The key to sustainable development: technology and an open, free, secure internet

The U.N.’s “Global Goals for Sustainable Development” emphasizes the need to use technology to eradicate extreme poverty in the 21st century. Access Now believes that having access to a secure, free, and open internet is critical to meeting these important sustainable development benchmarks.  

For that reason we recently submitted input to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a large, more than 150-year-old U.N. organization that promotes global technology standards and works to improve telecommunications infrastructure and policy in the developing world. An ITU working group, the Council Working Group on International Internet-related Public Policy Issues, is exploring issues related to building expansion of online capacity. We provided a submission to the group that evaluates and analyzes the factors that impact the quality of internet connectivity, versus only considering the number of connections. We identified a number of important recommendations for the ITU to consider. You can find our full submission here.

Our recommendations

We assert that are three main elements essential for promoting the expansion of online capacity:

   1.) Affordability
   2.) Quality
   3.) Security

According to the World Bank, 12.7% of the global population live on less than $1.90 per day, and a new report from the United Nations’ Broadband Commission estimates that 4.2B people do not have regular access to the internet globally. Secure, open access to broadband internet is essential to economic, social, and cultural growth, which has been attributed both to technology and access to information, particularly for Least Developed Countries (LDCs).

Access to the internet costs significantly more, relative to how much people make in these countries, yet the quality of internet service remains poor. This deters the people in the world’s least developed nations from using the internet and adopting an online lifestyle, which in turn affects earning potential and inclusion in society, as well as perpetuating wide-ranging social inequalities and injustice. You cannot exercise your rights in the digital age, unlocking the value of connectivity for development, if connecting to the internet is too expensive.

Our recommendations include:
    1.) “1 for 2,” or 1GB of data priced at 2% or less of average monthly income
    2.) Cost reduction of devices
    3.) Subsidies for promotion of public access
    4.) Capacity building programs
    5.) Increased transparency
    6.) Policy to align goals of stakeholders/institutions
   7.) Open source software and open licensing

Increased and higher-quality connectivity should go hand-in-glove with the build-out of a framework to ensure that governments protect human rights in the digital age. Access Now promotes openness and non-discriminatory access to the internet, and respect for the principles of Net Neutrality that help ensure the right to free expression online. Providing end-to-end connectivity, and educational programs that support digital literacy and a rights-based approach to digital communication, will promote adoption of the internet by communities and facilitate their social and economic empowerment.

Governments should take a human rights-based approach to information and communication technology (ICT) policies and practices.

Our recommendations include:

  1. Passing and implementing strong Net Neutrality regulation, which guarantees that all internet traffic is treated equally, no matter its sender, recipient, type, or content
  2. Developing and passing data protection regulation to safeguard the right to privacy in the digital age
  3. Adopting a policy to disallow shutting down the internet or throttling, disrupting, or otherwise restricting communications tools, even in times of conflict

This will promote open, nondiscriminatory, consistent, and rights-respecting access to the internet.

Governments should encourage continual strengthening of digital security across the public and private sectors. Security policy should promote, not obstruct, development and use of encryption tools and other technologies and services that are essential to mitigate threats to digital infrastructure and the privacy and security of personal communications. Governments should not only refrain from passing laws or implementing policies that threaten individual digital security, but should support measures to enhance it. This includes promoting open and rights-based privacy standards, and adopting and helping to strengthen the encryption technology used by telcos, internet service providers (ISPs), and other stakeholders.

Our recommendations include:

  1. ) Promotion of access to encryption and secure communications tools and technologies
  2. ) Elimination of data retention mandates and other disproportionate requirements to collect and store user data without a specific purpose or need
  3. ) Strictly circumscribing the use of deep packet inspection (DPI) and filtering tools to ensure respect for freedom of expression and privacy

Governments play a key role in building the public’s capacity to control how their data are shared and processed online. They should should pass and implement data protection regulations, offer and support digital literacy programs, and establish secure digital infrastructure and practices through open consultations.  

What’s next

Access Now is committed to continuing to raise the above issues, advocating on behalf of LDCs globally to safeguard digital rights. If you’d like to follow these issues at the ITU, you can dial-in to the ITU consultation meetings from Monday, October 10th to Friday, October 14th. You can also raise the issues with your local representatives in government, advocating for digital rights in your region.