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What’s happening with our data? Securing trust in digital public services

telecomworld 2019 Daily Highlights Day 2

A diverse panel spanning ministers, vice ministers, regulators and representatives from international organizations across the globe exchanged views on privacy, data and the wider digital transformation.

Moderator Malcolm Johnson, Deputy Secretary General, ITU opened debate by asking panellists about the challenges of ushering in the digital transformation, privacy and planning for future.

In Mali, the digital economy has become an integral part of the government’s future planning. In privacy terms, however, the government is still grappling with a number of challenges, including how to protect the privacy of citizens who barely understand, in certain cases, why technology is even likely to be beneficial to them. As a part of its planning for the future, explained Kamissa Camara, Minister, Ministère de l’Economie numérique et de la Communication, the government has to first build awareness, so that citizens understand the basics of technology and its potential impact. Until this understanding and awareness has been established “data protection takes the back seat,” she explained.

Iraq faces major setbacks in keeping up with the progress the rest of the world has encountered during the past 40 years, following 4 devastating wars and 14 years of crippling sanctions. Despite this hardship, the country has “embarked upon and continue a process of digital transformation of our society, government, and economy.” explained Naeem Th. Yousir, Iraq’s Minister of Communications. This has resulted in 90% mobile penetration rate, with over 19 million internet connected. The government has plans to cover 82% of households with FTTH and is also in the process of introducing 4G, as well as a host of other e-government services such as digital certificates and signatures as well as registrations of births and deaths and looking into registration of real estate, other assets as well as companies. The government  also sees GDPR is an important step in the right direction for protecting personal data. The world community will benefit from adopting a common standard for data protection, which GDPR can be the initial template, he explained.

Lack of trust among citizens is a key challenge for Zimbabwe, and concerns about data security stand in the way of trust. Citizens can be unwilling to interact with digital devices, a major barrier to adoption of new services. A lack of legislation is also an issue, as the government needs to “connect legislation with consumer data protection, ” explained Kazembe Kazembe, Zimbabwe’s Minister of Information Communication Technology, Postal and Courier Services. But even with legislation in place, “how enforceable are these, and how detectable is no data compliance?” he asked. The answers are centrally coordinated ICT initiatives, such as ECOWAS, and, crucially, the correct policy and legislation. “Policy and legislation are key mechanisms governments should pursue in order to address trust and security in digital transformation,”he explained.

Three aspects go hand in hand for digital transformation in North Macedonia. First, legislation – and here the country has just adopted a raft of laws in areas such as network and critical infrastructure. Then, the right technology needs to be adopted, and lastly consumers need to be educated and motivated to use services such as e-services or electronic identity. These three require input not just from governments but other stakeholders too. “Governments need cooperation with the industry, civil society – the institutions themselves cannot do this,” explained Damjan Manchevski, Minister, Ministry of Information Society and Administration, North Macedonia.

For Elmir Tofig Oglu Velizadeh, Deputy Minister, Ministry of Transport, Communications and High Technologies, Azerbaijan, a key challenge is the processes for collecting and using data efficiently as we move into an age of big data, particularly as data is generated by more and more devices. The right skillset is also need to interpret this data.

“Technology assists us to improve service delivery, but it also makes us plan better,” explained Pinky Kekana, Deputy Minister, Ministry of Communications and Digital Technologies, South Africa. Having the capacity to plan, build and be responsive to people is crucial. Here, modernization of services such as health has generated more useful data, which has helped with future planning. Nevertheless, ensuring the data is safely stored is also a key priority for governments.

For Singapore, ensuring trust is crucial in a digital transformation, but an increase in data breaches has eroded this. Keng Thai Leong, Deputy Chief Executive, Singapore’s InfoComm Media Development Authority also noted the common concern, echoed in a number of Forum sessions, of the regulatory balancing act; not “stifling” innovation with regulation on the one hand, whilst still protecting the needs of consumers on the other. Here laws compelling data localization are a good example: they protect consumers but could also potentially undermine startup innovation relying on data localization. In terms of governance and ethics on use of data, decisions taken must be transparent, fair and most of all human-centric. He highlighted the challenge of cross border data flows as one area where stakeholders need to come together, and find innovative policy solutions.

With 1.2bn mobile users and 600m internet users, India has a vibrant data market. The Indian government’s Digital India policy has focused first on getting the infrastructure in place, as connectivity is so essential for any digital growth. For Ram Sewak Sharma, Chairman of India’s TRAI, digital identity is at the base of establishing digital trust. He cited three Cs essential for successful digital transactions: cost, convenience and confidence. Users need to be empowered to control their own data, he told delegates. “Let me not talk about how my data can be misused but how I can use my data,” he said. The concept of data “portability”- controlling and managing one’s own data – is to be placed into new data protection laws, as “the person who owns the data is the empowered guy,” he explained.

Today, pressing high-level issues such as climate change, unsustainable consumption as well as privacy and security are high on the global agenda, but for Luis Neves, CEO, GeSI these are all interconnected, and he feels that technology will have the answer to many of these challenges.

Comprising developed countries, LDCs and LLDs, the Commonwealth countries each have different levels of development, although one key challenge for all is connectivity, said Gisa Fuatai Purcell, Acting Secretary General and director, ICT development CTO.  Privacy is a concern, but CTO also sees a lack of awareness that data is “information, an asset and should be protected.” Users need to feel safe that their data is secure, but one challenge for governments is monitoring to ensure that organizations store it safely.  

Johnson asked for final words from the panel on some of the key themes which had cropped up in the session including collaboration, awareness and regulatory balance.

ITU and a number of other key national and regional organizations already help countries forge effective frameworks and share codes of good practice, noted panelists. For Zimbabwe, a harmonization of the laws and regulations governing data protection are essential moving forward. North Macedonia’s Manchevski also called for more online privacy public awareness raising campaigns.

Governments must cooperate with all stakeholders, including the private sector, according to Azerbaijan’s Elmir Tofig Oglu Velizadeh. No single entity can resolve major issues such as cybersecurity alone, said Leong. Neves agreed on the need to bring all stakeholders to the table, to  develop criteria to ensure companies take responsibility and are measured.

Summing up, Johnson stressed the importance of dialogue between stakeholders, to move towards harmonized regulatory frameworks, adopt the right standards and address the delicate balance between privacy and security.