How to Restore Confidence in the New Digital World?

14:25 23.11.2022 • Rashid Ismailov , VimpelCom president, Russian nominee for Secretary General of the International Telecommunication Union

Rashid Rustamovich, the ITU Secretary General election was held. Your competitor was a representative of the US. The election campaign is always a challenge. Can we assume that in the current conditions your competitors fought without rules against you?

This September the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference has elected a new ITU Governance for the next four-year term. Houlin Zhao (PRC), the present Secretary General, will resign at the beginning of 2023.

In the course of the election campaign the main competition was conducted between the candidates from Russia and the US. It is noteworthy that our countries have polar views on the ITU development; and unfortunately, foreign-policy contradictions enter the Union’s agenda. At this background virtually military propaganda against the candidate from Russia was launched.

Judging by your electoral program, you know exactly how to manage the work of the ITU for its development and prosperity.

Yes, I do. I know what to do or, rather, what it’s necessary to do being the ITU Head. I understand perfectly well interests of the countries which need the development of their own telecommunications infrastructure, but also, I understand where the world heads and what is the current theme of the ICT.

You’ve got a great practical experience in this sphere, haven’t you?

Yes, my thirty years’ experience (this is a competitive combination of practical experience both in the private and public sectors, as well as in the ITU) allows me to understand needs and interests of representatives both of businesses and states, as well as the knowledge of the ITU organization and functioning.

I participated in building cellular networks through Russia and in CIS, worked at the Ministry of Communication, where we successfully developed the program of access to connectivity in distant settlements of Russia. I was director general of “Nokia Rossiya”, director general of IT-startup for Internet-security and then was President of one of federal mobile operators of Russia. At the same time, I did not leave issues of state and global regulation out of my sight. My program “Five Steps to the ICT Humanization” is the result of this experience.

The important part of my life experience is my work at the Ministry of Communication and Mass Media, though it lasted but for six years. Also, at the same time, I was head of the Russian delegation at the ITU. In 2018, I was elected Chairman of the ITU Council and conducted this high-level event highly professionally taking into consideration the interests of all the Member States of the ITU Council.

What goals and tasks would you set in front of the ITU for the nearest future?

In the nearest future the ITU is to play a significant role in leading the work on standardizing technologies and making recommendations for the broadest scope of application.

It is noteworthy that opening new horizons of possibilities digital technologies are at the same time challenges to the global society being more serious than the prior ones, because they possess a colossal potential for changing age-old styles of life. This problem is so comprehensive that countries cannot solve it separately. This is the challenge for the mankind.

How to restore confidence in the new digital world? This seems to be the most important question. The goal is not “the development for the development sake” but improving the quality and security of human life, efficiency of labor activity, ensuring the guarantee of the development (training, self-development) despite turbulent turns of technological progress.

Digital technologies being left unprotected in “free” Internet have currently been compromised. The only way to restore confidence in them is coordinated and targeted work of all the countries.

In the course of technological development, the security problem becomes more acute. The application of 5G networks transmits the security problem to a new “Severity Level”. Now fraud in solutions with application of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) may threaten users’ life and health (e.g., driverless cars, robotic plants, telemedicine), but not only their personal data. The growing spectrum of production processes can be destabilized remotely by either manipulating production protocol or simply by overloading technical process through DDoS-attacks.

Now it is clearly seen that the desire to make technologies as accessible and dissipated as possible has shifted the focus from the main component of the whole system (i.e., humans with their values and rights) having laid a large conflict potential, which is giving rise to a new luddism. It turns out that technologies are easy to be made to serve corporative or state manipulations.

The chief challenge of modernity is the problem how to reconcile humans with the new digital world created for them. Progress cannot be stopped. In the nearest future we will have not only to formulate but also to solve the whole spectrum of problems.

It seems that one of the main problems to solve immediately is international standardization.

Yes, international standardization is a very serious factor of success, but these efforts must extend beyond technical issues.

It is necessary to create common international rules for driverless cars, autonomous physical and virtual systems with the elements of artificial intelligence at the level of both technical regulations and ethical codes.

The ITU role must be strategic, determining, visionary, but not bureaucratic one, belonging to a unipolar world, disinterested in international development.

For all that, what must the ITU do first and foremost?

