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Combating cybercrime, connecting Africa, and supporting the young.

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) announced three major initiatives in May on World Information Society Day (WISD). The ITU, which was established in 1865, revealed a plan that will include an attack on cybercrime, new efforts to bridge the digital divide in Africa, and a strategy for investment in young people.

Action Plan to Beat Cybercrime

Last year, the ITU changed the name of the annual day that commemorates its founding from World Telecommunication Day (WTD) to World Information Society Day. The theme for the 2006 event--Promoting Global Cybersecurity--was continued at this year's ceremony on May 17 in Geneva. Last year, the ITU brought the issue into focus by releasing the results of a global opinion survey on users' trust in the security of online transactions. This year, the organization launched a 2-year agenda to tackle the problem.

Speaking at the ITU annual awards ceremony, ITU secretary-general Hamadoun Toure announced a Global Cybersecurity Agenda (GCA) based on the following five challenges:

* Finding technical solutions for every environment

* Developing interoperable legislative frameworks

* Building capacity in all the relevant areas

* Establishing appropriate organizational structures

* Adopting effective international cooperation mechanisms

The agenda recognizes the fact that cybercrime is a global problem that needs to be addressed with a coordinated global response. The goal of the agenda is to foster a common understanding of the importance of cybersecurity and to gather relevant stakeholders (governments, intergovernmental organizations, the private sector, and civil society) to work on concrete solutions to deal with cybercrime. This is important as criminals use weaknesses wherever they can be found and leverage them internationally. While there are a number of existing frameworks, they are enforceable only within geographical boundaries (national or regional). This leaves room for criminals to use loopholes to their advantage and in almost total impunity as they shift operations to countries where appropriate (and enforceable) laws are not yet in place.

At first sight, the goals of the agenda would appear to be dauntingly ambitious; however, with 191 member states and more than 700 nongovernmental members, the ITU has the breadth to ensure that a full range of interests are taken into account. The first action will be the creation of a High-Level Experts Group (HLEG), given the task of refining the goals, identifying emerging threats, and developing solutions. The HLEG will be expected to produce model legislation for interested countries, security criteria and accreditation schemes for software, an ID framework for recognizing citizens' digital credentials, as well as a host of strategies and frameworks to assist global cooperation. A dedicated GCAWeb site has been created within the ITU domain.

Connect Africa

A second ITU initiative announced by Toure is Connect Africa, a collaborative effort intended to meet the connectivity goals endorsed by world leaders at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS). The secretary-general said that it has become imperative to leverage ICT (information and communication technology) to rapidly mobilize the human, financial, and technical resources required to connect all cities and villages.

The ITU, the U.N. Global Alliance for Information and Communication Technologies and Development, The World Bank, the African Union, the African Development Bank, the African Telecommunication Union, and the U.N. Economic Commission for Africa are joining to launch Connect Africa, the first in a series of regional initiatives to help achieve the WSIS's connectivity goals. Connect Africa will be launched at a high-level gathering held Oct. 29-30 in Kigali, Rwanda, under the patronage of Paul Kagame, president of Rwanda.

The aim of Connect Africa is to accelerate partnerships and the rollout of ICT infrastructure and connectivity. This will include broadband as an essential precondition for ICT access and services to boost social and economic development in the region.

Although the occasion of WISD was used to launch two key initiatives on cybersecurity and African connectivity, the official theme for WISD 2007 was Connecting the Young. U.N. secretary-general Ban Ki-moon said in his WISD message: "Young people are among the most prolific and knowledgeable users of ICT. But the digital revolution is out of reach for many of them, especially young girls and women and people living in remote and underserved regions. I therefore urge policy-makers and industry leaders to put their minds together, and to work cooperatively with children and youth to produce suitable technologies, applications and services to facilitate access to information and communications technologies."

$1.6 Million Funding for ICT Education

In response to the call to support youth, HRH Sheikha Al-Mayassa Bint Hamad Al-Thani, princess of Qatar and the chair of the Reach Out to Asia Initiative, has launched a campaign with the ITU to support 250 new scholarships and 1,000 new internships in ICT to be funded by CHF 2 million ($1.6 million) over the next 3 years.

"I am very pleased to launch this campaign together with ITU and to promote access to ICT education and work opportunities for young people," Sheikha Al-Mayassa said. "It is essential that governments, industry, international organizations and civil society come together to help youth around the world participate in the social and economic development of their communities by leveraging the potential of education and information and communication technologies."

The ITU Youth program supports children and young people from developing countries through its Youth Education Scheme (YES). The scheme supports those who wish to complete their tertiary education in ICT and related fields and to contribute through their achieved knowledge to develop their communities, countries, and regions.

WISD is also when the ITU World Information Society Awards are presented. H. E. Margarita Cedeno de Fernandez, first lady of the Dominican Republic; Mitchell Baker, on behalf of Mozilla Corp. of the U.S.; and professor Mark Krivocheev of the Russian Federation are the 2007 laureates.

Cedeno de Fernandez was honored for her achievements in bringing ICT services to the poorest parts of the Dominican Republic. These services focus on programs that include women and young girls. The Mozilla Corp. was awarded for the development of world-class, open source, fully standards-compliant Internet technologies and applications. Krivocheev received a lifetime award for his work in developing subjective assessments of the quality of television pictures, in particular, high-definition television (HDTV).

A Watchdog for ICT Policy Implementation

The "Global Information Society Watch 2007 Report" is the first report issued by a new watchdog group that monitors the implementation and follow-up of key international agreements about ICT policies and their relationship to development (including the WSIS). This report is produced by a joint initiative of the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) and The Third World Institute (ITeM). The first issue of this annual report focuses on the ICT policy situation in 22 countries from four regions: Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Eastern Europe, plus one Western European country, Spain. The theme of the report is participation, with three interrelated goals: surveying the state of the field of ICT policy at the local and global levels, encouraging critical debate, and strengthening networking and advocacy for a just and inclusive information society.

The report concludes that there are some conspicuous similarities between the countries when it comes to ICTs for development. Excluding Spain, the other 21 countries each show obvious evidence of the "digital divide," which has a negative impact on the majority of people.

In addition to the situation in individual countries, the report assesses the performance of five international institutions: the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), ITU, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

The report, which is critical of these institutions, finds that although the WSIS certainly created a shared forum and that convergence in thinking did take place, "old divergences, however, in the end dictated a meagre outcome in policy terms. The limited engagement of non-ICT/telecoms policy-makers and especially of those concerned with development, the absence of any new funding, and the containment of proposals and commitments within a narrow range favoured by corporate and Northern interests meant that those institutions charged with moving forward after Tunis in December 2005 are facing a very challenging task."

The authors, Anriette Esterhuysen (APC) and Roberto Bissio (ITeM), justify the need for a watchdog and the associated report in this statement: "Increase in access to ICTs will not, by itself, reduce poverty or secure freedoms on a sustainable basis. But there is a real danger that lack of access to ICTs, and to the spaces where decisions are made about information and communications infrastructure, content and services, can deepen existing social exclusion and create new forms of exclusion."

Jim Ashling runs Ashling Consulting, an independent consultancy for the information industry. His email address is Send your comments about this column to


International Telecommunication Union (ITU)

Global Cybersecurity Agenda

Global Information Society Watch
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Title Annotation:International Telecommunication Union
Author:Ashling, Jim
Publication:Information Today
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2007
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