Human Rights Council of the United Nations unanimously adopted a resolution affirming that the same rights people have offline must also be protected online.

Clearly, there is a need for security provisions with commitments to human rights and arguably, this is just the beginning of the discussion which requires the joint efforts of all stakeholders on all levels across many different forums.

The Internet Governance Forum (IGF) and the ITU’s Council Working Group on Internet are just two such forums that discuss issues surrounding the internet and internet policy. Earlier this year, we also saw the World Telecommunication/ICT Policy Forum, (WTPF), take place in Geneva, offering a high-level platform to exchange views on the key policy issues arising from today’s fast-changing ICT environment.

To many, the internet is a readily available commodity, which is part of the beauty of the architecture of the Internet. With this in mind, it is important to ensure that the internet continues to be a globally accessible resource. We, the ITU are ready and willing to provide assistance.

Over the past five years, the vast majority of global growth in internet users has come from the developing world, and the developing world now accounts for almost two thirds of internet users globally, however many of the least developed countries face an array of barriers.

To help overcome these barriers, a range of capacity-building programmes including; the widespread use of remote participation, accommodative participatory policies, travel fellowships, and electronic working methods, are being developed not only by the ITU, but ICANNISOC, and in forums such as the IGF and WSIS.

In conclusion, I reiterate the need for collective hard work to make the internet safer for everyone whilst ensuring fundamental human rights are not sacrificed. At the ITU, we are working to bring global stakeholders together; yet, no single entity can achieve this task alone. We must all work together.

And here I give you the ITU’s full commitment to the process of collaborating and working together, because only together can we achieve our common goals.

See also Dr. Touré’s speech at the Digital Enlightenment Forum on 18 September 2013 from which this blog post is adapted.

By Dr Hamadoun I. Touré

Dr Hamadoun I. Touré @ITUSecGen has been Secretary-General of the ITU since January 2007; he was re-elected for a second term in October 2010. He has wide professional experience in both the public and private sectors. A national of Mali, Dr Touré is committed to ITU as an innovative, forward-looking organization adapted to meeting the challenges created by the rapidly-changing ICT environment, and to continuing to spearhead ITU towards implementing the resolutions of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) and achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Dr Touré is married with four children and two grandchildren.
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