UN Digital Summit - IGF 2921: digital inequalities must be leveled

M. Kmieciński/PAP

The Global North and the Global South are divided by a civilization gap. Access to the Internet can be too expensive for people from less developed countries. But also in the wealthy countries, many still suffer from digital exclusion. The fourth day of the UN Digital Summit - IGF 2021 held in Katowice was devoted to providing equal development opportunities worldwide.

The session dedicated to the future of regulations affecting the Internet discussed current developments in the scope of data and content available on-line. Artificial intelligence was also addressed.


Finnish MEP, Miapetra Kumpula-Natri said that in the context of new EU regulations affecting the Internet, "the eternal question: whether or not to regulate continues to be asked." 

"Naturally, there are areas where progress would be impossible without regulations. Interoperability and data usage pose a significant challenge" - Miapetra Kumpula-Natri highlighted. 

The MEP reminded that the European Parliament and the European Council have agreed on DGA assumptions. She explained that the Regulation aims to ensure data markets' neutrality and facilitate specific public sector data reuse. 

"The new EU regulations aim to create a common European area for data about health, environment, public finance, and public administration. Therefore, we must do all we can to properly manage the data available on-line" - she emphasized.

As Vint Cerf, Google vice president pointed out, "we must ensure that personal data protection becomes our everyday reality." 

Cerf added that his company considers data protection as one of the critical areas and partners with operators to strengthen it. He referred to the new methods of user authentication when logging in to Google accounts and the company's stronger emphasis on the control of cookies.

According to Nighat Dad, Pakistani lawyer and Internet activist of the Digital Rights non-profit organization, a confrontation is needed of Internet regulations in the developed North and developing South. "The dissonance between Internet regulations must be eliminated," - Dad insisted.

During another debate, devoted to digital exclusion in many regions of the world, with particular focus on the so-called South, that is, countries below the Equator, experts discussed the main challenges faced by the global community from the perspective of developing countries. The moderator Henrique Faulhaber, director of the Brazilian IT company Calandra Solutions, reminded that the voice of the poor regions and societies was barely heard for decades and that events like the UN Digital Summit - IGF 2021 in Katowice must attract attention to their problems and postulates. 

"We need to realize that the digital world was built in the interest of the rich North countries, which created it. But billions of people still cannot use basic technologies, including accessing the Internet. Moreover, in today's world, where more and more elements affecting people and communities' development opportunities are located in the virtual domain, differences in countries and continents' wealth are further deepened" - Henrique Faulhaber stressed. 

Experts admitted that the global North and global South are divided by a massive development gap resulting in various economic and cultural discrepancies. The first step towards enabling the entire global population to use the Internet, which is the central postulate of the UN Digital Summit, is for political decision-makers and their societies to understand the perspective of those who live in historically and culturally different parts of the planet. 

"Differences between the US and Europe and, basically, the rest of the world, are reflected even in the basic problems connected with access to the Internet.  One of these is the price - for many inhabitants of the North, the cost of access is not a burden in any way, while for millions of people in South America and Africa same amounts are almost a fortune" - observed Aneta Wiewiórowska-Domagalska Ph.D., expert on European and consumer law. However, she also highlighted that the belief that all citizens of developed countries are wealthy is wrong - even in seemingly prosperous societies, many people still suffer from digital exclusion. 

During the debate on the next year's edition of the UN Digital Summit, which will take place in the Ethiopian capital Addis Abeba, Huria Ali Mahdi, Ethiopian Minister of digital affairs, observed that the African IGF will be a chance for showcasing the digital needs of the entire continent.

"We need to draft an agenda that will identify the new challenges in the context of digitization. We will also assess how we have been doing with digital transformation so far," - said the Minister. 

She believes that IGF 2022 in Ethiopia will show "the real digital needs of entire Africa." 

"IGF in Africa is not only about Ethiopian affairs. We will be discussing the needs of the whole continent. Africa needs open Internet. I hope that IGF 2022 will make Africa's voice heard," - she concluded.

The use of digitization and innovative technology is the hope for over 800 million people globally who live in poverty - admitted the experts in one of the UN Digital Summit's plenary sessions. According to them, common access to the effects of works of scientists and IT specialists designing new solutions to optimize, e.g., access to water and green energy production, can help the entire population avoid climate disaster.

"Digitization won't solve our civilization's problems overnight. But failure to act immediately will result in further climate change, causing the suffering of all regions. Disasters particularly strongly hit the countries of the poorer South, which do not have sufficient resources to ensure their citizens' safety" - appealed Juwang Zhu of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs. 

Another discussion panel organizer during the UN Digital Summit in Katowice was UNEP - UN Environment Programme focusing on acceleration and increasing the scale of actions for sustainable environmental development through the use of digital data, technologies, and solutions in the key actions, products, and services. In addition, Programme experts formulated a list of official recommendations on applying digital tools in environmental protection, for governments of all UN member states.

"As international community, we need to act together to invest in digital technologies - according to scientists, their skillful and widespread usage would lower global greenhouse gases emissions by 17 percent. Furthermore, in cooperation with the private sector and research institutions, ideas like smart cities and digital administration need to be developed to limit negative human impact on the environment and level the development opportunities between the rich North and poor South" - observed Przemysław Typiak of the Chancellery of the Prime Minister. 

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