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Open Internet and quality of information: key to preserve integrity of elections

MD Staff

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On 8 February, UNESCO and the Global Initiative Network (link is external) (GNI) held a forum at UNESCO HQ in Paris to examine how Internet could support electoral integrity, as well as counter threats such as disinformation and internet shutdowns which reduced the trust and knowledge of voters.

The Colloquium “Improving the information ecosystem to protect the integrity of elections” brought together UNESCO Member States, UN Representatives, national electoral authorities and media organizations with board members of the GNI.

The GNI is a multi-stakeholder organization of information and communication technology companies, civil society organizations, academics, and socially responsible investors.

In his opening remarks, Mr. Getachew Engida, UNESCO Deputy Director spoke about preserving freedom of expression and the value of effective self-regulation in regard to problems on the Internet in times of elections.

Ms. Judith Lichtenberg, Executive Director of the GNI, underlined the need to forge a common approach to protect freedom of expression online especially during elections time when ICT innovations are being abused by malicious actors and internet services are restricted or even shut down.

Participants addressed issues concerning digital manipulation of election processes, including the impact of malware attacks. Furthermore, the Colloquium also sought to assist electoral assistance providers in contributing with ideas on how to improve their electoral programs and activities.

The potential sensitivities around interruptions of digital information during vote counting, and the difficulty of monitoring the “black box” of political advertising based on datamining and targeted profiling, were highlighted by Patrick Costello, Head of Division of  European External Action Service at the European Union.

Noting the varying degree of digitalization of electoral processes across countries, Simon Pierre Nanitelamio, Deputy Director of the UN’s Electoral Assistance Division, highlighted the role multi-stakeholder consultation to bridge the gaps between differently equipped countries.

In a context where economic growth depends increasingly on Internet access, as affirmed in the UN Sustainable Development Agenda, Constance Bommelaer, Senior Director of The Internet Society ISOC, pointed out that shutdowns can cause long-lasting and costly effects on societies and on user’s trust.

Large-scale internet shutdowns and the blocking and filtering of online content has been seen to be on the rise in the last five years, as noted in the latest edition of the World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development

Internet providers’ difficult position to cope with internet shutdowns during elections was highlighted by Yves Nissim, Head of Transformation and Operation in Corporate Social Responsibility from Orange. Mr He commented that companies are frequently unable to avoid demands to interrupt services because of license agreements and risks to their employees’ safety, but they sought to be transparent about receiving such demands.

Fernando Garcia, Executive director of Red en Defensa de los Derechos Digitales a Mexican-based network that defends digital rights and Aiste Zilinskiene, Member of the Central Electoral Commission of Lithuania, drew upon citizen digital experiences to hold political actors accountable via elections. They also raised awareness about the threats to privacy posed by malware attacks surveilling journalists and human rights activists.

Nana Gyan-Apenteng, head of Ghana’s National Media Commission and chair of the African Communications Regulation Authorities network signaled the potential to apply electoral laws to media at the point where social media content emerged onto traditional media platforms.

The UNESCO-GNI Colloquium also featured together representatives from technology companies to discuss what can be done to enhance the quality of public information during such elections in order to counter misinformation.

Steve Crown, Microsoft’s Vice President and Deputy General Counsel, pointed out the moral challenges around setting national or regional regulations given the global nature of internet and the potential for legislation to be implemented as censorship.

Ludovic Peran, Policy and Government Affairs Manager of Google, shared the company’s initiatives to address fake news, such as the development of fact-checking tools, quality guidelines and the tracking of misleading sources. Meanwhile, Andy O’Connell, Public Policy Manager of Facebook stated that his company had pledged transparency in paid political advertising.

He also noted Facebook’s work to limit the economic incentives of “fake news”, and to remove accounts with false profiles.

The importance of strengthening media and information literacy as part of voter education, was raised by. Divina Frau-Meigs, UNESCO Chair Savoir Devenir, Nouvelle Sorbonne, Paris. She said there was a need to teach young people that casting a ballot was not the same as “liking” something on social media, and encouraged “digital citizenship” as a way to boost the integrity of elections.

UNESCO hopes to follow up through highlighting the incompatibility of Internet shut-downs with the free flow of information that is needed for elections.

The Organisation will also seek to work on methodologies that can benefit election stakeholders who monitor electoral communications, to provide a knowledge base for policy on regulation and self-regulation.

Further work will entail training journalists to be able to give deeper coverage of the role of social media in relation to polls, including ways to find and rebut disinformation online.

Another follow up is promoting the value to election integrity of programmes in media and information literacy.

