Third Parliamentary Forum on Shaping the Information Society

By Mr. Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs

Honourable Members of Parliament,
Distinguished guests and participants,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Welcome to the Third Parliamentary Forum on Shaping the Information Society. It is good to see so many Governments represented here today and I thank you for joining us at this important event.

By meeting here we aim to identify good parliamentary practices for strengthening ICT policies and programmes during this time of economic crisis. In doing so we will contribute to the goals of the World Summit on the Information Society and we will help shape the way that information technology changes our world and our future.

I wish to express special gratitude to Hamadoun Toure, the Secretary General of the International Telecommunication Union, for hosting this three-day Forum. Both Hamadoun and Anders Johnsson, Secretary General of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, are good friends of mine from my years in Geneva as the Permanent Representative from China to the UN. Hamadoun and Anders, I look forward to forging stronger ties among our organizations.

Honorable Members of Parliament,

In this information age that we live in today, information and communications technology has revolutionized the way that we do business. ICT innovations have become engines that fuel economies. All stages of bringing a product to market have been affected – from product creation to marketing and delivery. It has transformed the ways in which suppliers and consumers connect with each other. It has erased local, regional and national boundaries and borders that once limited commerce.

The Internet, of course, has been central. Today, the number of people online has surpassed one and a half billion – a quarter of the world’s population. The Internet is now an essential way for many people to stay connected with each other, to find information, to shop and to run businesses. Furthermore, it has forever changed the ways in which citizens interact with their governments – one can pay taxes online, register for social benefits and communicate with politicians.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Despite the breathtaking inventions and progress that have emerged from information communications technology, there are, of course, some downsides. Some people have abused technology. New types of crimes exist today. The Internet and ICT in general have increased the ways in which people can commit fraud and compromise security systems. Some of these crimes result from lax regulations and policies that govern the fast-paced, ever-changing technology spheres at the national and international levels. Governments and the international community, therefore, need to plan cohesive, effective strategies for protecting citizens against those who abuse technology. Some of you are from governments that have made great strides in this regard. I hope that you can share your experiences and best practices in the upcoming days.

In addition to regulatory measures against cyber-crime, many of your governments are using technology for administrative and operational purposes that were unheard of just a few years ago. Indeed, the use of ICT for public service delivery has exploded. It has transformed the way governments and parliaments operate, from simple programmes like email to large complex systems that now manage your national treasuries and agencies.

The 2010 edition of the United Nations e-Government Survey underscored the accelerated pace at which technological change is happening in governments. The current economic crisis may have contributed to this spike. We have all felt the need to work more efficiently and effectively due to scarce resources and looming uncertainty about the future.

Ladies and gentlemen there is an ever-larger role, therefore, for parliaments to play in developing sound policies that benefit your governments and the international community. You are critical in designing and implementing effective regulatory measures. You can develop the legal frameworks that promote competition, that extend telecommunication services to under-served communities and that curb the social and economic costs of cybercrime.

The Board of the Global Centre for ICT in Parliament can serve as your guide in these strategies. The Global Centre was created as a collective effort between my Department, the Inter-Parliamentary Union and a group of national and regional parliaments. It facilitates collaboration among all relevant actors – parliaments, donors, international organizations and civil society organizations.

In May 2008, the Global Centre organized the First Parliamentary Forum/ Major policies and legislative approaches were identified and the groundwork for future collaboration was laid.

Later in 2008, the Global Centre held the Second Parliamentary Forum. Parliamentarians exchanged information and approaches related to online child protection, cybercrime and individual privacy in the age of Web 2.0 applications – such as social networking sites.

The Global Centre for ICT in Parliament leads other projects as well. It conducts surveys of national assemblies and their ICT capacities. It has started to develop a legal repository of emerging ICT issues. This repository contains legislation from over 70 countries on issues such as online child protection, cybercrime and freedom of information.

Distinguished guests and participants,

In March 2009 the Global Centre created a ten-year framework with policy and technology goals.

A central goal of that framework is to advance the “Information Society.” As you know, at World Summits in 2003 and 2005, leaders set out a vision of an “Information Society” – that is to say a world in which technology would be used to benefit all people, especially the poor and most vulnerable. We have a collective responsibility toward the WSIS commitments. As legislators, you have an especially important role in attaining them. Please make them part of this Forum. The discussions here and the resulting report will affect preparations for the WSIS Forum next week and for the 2015 WSIS Review.

Thank you in advance for contributing to the dynamic discussions and debates of the next few days. Your input, feedback and shared best practices are needed, especially as they relate to the economic crisis. I hope that this Third Parliamentary Forum can help you and your fellow colleagues cope with the economic crisis through guidance and best practices on ICT policies. And I hope that our collective work here and at the WSIS Forum next week will move us closer to a true, global information society in which the benefits of technology touch everyone.

I wish you a successful event.