IEEE Takes a Lead Role at World Summit on the Information Society Forum

Annual event brought together ICT stakeholders to tackle the digital divide and other societal issues

17 June 2016

IEEE raised its visibility at this year’s annual World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Forum, held from 2 to 6 May in Geneva. IEEE was a contributing sponsor through its Internet Initiative. Members of the group issued a policy statement; held a workshop on Internet governance, security, privacy, and ethics; moderated a high-level policy session on information and communication technology (ICT) in 2030; and held an information session on e-health.

The forum, organized by United Nations agencies including the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), identifies challenges that need to be addressed to close the global digital divide among those who have access to the Internet and those who do not.

More than 2,000 people from 150 countries attended, including leaders from government, industry, academia, and the technical community. The event allowed participants to exchange information, share best practices, and strategize on how they would implement the recommendations.

This year’s forum also included discussions on how ICT could be used to help implement the U.N.’s 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs). They include eradicating poverty and hunger, ensuring clean water, delivering quality education, and building sustainable cities.

IEEE Member Oleg Logvinov, chair of the Internet Initiative, gave the IEEE’s opening policy statement and noted the association is working to address the challenges and opportunities that multiregional and crossdisciplinary experiences bring to policy. “IEEE considers it important to work with all stakeholders on approaches that the technical community views as globally relevant, while understanding local variations and needs,” he said. “Now is a time for creativity, innovation, and open collaboration to open new paths.

“Even though achieving the SDGs will not be an easy task, it is a challenge that everyone in this room is willing to accept, and it is one we will achieve together to advance the betterment of all people around the globe, using our collective skills, expertise, and experience.”

INTERNET GOVERNANCE, SECURITY, PRIVACY, AND ETHICS

The IEEE session explored the societal consequences of emerging technologies on ethics, privacy, surveillance, and security. Panelists included Logvinov and IEEE Senior Member Greg Shannon, past chair of the IEEE Cybersecurity Initiative. IEEE employee Justin Caso, the advisor for IEEE Technology Policy and International Affairs, moderated the session.

Logvinov, who outlined the work IEEE is doing in uniting policymakers and the technical community, noted that privacy and security are incorporated in the IEEE 2413 standard under development as part of the architectural framework for the Internet of Things. He also discussed how important peer review is in revising open-source code to ensure the proliferation of best practices and standards.

Shannon acknowledged that new technologies bring challenges with regard to security and privacy, but he emphasized it was the responsibility of all stakeholders—not just the ICT community—to protect citizens. It’s not always easy to differentiate between positive and potentially risky aspects of technology, he added.

Society is not—and probably never will be—fully ready for the challenges that technology brings about, Logvinov said, but humanity has always been able to harness new technologies’ benefits. The pace of technology development is faster than ever, and is almost exponential, he said, but society can figure out how to deal with it.

ICT IN 2030

Looking to 2030, Logvinov suggested that it is not just the IoT that will lead business innovation. The IoT will emerge as a ubiquitous platform, he said, helping to gather, interpret, and act upon vast amounts of information in a meaningful way, and that is likely to lead to new business models and societal trends.

IEEE employee Karen McCabe, senior director of IEEE Technology Policy and International Affairs, moderated the high-level policy session “WSIS Action Lines and the 2030 Agenda.” Action lines are concrete actions to be taken to achieve the summit’s goals. Speakers included Mexico’s CIO and the head of Turkey’s Information and Communications Technologies Authority. The group discussed the need to use open data to create new services and to establish a stable, transparent regulatory framework that is friendly to investment in infrastructure and based on competition.

One of the emerging trends the group shared was giving citizens the ability to suggest solutions to problems with government. Mexico’s open data policy, for example, was based on thousands of citizen comments. Opportunities for cooperation between stakeholders include deploying 5G; creating a stable, predictable, and transparent regulatory framework; and sharing best practices among states on the progress of their digital agendas. McCabe stressed the importance of a friendly platform for investment in infrastructure so that “we can enable new and emerging technologies that come into the ICT space.”

The outcomes of the WSIS sessions are being submitted to the Commission on Science and Technology, the U.N. General Assembly, and the ITU Council.

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