UNDP at The Guardian’s ACTIVATE 2013 meeting

UNDP Administrator will be participating in this annual meeting (http://www.guardian.co.uk/media-network/activate) and we got a request for speaking points on governance and privacy. Below is what I submitted.

Role of ICTs in building open and responsive institutions

1. In the last decade we have witnessed the explosive growth of new ICTs particularly mobile technologies and social networks. While the emerging middle class in the South has quickly jumped on the latter, mobile penetration certainly overshadows them. Recent estimates indicates that there are close to 5 billion mobile subscribers in the developing world alone, an unprecedented number -and one that closely links to Target 18 of the MDGs, access to ICTs for all, which will indeed be achieved by 2015.

2. But we need to look beyond these impressive numbers. For millions if not billions, the opportunity to have their voices heard in the public sphere is a reality, for the first time. The voiceless can finally have a voice in decision making processes that can directly affect their own lives. This is in fact now happening in many countries as we have seen from recent social movements all around the globe -the latest being Brazil and Turkey. Crowdsourcing, or the wisdom of the crowds, is just one example of this trend.

3. We thus see an impressive growth on the demand side of the governance equation. That is, stakeholders, citizens and people from all sectors are now starting to engage in the public sphere by leaps and bounds and, in many cases, demanding action by governments on social and economic issues that affect them . The question is: what are governments doing about this?

4. As it happened with the emergence of the Internet 20 years ago, developing country governments have reacted slowly and carefully to these new developments. While some have indeed taken action (India, Kenya for example), most are still mulling their options. But there is not doubt that these new developments provide governments with a wonderful opportunity to directly engage with citizens and encourage their participation in various processes, while striving to further advance the transparency and accountability of public institutions.

5. We now speak of Open Government instead of e-government. And the global Open Government Partnership which now includes more than 60 countries is one example of this. Open means that to improve responsiveness governments must directly engage with the people, listen and collaborate with them, build multi-stakeholder partnerships and ensure development gaps are closed and priorities are backed by public and private investments. And ICTs can play an innovative role here by facilitating access to public services and information, while empowering stakeholders who can now have a larger say in policy making, implementation of public programmes and assessing public investments via social audits for example.

6. For governments this is also a unique opportunity to be able to capture, analyze and react to public demands. If for example governments have the capacity to crowdsource key development areas and use big data analytics to design policies, implement programmes based on local priorities and needs, and assess their impact then they will also benefit as citizens can see the tangible results of public investments which in turn respond to local needs.

7. Being that as it may, this is not a technology issue only. While ICTs can certainly provide fertile ground to trigger transformation within government and between governments and citizens, political will needs to be there as well as the institutional mechanisms (within existing rule of law contexts) that ensure that citizens voices are part and parcel of key development decision-making process. Only in this fashion we can empower people and build long term resilient societies.

NSA and privacy

1. Recent revelations about the use of new ICTs to monitor the use of Internet platforms in democratic societies remind us that the power of the new technologies can also have unintended consequences that can shake some of the internationally agreed principles we all cherish. We at UNDP are aware that technologies are not neutral and thus their use needs to be contextualized according to local and national realities.

2. The recent NSA leaks brings back to the forefront a key issue that seems to have been in the backburner of most ICT discussions: the governance of ICTs, the mechanisms that governments and other sectors (as is the case for example with Global Internet Governance) set in place to oversee the use of new ICTs. Here we go back to issues regarding transparency and specially accountability.

3. There is not doubt that security is a key issue in the current global context. It is thus not surprising that many countries are now investing in cybersecurity platforms -while at the same time trying to prevent a potential global cyberwarfare. The question here is: what are the adequate governance mechanisms that should be in place to manage such platforms, specially in democratic societies? In other words, who is watching the watchers? who should watch them?

4. There is thus need to balance security, privacy and accountability. And democratic societies have a better chance of establishing the governance mechanisms to preserve such a balance without having to go overboard. Let us not forget either that privacy is one of those international principles which is enshrined in the UN declaration of Human Rights. It should thus lead the process, not be its first victim.

Cheers, Raúl

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