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Information technology can transform countries, Estonian President tells UN debate

President Toomas Hendrik Ilves of Estonia addresses  the General Assembly.
UN Photo/J Carrier
President Toomas Hendrik Ilves of Estonia addresses the General Assembly.

Information technology can transform countries, Estonian President tells UN debate

At the United Nations General Assembly today, the President of Estonia, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, highlighted the immense opportunities offered by information and communication technologies (ICTs) to advance development and promote good governance, citing examples from his own country’s experience.

The information revolution has assisted Estonia in rapidly transforming itself into a democratic society based on the rule of law, President Ilves said in his address to the 67th Assembly’s General Debate, which began at UN Headquarters in New York on Tuesday.

He said that Estonia was the first country where people could cast their vote online in parliamentary and municipal elections. Also, this year, over 90 per cent of the country’s taxpayers filed annual income tax returns via the Internet. A range of electronic services, including e-government and e-medical prescriptions, have increased transparency and helped to reduce corruption and costs.

“More importantly, however, they have increased the possibility to exercise fundamental rights and freedoms and improve inclusive and responsible governance,” said the President.

Noting that millions remain in poverty around the globe, despite the world’s best efforts, he noted that the information technology transformation will create massive opportunities. “We must, however, avoid a digital divide that would stymie this historic chance to accelerate the development in all parts of the world,” he said.

The Estonian leader voiced concern about the gap between the “digital haves and have-nots,” especially since his country was among those that have “leapt into modernity and transparency” by investing in information technology.

“New information and communication technologies have the potential to trigger the next Industrial Revolution. But governments cannot achieve it all alone,” he stated, adding that those expanding the range of global knowledge networks are key partners in fighting poverty and creating a more transparent economy. Governments, however, must provide a secure and fruitful environment for these sorts of ideas to emerge and prosper.

“Twenty-one years after restoring our independence, Estonia is an example where a combination of responsible free enterprise, E-governance, international partnerships and eco-friendly policies can put you in the fast lane of development,” he said.

President Ilves also said that too many countries speak about the dangers of a free Internet from a security perspective.

“The truth is that cybersecurity is needed to prevent oppressive governments and criminals wreaking havoc,” he said. “It is not to prevent peaceful individuals from speaking their minds or gathering information and exchanging ideas.”

Despite having experienced “extensive” cyberattacks, he added, Estonia does not support more rigid regulation and censorship in cyberspace, but is committed to an open, secure and reliable Internet.

The Estonian President is one of scores of national leaders and other high-level officials who are presenting their views and comments on issues of individual national and international relevance at the Assembly’s General Debate, which ends on 1 October.