The over-regulation of digital electoral communications that can disproportionately limit freedom of expression and privacy, is an area where UNESCO can play a monitoring role.

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The future of Artificial Intelligence in Africa: A joint responsibility

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Artificial Intelligence (AI) in Africa and universal access to information and knowledge were at the heart of discussions during the UNESCO Forum on Artificial Intelligence in Africa that took place at the Mohammed VI Polytechnic University, in Benguerir, Morocco, on 12 and 13 December 2018.

The two-day Forum was opened by UNESCO’s Director-General Audrey Azoulay, Morocco’s Education Minister Saaid Amzazi and the President of the General Conference of UNESCO, Zohour Alaoui. It brought together ministers, representatives of the private sector, experts, researchers and representatives of international and regional organizations, as well as NGOs and civil society actors from all parts of the world. Through round tables and thematic sessions, the conference examined the future of Artificial Intelligence in Africa, ethical issues for the continent, and ways in which AI can serve as a lever for sustainable development.

Artificial Intelligence is not only relevant to developed countries, but also important for developing countries, including in Africa. While the African continent sees a number of innovative uses of Artificial Intelligence, more can be done to guarantee access to information and knowledge through AI.

Countries in Africa face specific challenges in terms of infrastructure, skills, knowledge gaps, research capacities and availability of local data, which need to be overcome to fully harness the deployment of AI. To avoid exacerbating the existing digital and knowledge divides, it is essential to address these challenges and to raise awareness of the potential of AI for sustainable development.

Harnessing the potential of AI for Africa

The panel discussion on universal access to information and knowledge, and AI in Africa, moderated by UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information Moez Chakchouk, highlighted the efforts of governments and various stakeholders to fully harness the potential of AI.

Morocco underlined that its digital strategy takes AI into account, and the country has enhanced data access through the launch of an open data portal. Ruhiya Seward from the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) presented how the centre has been actively supporting North-South cooperation in the mapping of AI ecosystems, as well as the promotion and establishment of regional networks in this regard.

Discussions also highlighted how the UNESCO Chair in Artificial Intelligence and the Knowledge for All (K4All) Foundation are carrying out a mapping of Artificial Intelligence start-ups, research centres and civil society organizations. Microsoft equally underlined how the company provides support to AI strategic plans for a range of countries, while also building capacities for start-ups through its 4Afrika AppFactory, which develops the digital skills, coding capabilities and workplace readiness of young people.

An inclusive approach for the development of AI

Panellists emphasized the importance of involving young people and innovative local AI start-up ecosystems to ensure access to information and knowledge. Davor Orlic from the Jožef Stefan Institute stated that Africa is not lagging behind, and that the continent would gain a lot from listening to its local AI ecosystem. Local start-ups can serve as incubators for skills development and business modelling to ensure AI entrepreneurship solves local development issues in innovative and efficient ways, with a particular focus on youth and women.

Nicolas Miailhe of the Future Society further underlined the importance of ensuring multi-stakeholder consultation processes, including through online platforms, to ensure the participatory development of public policies on AI.

Finally, in interacting with the audience, panellists also discussed the dangers of AI in encroaching on human rights issues such as privacy. Julie Owono, Executive Director of Internet Sans Frontières, underlined that “the Universal Declaration of Human Rights must be the reference framework for all aspects related to Artificial Intelligence, and more generally to all aspects associated with the Internet.”

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Our Shared Digital Future

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Building a digital economy and society that is trusted, inclusive and sustainable requires urgent attention in six priority areas according to a new report, Our Shared Digital Future, published by the World Economic Forum today.

The report represents a collaborative effort by business, government and civil society leaders, experts and practitioners. It follows an 18-month dialogue aimed at restoring the internet’s capacity for delivering positive social and economic development.

The report comes at a historic moment on the day when, for the first time, more than one-half of the world’s population is now connected to the internet. At the same time, less than one-half of those already online trust that technology will make their lives better.

With 60% of the global economy forecast to be digitized by 2022, there remains huge potential for the Fourth Industrial Revolution to lift more people out of poverty and strengthen societies and communities. However, success depends on effective collaboration between all stakeholder groups. The authors, in addition to unveiling six key areas for action, also highlight several existing efforts at global and local levels where collaboration is helping to restore trust and deliver broad-based societal benefits.

The six priority areas for multistakeholder collaboration are:

Internet access and adoption

Internet access growth has slowed from 19% in 2007 to 6% in 2017. At the same time, we have reached the milestone of 50% of the world’s population being connected to the internet. To close the digital divide, more investment is needed to not only provide access, but also improve adoption.

