Last month, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres released his first ever Roadmap for Digital Cooperation, calling on the global community to connect, respect, and protect digital citizens everywhere. Despite all its benefits, too many people around the world are still unable to even access the modern internet, and too many others are put in jeopardy when they do so. The Roadmap outlines how states, private industry, civil society, international organizations, and academic institutions can and must work together to provide a safe and equitable cyberspace for all.
Without question, the creation of the internet has led to unprecedented human advancements, new opportunities, and societal benefits. It has expanded access to information and education for communities that previously had to rely on limited and often outdated resources. It has improved the functionality and efficiency of everything from medical devices, to transportation, to agriculture systems, and has allowed people anywhere to achieve more with fewer resources. And it has broken down barriers of distance, allowing us to connect and keep in touch with each other even when physical contact is impossible – the importance of which has grown so much in recent weeks and months. Unfortunately, without rules of the road, governments have been using this very same technology to violate human rights, escalate conflict and develop unchecked and dangerous cyberweapons which threaten to undermine all of these benefits.
It’s clear that for human society to reach its full digital potential these misuses and abuses must be stopped. We cannot tolerate an online world that continues to exclude some while dividing others. And digital citizens need to be part of this debate. To quote the Roadmap: “Digital cooperation is a multi-stakeholder effort and, while Governments remain at the centre, the involvement of the private sector, technology companies, civil society and other stakeholders is essential.” The Secretary-General highlights eight areas where cooperation is needed:
1. Digital Capacity-Building
Digital inclusion needs to be supported by appropriate skills and training, but this requires a concerted effort. The Roadmap calls for greater coherence and coordination in capacity building efforts and for scaling up solutions by 2030.
2. Digital Inclusion
The virtual world has become so central to our lives that the lack of access to technology amplifies social, cultural and economic inequalities in the real world. The Roadmap outlines how this impacts women, refugees, children and rural populations and how gaps in access can be closed.
3. Global Connectivity
While, ninety-three percent of the world’s population live within physical reach of mobile broadband or internet services, only 53.6 percent use it, leaving an estimated 3.6 billion people without access to the internet. The Roadmap calls for universal connectivity by 2030.
4. Global Digital Cooperation
The Roadmap acknowledges existing structures are poorly suited for a digital world, and in particular for real multi stakeholder cooperation. It highlights new potential models of engagement but recognizes that further discussion is required.
5. Artificial Itelligence
Artificial intelligence is expected to provide new economic and societal opportunities, driving advances in industry automation, as well as breakthroughs in research. The Roadmap nevertheless warns that advances in this space must not be used to erode human rights.
6. Digital Public Goods
Today, much of the online data is not easily available – for a variety of reasons – preventing useful information from reaching those who need it most. The Roadmap calls for greater access to data sets, like the public and shareable data used to contain the Ebola Virus in 2014, and reimagines them as a digital public good, supporting a more equitable world.
7. Digital Trust & Security
Cyberattacks have cost countries and companies trillions and caused unparalleled harm to individuals. The Roadmap acknowledges the role of states in the digital world and calls for a universal statement to prioritize a commitment to trust and security online.
8. Digital Human Rights
Although digital technologies are used to advocate, defend and exercise human rights, they can also be used to suppress, limit and violate them. The Roadmap highlights this dichotomy and calls for technology to be used to provide new means to advocate for and exercise human rights.
For Digital Peace Now, progress on digital trust and security stands out as a top priority from this list. As highlighted above, the internet today is at the center of so much of our lives, and we increasingly rely on it to support some of the most critical parts of our societies. COVID-19 has brought this fact into sharp relief. As the Roadmap states: “In one week in April 2020, there were over 18 million daily malware and phishing emails related to the disease reported by a single email provider, in addition to more than 240 million COVID-19-related daily spam messages. Meanwhile, health-care facilities have been targets of serious cyberattacks during the COVID-19 crisis, with the International Criminal Police Organization reporting a rise in global ransomware attacks.”
The fact that malicious actors have felt encouraged to exploit a health crisis to conduct cyberattacks when people everywhere are most vulnerable, even targeting entities at the frontlines of our response to the global pandemic, must be met with wide outrage and calls for change. Now is the time to act. Infrastructure that underpins broad societal functions – such as water, energy, and healthcare – are the sectors of our economy that need to be safeguarded online as well as offline, as the Roadmap rightly states. Future generations will judge the decisions we make now – so let’s seize this opportunity to make cyberspace safer and more accessible.