The Internet’s role as a catalyst for change in light of the turmoil sweeping North Africa and the Middle East, the exposure by WikiLeaks of confidential United States diplomatic cables and recent cyber-attacks are high on the agenda of a United Nations-backed meeting that began today.
Over 2,000 delegates from more than 100 countries, representing governments, the private sector, civil society, the Internet community, international organizations and the media, have converged on Nairobi, to examine cross-border challenges at the sixth meeting of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), set up to support Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in carrying out the mandate of the 2005 World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis.
“I hope the debate here will continue to refine our understanding of the appropriate local and international institutional arrangements,” Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs Sha Zukang told the opening session of the four-day meeting.
“Discussion on security, openness and privacy can be addressed in light of the increasing number of young users. At the same time, international cyber attacks are a growing concern,” he said in a message delivered by Thomas Stelzer, Assistant-Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs.
The main theme of this year’s meeting is “The Internet as a catalyst for change: access, development, freedoms and innovation,” with increased access leading to new development opportunities, freedoms and innovations, and debate focusing on refining understanding of the appropriate local and international institutional arrangements.
Discussion on security, openness and privacy will highlight the increasing number of young Internet users, in addition to internet security, cyber-crime and cloud governance in an attempt to make the Internet sustainable and a tool for positive change.
In some countries, more than 80 per cent of households now have Internet access, almost all of them through a broadband connection and many of them through mobile networks. The developing world increased its share of mobile subscriptions from 53 per cent in 2005 to 73 per cent in 2010, and access to mobile networks is now available to 90 per cent of the world’s population and 80 per cent of the rural population.
It is estimated that the number of people with Internet access at home increased from 1.4 billion in 2009 to almost 1.6 billion last year.
In his message, Mr. Sha stressed that the worldwide growth in the number of Internet users offers an opportunity to use it as a medium to achieve the Millennium Development (MDGs) that seek to slash hunger and poverty, maternal and infant mortality, a host of diseases and lack of access to education and health care, all by 2015, a recurring theme in discussions about information and communication technology (ICT).
“However, digital divides between developed and developing countries, and between urban and rural areas, remain prevalent. Access to ICT is also limited to disadvantaged populations, as well as persons with disabilities,” he said.