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The International Telecommunications Union (Special Committee)

The International Telecommunications Union is the United Nations specialized agency for information and communications technologies. ITU enables the information, communication and technology (ICT) sector to broker agreements on technologies, services, and allocation of global resources to create a seamless global communications system that’s robust, reliable, and constantly evolving. The ITU is governed by the Plenipotentiary Conference, the supreme decision making organ that determines the direction and activities of the ITU. The three main areas of activity in the ITU are radio communications, standardization, and development. 

Telecommunication/information and communication technology accessibility for persons with disabilities and persons with specific needs Telecommunication/information and communication technology accessibility for persons with disabilities and persons with specific needs

Innovations in information and communications technologies (ICTs) facilitate the social, cultural, political and economic integration of individuals living with disabilities into society. Over one billion people live with a disability, and ICTs such as the Internet and mobile phones serve as valuable tools in promoting digital inclusion. They expand access to key public services and connect others in a community. ICTs can enable distance learning for access to education when there may not be local infrastructure to support their development. The advent of mobile phones has promoted the independent living of persons with disabilities. For persons with disabilities, ICT services can be made further accessible through both computer-based and web-based accessibility applications such as screen readers, speech recognition, video communication (for sign language communication and video relay interpretation), voice to text services (open and closed captioning, both realtime and embedded) and visual assistance. 

However, people with disabilities often lack the same ability to access to these technologies as people without disabilities. This can be due to the need for special adaptations to the technology, the relegation of persons with disabilities in some societies and difficulties in accessing persons with disabilities in the global south. Even as technologies like the Internet gain more users, persons with disabilities and special needs are disproportionately left out of the digital revolution. Yet access to ICTs could significantly help them by connecting people to their communities and finding resources and services. The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) seeks to ensure that ICTs are equally accessible to all people, regardless of their abilities. 

The United Nations has taken multiple steps to promote access to ICTs for people with disabilities. The 2006 Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) pronounces that States Parties shall promote access for persons with disabilities to new information and communications technologies and systems. Article 9 of the CRPD calls upon Member States to adopt laws, legislation and regulations that support the integration of accessible ICTs into society. Yet, progress has been limited. One of the results of the 2013 high-level meeting of the General Assembly on disability and development was the Global Consultation Report on ICTs and Disability. The report highlighted how policies relating to ICTs and accessibility may be present within the legislative frameworks of Member States, but lack strong accompanying regulations to ensure these policies are enforced throughout Member States’ jurisdictions.

Global accessibility to information technology is a topic of increasing importance given ever-advancing technological capabilities. In 2014, the Plenipotentiary Conference of the ITU adopted Resolution 175, which set the Connect 2020 agenda to promote inclusiveness in accessibility to ICTs. Resolution 175 also considered how the United Nations’ approach to rights for persons with special needs has evolved from one focused on health and welfare to an approach based on the promotion of human rights. Embracing this mindset, the Connect 2020 agenda outlined the accessibility goals of the ITU in concurrence with Article 9 of the United Nations Charter and the Sustainable Development Goals, such as quality education for all, reduced inequalities and promoting peace, justice and strong institutions. In 2015, the United Nations General Assembly expressed its intention to foster greater accessibility to those with disabilities through international institutions and its Member States. A smooth transition into a world which fully supports those living with disabilities will require collaboration between Member States and international institutions that work on accessibility to ICTs. The General Assembly also encourages Member States to promote self-representation of persons with disabilities when revising internal policies and laws to ensure their experiences and worldview are fully included.

ICT accessibility in educational and developmental environments for persons with disabilities and special needs continues to be an area of policy expansion. The United Nations Secretary-General published a report in October 2018 to revisit previous resolutions on accessibility to information technology and inclusive development for the disabled and other special-needs persons. The report outlines the United Nations’ commitment to disability inclusiveness and pushes for an overall enablement of persons with disabilities to mainstream the rights, needs and participation of persons with disabilities in all areas of development. While the United Nations Secretary-General and the General Assembly have provided thorough thought-leadership on disability inclusiveness, implementation, especially in developing countries, where persons with disabilities are often hidden members of society, can be difficult to enact. 

Looking forward, the 2030 Agenda promotes extended goals and provisions found in the Connect 2020 agenda. Many current efforts focus on expanding accessibility to ICTs for people with special needs and disabilities through broader analysis and information collection on the subject, yet action is needed on implementing the findings of these studies. The United Nations and ITU are currently looking to expand their reach, as well as the participation of Member States, in administering public policy conducive to telecommunication and ICT accessibility in civic and educational development. Rapid technology change can be a hindrance or an opportunity for persons with disabilities, but it depends on how the international community reacts to their implementation. The ITU might consider innovative ways to promote cooperation between governments, the private sector and other relevant organizations to support the proliferation of affordable and accessible ICTs. Certain challenges persist, including a lack of access to ICT accessibility technologies that are both affordable, available in a plethora of languages spoken throughout the world and that can reach persons in rural areas. Many countries lack a dedicated general ICT infrastructure and must consider what resources they can allocate to this issue as part of an overarching strategy to make a population more ICT accessible. 

