Committed to connecting the world

ICTs for a Sustainable World #ICT4SDG

Speech by ITU Secretary-General, Dr Hamadoun I. Touré 

 Digital Enlightenment Forum 2013

 Keynote Speech

18 September 2013, Brussels, Belgium

Distinguished guests,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a tremendous honour and a real pleasure to be here with you in Brussels today for the Digital Enlightenment Forum.

In terms of global communications, we have made the most extraordinary progress in the first thirteen years of the new Millennium.

Back in the year 2000, around half the people in the world’s richest countries had a mobile phone and mobile penetration in Africa was under 2%. By early 2014 there will be nearly as many mobile phone subscriptions globally as there are people on the planet, and mobile penetration in Africa will pass 63%.

Even more spectacular has been the rise of mobile broadband, which is bringing Internet access to more people than ever before, and which continues to show the fastest growth of any technology in human history, with growth rates of over 30% per year.

By the end of 2013, ITU expects there to be almost 2.1 billion active mobile broadband subscriptions globally, giving a global mobile broadband penetration rate of almost 30%.

At the same time, major recent events in the news have highlighted on a global scale the inherent tensions arising when an ever-increasing proportion of human activity happens online.

New information and communication technology tools allow us to communicate with anyone, anywhere, at the speed of light; to access almost inconceivably vast amounts of information; to entertain ourselves; to receive services personalized to satisfy our specific individual needs; to control our environment; and to learn a lot more about others, ourselves and the world in general.

Equally, the sheer effectiveness of smart new technology makes us increasingly dependent on it. The very same capabilities that make our lives more efficient and enriched also create new potential for harm or to be taken advantage of.

What makes this even more confusing is that sometimes measures intended to protect, and deliver security and safety, sometimes end up causing harm.

In this context, a fundamental – if somewhat rhetorical – question is how to maximize the benefits of new opportunities, while minimizing corresponding risks?

Ladies and gentlemen,

There is no question that we need to do more to ensure security in the use of ICTs at all levels – local, national, regional and international.

A new report just out from security specialist McAfee and the Center for Strategic and International Studies estimates global losses due to cybercrime as being as great as 500 billion US dollars annually, and hundreds of millions of people are directly affected every year.

It is not just criminals engaging in cybercrime. As the effectiveness of advanced threats becomes more obvious, activist groups, corporations, and even governments will find themselves tempted to use similar approaches to achieve their goals.

Furthermore, while ICTs make it easier and more efficient to do legitimate business, and engage in rewarding social relations, they also make it easier to plan and implement real-world criminal activities.

Clearly, we need to reduce the risks posed by the illicit use of ICTs as much as possible – with a forward-looking vision and, most importantly, in a multilateral but also multi-stakeholder fashion.

At ITU, the United Nations specialized agency for ICTs, we take this issue very seriously.

Different stakeholder groups come together at ITU to discuss various aspects of security, including the standardization of technology; helping developing countries build their capacity to address cyberthreats; and also providing a neutral forum for the discussion of emerging public policy issues and their implications.

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.

In response, we launched the Global Cybersecurity Agenda, the GCA, which is a framework for international cooperation aimed at enhancing confidence and security in the information society.

Two of our key initiatives under the GCA are:

  • ITU-IMPACT, the world’s first comprehensive alliance against cyber threats which brings together governments, academia and industry experts to enhance the global community’s capabilities in dealing with cyber threats. It has now been formally endorsed by – and is offering services to – 145 countries.
  • Child Online Protection, an international collaborative network for action, with a growing number of partners, to promote the online protection of children worldwide. COP provides guidance on safe online behaviour in conjunction with other UN agencies and partners, and has already reached a very wide audience.

Furthermore, technical aspects of ensuring security in ICTs form an integral part of the discussion at various ITU forums, which include ITU-T Study Group 17, the lead study group on security-related standardization work within ITU.

SG17, often working in cooperation with other standards development organizations and various ICT industry consortia, deals with a broad range of standardization issues including: identity management; the protection of personally-identifiable information; countering spam; and the security of applications and services for the Internet of Things, web services, social networks, cloud computing and big data.

One of the key achievements of the new ITRs, the global treaty which was agreed at WCIT-12 in Dubai last December, was a new article on ensuring the security and robustness of networks, which provides a clear framework for international cooperation.

Distinguished guests,

Our collective efforts to improve the security of ICTs, globally, have a positive impact on our ability to enjoy new opportunities online and on the protection of our rights, including privacy.

Recently, however, the debate has gone beyond that.

It is no longer simply about how to protect ourselves from harm; it is also about finding the right balance between individual rights and collective protection.

It is clearly essential to protect:

  • the right of the freedom of expression;
  • the right to communicate;
  • and the right to privacy.

It is also important to ensure that we are protected from threats – but is it possible to do one thing without affecting the other? Where is the right balance?