Good digital identity

By 2020, the average internet user will have more than 200 online accounts and by 2022, 150 million people are forecast to have blockchain-based digital identities. However, 1 billion people currently lack a formal identity, which excludes them from the growing digital economy. Good digital identity solutions are key to addressing this divide, empowering individuals, and protecting their rights in society.

Positive impact on society

By 2022, an estimated 60% of global GDP will be digitized. In 2018, companies are expected to spend more than $1.2 trillion on digital transformation efforts. Yet, only 45% of the world’s population feel that technology will improve their lives. Companies need to navigate digital disruption and develop new responsible business models and practices.

Cybersecurity

Cyberattacks result in annual losses of up to $400 billion to the global economy. More than 4.5 billion records were compromised by malicious actors in the first half of 2018, up from 2.7 billion records for the whole of 2017. A safe and secure digital environment requires global norms and practices to mitigate cyber-risks.

Governance of the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Policy-makers and traditional governance models are being challenged by the sheer magnitude and speed of the technological changes of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Developing new and participatory governance mechanisms to complement traditional policy and regulation is essential to ensure widespread benefits, close the digital divide and address the global nature of these developments.

Data

The amount of data that keeps the digital economy flowing is growing exponentially. By 2020, there will be more than 20 billion connected devices globally. Yet there is no consensus on whether data is a type of new currency for companies to trade or a common public good that needs stricter rules and protection. The digital economy and society must bridge this gap by developing innovations that allow society to benefit from data while protecting privacy, innovation and criminal justice.

“The digital environment is like our natural environment,” said Derek O’Halloran, Head, Future of Digital Economy and Society, the World Economic Forum. “We all – governments, businesses, individuals – have a duty to ensure it remains clean, safe and healthy. This paper marks a step forward in offering a blueprint for a better internet we can all work towards: One that is inclusive, trustworthy and sustainable.”

The report is part of ongoing work by the World Economic Forum to provide a platform to accelerate, amplify or catalyse collaborative efforts from business, government, academia and civil society to advance progress towards an inclusive, trustworthy and sustainable digital economy. The report provides an overview of key issues for the digital economy and society, establishes priorities for multistakeholder collaboration for the year ahead, and highlights existing key initiatives and resources.

“Our existing institutions, mechanisms and models are struggling to effectively respond to the pace of digital change and its distributed nature. This report identifies critical areas of focus for public-private partnerships to help restore trust in an inclusive and prosperous digital future,” said Jim Smith, Chief Executive Officer, Thomson Reuters and Co-Chair, World Economic Forum System Initiative on Shaping the Future of Digital Economy and Society.

“While recognizing that digital developments fuel many opportunities in political, commercial and social spheres, a key point of this paper is the need to focus on inclusion and addressing digital divides; only through incorporating more voices and views – in the development of political and commercial policies – will we be able to create a society that truly benefits all,” said Lynn St. Amour, Chair of the UN Internet Governance Forum (IGF)’s Multistakeholder Advisory Group, and Co-Chair, World Economic Forum System Initiative on Shaping the Future of Digital Economy and Society.

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Internet milestone reached: More than 50 per cent go online

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For the first time, more than half of the world’s population of nearly 8 billion will be using the internet by the end of 2018, the United Nations telecommunications agency announced on Friday.

International Telecommunication Union (ITU) global and regional estimates for 2018 are “a pointer to the great strides the world is making towards building a more inclusive global information society,” Houlin Zhao, ITU Secretary-General, said.

The record figure of 3.9 billion people, or 51.2 per cent that will be online by the end of December, is an important milestone in the digital revolution, according to the ITU. The agency insists that this increased connectivity will help promote sustainable development everywhere.

The latest figures also spotlight Africa, which shows the strongest rate of growth in internet access, from around two per cent in 2005, to more than 24 per cent of the African population this year.

Europe and the Americas are the regions with the slowest growth rates, though the current figures show that 79.6 per cent and 69.6 per cent are online, respectively.

Overall, said the ITU, “in developed countries, slow and steady growth increased the percentage of population using the Internet, from 51.3 per cent in 2005 to 80.9 per cent in 2018.”

Despite this progress, ITU has warned that a lot of communities worldwide, still do not use the internet, particularly women and girls. The statistics show older people also disproportionately remain offline, as do those with disabilities, indigenous populations and some people living in the world’s poorest places.

In a bid to reduce inequalities, the agency is calling on more infrastructure investment from the public and private sectors, and to focus on ensuring that access remains affordable for all.

“We must encourage more investment from the public and private sectors and create a good environment to attract investments, and support technology and business innovation so that the digital revolution leaves no one offline,” said Mr. Zhao.

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