Questions or Issues to Consider:

  • How might rapid technological innovation hinder accessibility to ICTs for persons with disabilities and persons with specific needs? How can the ITU mitigate this implication?
  • What role do governments play in facilitating the introduction of accessible ICTs to persons with disabilities? What about the role of the private sector or civil society organizations?
  • How does a lack of dedicated general ICT infrastructure within developing Member States exacerbate the challenges faced by persons with disabilities?

Bibliography Bibliography

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Cybersecurity Cybersecurity

Cybersecurity aims to strengthen the integrity, confidentiality and accessibility of information systems, ultimately raising public trust in digital systems. The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) pursues cybersecurity through a triad of policy, technical and educational measures. As information and communications technologies (ICTs) continue to spread across the globe, preserving digital security is an ever-growing challenge. Globally, 4,000 ransomware attacks occur and 230,000 new malware samples are produced daily, yet only 38 percent of Member States have published a cybersecurity strategy. As of 2018, the global cost of cybercrime has reached as much as $600 billion annually, approximately 0.8 percent of the global GDP. Cyber criminals exploit the privacy and interconnectedness provided by the internet, therefore attacking the foundation of the modern information society and degrading trust in communication systems. The ITU considers cybersecurity an interdisciplinary topic connected to its Telecommunication Standardization Sector, which supports the functioning, interoperability and security of the world’s telecommunications infrastructure.

In December 2001, the United Nations General Assembly recognized how the proliferation of ICTs has amplified the number of ways criminals can commit cybercrimes. This resolution highlighted the need for collaboration in order to address the criminal misuse of ICTs and advanced the conversation between Member States. In 2003, the General Assembly encouraged the creation of global culture of cybersecurity. The General Assembly notes that the provision of essential goods and services, the conduct of business, the exchange of information and the functioning of government all face a growing risk of disruption from malicious actors. While the General Assembly identified several elements encompassing a global culture of cybersecurity, it did not prescribe how to inculcate such a culture. 

In 2003, the inaugural World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) identified cybersecurity as a topic of importance, stressing building confidence in the security and safety of using ICTs. The ITU launched the Global Cybersecurity Agenda (GCA) in 2007 to promote confidence and security in the information society. GCA identified five pillars that are essential for future cybersecurity development: legal measures, technical measures, organizational structures, capacity building and international cooperation. This included examining how criminal activities against ICTs could be dealt with through legislation in an internationally compatible manner, addressing vulnerabilities in software products, and considering generic frameworks and response strategies to cyberattacks, including the protection of countries’ critical information infrastructure systems. To support these pillars and the GCA, ITU created the International Multilateral Partnership Against Cyber Threats (IMPACT) initiative in 2011, which aims to provide cybersecurity support and guidance to Member States and the United Nations organs.

In 2009, the General Assembly released a new voluntary self-assessment tool Member States can use to assess national efforts towards protecting critical information infrastructures. At the same time, the General Assembly highlighted how ineffective cybersecurity enables transnational crime and diminishes international cooperation. It also highlighted the need for each country to determine its own critical information infrastructure status and needs. 

More recently, the ITU has created the Child Online Protection platform, Computer Incident Response Team and Global Cybersecurity Index (GCI). Created in 2014, the Index builds on the General Assembly’s self-assessment tool by evaluating each country’s investment in cybersecurity and assessing opportunities for future development. The Index was developed to normalize cybersecurity practices across borders and to foster a global culture of cybersecurity. 

The 2018 ITU Resolution 130 stressed ITU’s unique mandate to strengthen international cybersecurity in the technical and development spheres, while remaining outside of Member States national policies on defense and security. In the future, the ITU will consider what technical steps need to be taken to vigorously implement a robust culture of cybersecurity. Past efforts to promote a global culture of cybersecurity have struggled to bring all relevant stakeholders to the table, including civil society and the private sector. The role of the private sector as the first responders to cyber attacks has led to the need to find dynamic and multifaceted responses to this issue. It also remains unclear the level of international effort the ITU can exert while respecting internal security policies. Transnational crime has embraced the borderless realm of cyberspace, using it to target victims in completely different regions than the actors. The recent increase of cyber attacks against dams, electrical grids and transportation infrastructure must be addressed to empower Member States to strengthen the security and resilience of critical infrastructure. 

Questions or Issues to Consider:

  • What role should private industry and civil society play in establishing cybersecurity regulations?
  • How can developing nations make strides in promoting cybersecurity? What role does the economic disparity existing between nations affect the global risk of cybercrime?
  • What role does the international community have in promoting the protection and resiliency of Member States’ critical infrastructure? How can the ITU help promote a culture of cybersecurity while respecting national policies on defense and security? 

Bibliography Bibliography

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