These are not new questions; indeed, humanity has been looking for answers to them for centuries.

What has changed is that ICTs have become both pervasive and ubiquitous, and deliver unprecedented capabilities for both good and evil.

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.

In particular this includes the freedom of expression, which is applicable regardless of frontiers and through any media of one's choice – in accordance with articles 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Earlier this month, Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary-General, discussed concerns about national security and criminal activity. He noted that these may justify the exceptional and narrowly-tailored use of surveillance; but he also added that without safeguards to protect the right to privacy, surveillance hampers fundamental freedoms.

One of the key components of the WCIT discussions in Dubai was how to balance the implementation of security provisions with commitments to human rights.

As a result, in the preamble of the treaty, we find the affirmation of Member States’ commitment to implement the treaty in a manner that respects and upholds their human rights obligations.

This provision applies to the entire treaty, and not just the security provision.

It is clear that this is just a start of the discussion – and that the search for an appropriate balance will require the joint efforts of all stakeholders on all levels across many different forums.

  • The Internet Governance Forum, the IGF, is one such forum, offering an important opportunity for valuable discussions on how to resolve various Internet-related matters.
  • Another forum is the ITU’s Council Working Group on Internet, under which international Internet-related public policy issues are discussed by ITU Member States with an open consultation process to include the views of all stakeholders.
  • Earlier this year, we also saw the World Telecommunication/ICT Policy Forum, the 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.

These forums do not compete, but play different, specific roles, all working towards the common goal; the fundamental issues cannot be resolved by one single entity.

ITU’s work in the area of cybersecurity focuses on the technical and developmental spheres.

This does not include areas related to Member States’ application of legal and policy principles related to national defence, national security, content or cybercrime, which are within their sovereign rights.

This work contributes to enhanced security generally. Complex questions currently discussed in the public sphere, however, require the collaboration of a broad range of stakeholders.

We should therefore all be collaborating to ensure that in our zeal to ensure better security, we do not compromise our commitment to protecting human rights.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me also emphasize that the debate needs to be inclusive if it is to be meaningful. Every stakeholder and every country has the right – and indeed the obligation – to represent its views. A diversity of views and backgrounds, which creates the full wealth of international debate, needs to be embraced.

Inclusiveness – in terms of both technical and human capacity – is a crucial aspect of building trust in a global resource such as the Internet; to make sure that everyone can participate in its development, in a balanced, equitable and multi-stakeholder manner.

The beauty of the architecture of the Internet lies in its distributed nature. This has made it possible for anyone, anywhere to provide applications and services that can be used by everyone, everywhere.

Innovative, cloud-based services are now available at low or in many cases zero-cost to consumers around the world.

It is important to leverage this easy availability of online services for the benefit of citizens.

It is also equally important for all countries to build their own capacity to use and, where appropriate, develop infrastructure, applications and services in a way that satisfies local requirements – be they cultural, linguistic, economic or security-related. And this needs to happen without losing the benefits of the global Internet.

I would like to see all countries offering innovative products not only to their own citizens but to the entire world.

It is also important to make sure that the products conform to internationally-agreed standards, so that we can ensure the Internet continues to be a globally accessible resource.

ITU is ready and willing to provide assistance.

The ITU Development Sector carries out human capacity-building and technical assistance activities around the world to promote digital inclusion. In doing so, we work with a variety of stakeholder groups at the national, regional and international levels.

Distinguished colleagues,

We also need to ensure inclusiveness in terms of equitable access to participation in global discussions and policy-making processes.

The vast majority of the global growth in Internet users over the past five years has come from the developing world, and the developing world now accounts for almost two thirds of Internet users, globally.

Many developing countries have realized the need to build national capacity and improve their contribution and involvement in the global information society, in its discussions and policy-making processes.

But participants from developing countries – and in particular the world’s least developed countries – risk being disadvantaged by the significant costs and human capacity requirements associated with participation in various global forums where technical and public policy issues are discussed.

To help overcome this barrier, a range of capacity-building programmes are being developed not only at ITU but also at ICANN, ISOC, and in forums such as the IGF and the WSIS Forum.

This includes the wider use of remote participation, accommodative participatory policies, travel fellowships, and electronic working methods.

These initiatives should be encouraged.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In conclusion, let me reiterate the need for collective hard work to make the Internet safer for everyone. We also need to ensure that fundamental human rights are not sacrificed when responding to new risks, or when using ICT capabilities to address real-world threats.

ITU has been playing its role in bringing stakeholders from across the globe together, but it is clearly evident that no single entity can achieve this task alone.

This means working together with other intergovernmental bodies and ensuring the active participation of all stakeholders, including local and regional bodies; the private sector; and civil society organizations.

And here I can give you ITU’s full commitment to the process of collaborating and working together.

Because only together can we achieve our common goals.

Thank you.