The independent resource on global security

10. Information and communication technology, cybersecurity and human development


Overview, Vincent Boulanin

I. Information and communication technology access: a powerful tool for human development, Vincent Boulanin

II. Cybersecurity: a precondition to sustainable information and comunication technology-enabled human development, Vincent Boulanin

III. Mapping key actors and efforts in cybersecurity for human development, Vincent Boulanin

There is a nexus between access to information and communication technology (ICT), cybersecurity and human development. ICT provides unprecedented potential for people to acquire knowledge and skills and use those capabilities for their own interests and for society as a whole. There have been no large-scale empirical studies to assess the impact of ICT access on human development in developing countries. Some case studies challenge the discourse on the positive transformative power of ICT, illustrating that increased ICT access has in some cases had disruptive effects and reinforced existing patterns of domination and inequality. Large-scale studies on the impact of ICT on development generally focus on economic growth and find a positive correlation between increased access to ICT and economic development.

Cyber risks and threats

ICT can also generate myriad risks as it offers new means for malevolent activities, while the insecurity that cybercrime generates has economic costs. Efforts to support greater access to ICT in the developing world need to integrate considerations of cybersecurity in order to be effective and sustainable, but such efforts may themselves create risks to human development as the security objectives of states and individuals do not always coincide. Increased cyber-surveillance and Internet filtering can have a detrimental effect on fundamental human rights and human security.

Approaching cybersecurity from a human security perspective requires a holistic approach that tackles risks related to cybercrime and sophisticated cyber-threats, but also considers the principles of the rule of law and good governance. The processes through which states alter people’s ability to enjoy the opportunities generated by ICT for national security reasons should be transparent, accountable and inclusive.

Digital human rights

Developing countries are unequally equipped technically, politically and legally to deal with the risks that access to ICT pose to human security. Increasingly, development agencies see a need to link initiatives to democratize access to ICT with efforts to strengthen national cybersecurity capabilities and digital human rights.

Initiatives to support cybersecurity commonly entail policy and legal support, training and technical assistance, and cooperation. The International Telecommunication Union is currently the pivotal actor in capacity building. Digital human rights and Internet freedom are usually supported through direct assistance at the policy level, such as by defining law on privacy and data protection, and standards for electronic surveillance. There are, however, no international standards on digital human rights. The definition of standards on electronic surveillance is also a contentious issue. Recent efforts have therefore focused on directly and indirectly limiting the proliferation of electronic surveillance and censorship capabilities to countries that might use them to commit human rights abuses.