The ITU must do its duty, the duty of the international organization of such a high level. We must develop international norms and standards to determine the future life of the entire digital world. It means, to determine the interaction of entirely digital governments, the regulations in the application of technologies toward human life, the security of human rights of people with entirely digital identity, the interaction of these digital identities. These are the most complicated issues which seem to be least cared about so far, because they resemble texts of fantastic novels.

The regulation of the digital sphere is like the World Air Code, like the Outer Space Code, like the agreement on the use of space resources. No country can have its own goals there, but only common ones, because we interact on the same field and on equal terms.

Do you think the current ITU is ready to manage the issues of the future? Or is it necessary to reform the Union?

You are right asking the question of the necessity to reform the organization. I think it is a question of the ITU administrative model; its reform proposes a two term limits for the Union elected positions irrespective of the transition from one position to another (this requirement does not extend to present positions).

This is conditioned by the desire to attract new participants to the Union. This need is long overdue. It’s no secret that since its establishment only 24 countries nominated their candidates for elected positions.

The distributed participation of Member States in the ITU management looks like this: France - 10, Switzerland - 9, the US - 4, Germany - 3, the United Kingdom - 3, Tunisia -2, Russia - 1, China - 1, Japan - 1, India - 1, the Republic of Korea - 1, Indonesia - 1, Australia - 1, Mali - 1, Burkina Faso - 1, Cameroon - 1, Kenia - 1, Saudi Arabia - 1, Uruguay - 1, Canada - 1, Brazil - 1, Argentine - 1, Netherlands - 1, Finland - 1.

It means that 169 Member States have been left behind; they could not participate in the Union management, which testifies greatly to the existing geographical balance (or disbalance) of the international process. It’s hardly possible to consider this situation positive, taking into account that ICT has the strongest influence on economies of these countries.

At the same time, the restriction of repeated elections of the same person is the basic principle of the alteration of power having a significant importance in modern politics.

The thing is that constant promotion (or shift) from one position to another by the same employees every time reduces the possibilities for the rest. At the same time, the union objectively needs “fresh blood”. The ITU administration’s average age gives the reason to think of the necessity to attract the youth and create conditions for their development. They were born in the world of new technologies. They must become the guides of interests and culture of the new generations.

The application of efficient measures meant for upgrading skills and promotion of the youth, the encouragement of tutorship and the use of elder experts’ experience, the attraction of trainees with regard to geographical and gender balance are objectives of the union’s further development.

The rotation of the elected positions represented by qualified people from different countries will increase the geographical presence and expert level.

My efforts will be directed toward the comprehensive strengthening of the union pursuing real practical interaction with every ITU Member State, as well as with other organizations participating in the Union activities.

For vast majority of the countries the digital sovereignty level does not permit to aspire to the independent role in the global information environment. What to do with this?

Unfortunately, the exclusively market principles of the network functioning give rise to the situation when the global information space can develop the harmful environment for the users.

In the absence of the efficient International Legal Framework, it becomes the space of global information- and cyber-war without rules.

It is important to correct the imperfection of the international legal base which sometimes comes to the principles of free information dissemination, sometimes is treated as a mechanism to ensure dominance.

At the same time, it is necessary to consider fundamental differences of Internet from the existing systems and structures and avoid to copy mechanically well-known methods of the offline world to manage Internet. It is necessary to develop the existing experiences and build new management techniques.

In the current situation the states must act proceeding both from the consideration of preserving their own sovereignty and from understanding global character of Internet and information society.

The appeals to digital sovereignty are heard in many different countries, also in liberal democracies. The approaches of most states have become more pragmatic. Their practicality is grounded either on the desire to get equal access to the new technologies or to preserve leading positions in the sphere.

But the digital sovereignty does not magically emerge, if its attribute is a line in a list of names; it originates, if there are real opportunities to create one’s own platform solutions and infrastructure management, such as technologies and means to prevent cyber-attacks.

The infrastructure sovereignty is first and foremost the operating status of a network, even in the case of a catastrophic power failure of the main cross-border channels. This is not the isolation of the global network, but the insurance against problems.

Today ICT exerts decisive influence on national and global development and determines the degree of the sovereignty comparable with nuclear technologies of the 1940s or space rocket technologies in 1950s, 1960s, 1970s.

The current and (in a greater degree) future face of the world is determined with the development level and the adoption rate of the newest information technologies, such as virtual finances, artificial intelligence, big data, etc. In recent years, leaders of many states see more threats than opportunities for their economies, finances and cultures from cross-border information flows.

Our world has changed, and we must adapt to the new reality.


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