…Stronger public-private partnerships to safeguard individual data suggested at one of the region’s most important communication platforms
The seventh edition of the International Government Communication Forum (IGCF 2018) opened today (Wednesday) with an insightful first dialogue session titled, ‘Governments and the Private Sector… Responsibilities and How they Fit in the Age of Digital Communities’, in the presence of His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Mohamed Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah.
An expert panel of speakers comprising Sean Spicer, former White House Press Secretary, Naguib Sawiris, Egyptian media mogul who founded Orascom Telecom, and HE Musapha El Khalfi, Morocco’s Minister Delegate and Official Spokesperson of the Government, took part in the session, which was moderated by Mohammed Khalaf, Director General of Sharjah Media Corporation. The session offered key insights on several issues facing government communication in the digital age, like the gap between public and private sectors in approaching communication with the citizenry, transparency, and responsibility sharing between the public and private sectors with a view to protecting people’s information and interests.
Sean Spicer expressed his excitement at being part of a significant forum that addresses some of the biggest challenges governments around the world are facing today. He said: “We couldn’t be discussing this topic at a better time in light of some of the issues the world is facing right now. We have got a private sector that is creating technology, which is tremendously good for the economy and society, but it is all happening so fast that there is an aspect of government that needs to figure out its relationship with the private sector. What you don’t want to do is stifle these rapid developments. Children and adults around the world are using every digital application available to them and you can’t stop that. Tomorrow there will be new, more developed apps that they will go on to use. So, the question is where is that balance between protecting citizens without interrupting or stifling the development of new technologies.”
He added: “Most times when we download an app we are requested to agree to terms and conditions that are tediously long and difficult to understand, so most of us just accept without knowing what we are committing ourselves to. Where does all the private information that we share about ourselves, our friends and family go? We will be much better safeguarded if the private sector exercises an increased level of transparency.
The need for a regulatory mechanism in communication was highlighted by Naguib Sawiris, who said: “Any business approaches anything, including people’s personal data, for profit. The solution is to bring about a concerted regulatory mechanism that not only represents the government, but is comprised of actors in the private sector, NGOs and even individuals. Social media lacks this regulator, and the absence thereof leads to the threat of important data being subjected to misconduct. The recent Facebook issue is an example.”
To the moderator’s question of whether regulations restrict innovation, HE Mustapha El Khalfi remarked: “Digital revolution is an opportunity and a challenge at the same time. It tilts toward the latter when government and private partnerships are absent. Digital security, issuing laws and the protection of individual data are all government responsibilities. When it comes to public services, for example, the technology to safeguard people’s interests is already there. But has the government ventured into it? The government needs to update regulatory laws that allow innovation and at the same time ensure people’s security and freedom.”
All panellists agreed on the need for transparency in communication between the government and private businesses as a way to safeguard people’s interests.
His Highness The Ruler of Sharjah also listened to five interactive speeches that followed.
Tanmay Bakshi, World’s Youngest AI Expert
Tanmay Bakshi, widely acknowledged as the world’s youngest expert on artificial intelligence (AI), told the packed main hall that the radical advances in technology have changed the face of relationships between governments and their citizens.
“Traditional communication meant that there were millions of people trying to make their voices heard to one government and that is simply impossible as an effective form of communication. With the advent of social media, there is now access to real-time feedback which allows governments to immediately gauge public opinion. The communication between citizens and the state is now equal.”
The 14-year-old self-taught AI expert, who has developed multiple apps, published a book, hosted TEDx Talks and spoken at IBM Watson summits around the world, believes it is his generation who will be crucial to maintaining the momentum.
“Artificial intelligence and the fourth industrial revolution are incredibly powerful and their growth is exponential. In order to maintain that curve, we need young people to not only use technology, we need them to speak its language. My goal is to develop 100,000 young aspiring coders. So far we have recruited 8,000 and in order to achieve that, I attend events such as this, I give talks and I go to schools. Yesterday I went to a youth centre in Sharjah and I have to say I love the way Sharjah is committed to becoming a world leader in artificial intelligence and the fourth industrial revolution.”
Sir Timothy John Berners-Lee, Inventor of the World Wide Web
From one of the youngest advocates of technology, the audience then welcomed one of the most important figures in the founding of modern technology, Sir Timothy John Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web.
With the recent news involving breaches of data on Facebook that made headlines around the world, Sir Timothy presented some of his thoughts on social media.
“It has been called the ‘Facebook Debacle’ and the ‘Facebook Fiasco’ and some of it may have happened accidentally and some of it deliberately. The premise behind Facebook is that people come together in harmony and express their opinions, but then inevitably we have groups with a political agenda and suddenly we have a situation which is simply undemocratic. If you look at Facebook and Twitter, the world is often not a nice place to be.
“There is no doubt that there is a massive use of Twitter in a malicious way and while it may have been built with the best of intentions, the implications are far from that.
“We have recently seen the allegations and possibilities of state intervention and interference, using personal profiles as a strong, targeting advertising tool to manipulating politics. With Cambridge Analytica for example, the power of advertising is too strong.”
Sir Timothy, who is also the founder of the Open Data Institute, an independent body which addresses today’s global challenges using web data, described responsible information sharing as vital in the modern world.
“The most effective use of data is when it is linked,” he said. “There are now more web pages than there are neurons in the brain and that runs into billions. When government data is shared with the public, it not only becomes more transparent and accountable, it opens up huge potential for new public services, processes and government relations, making it a ‘functional’ city or state.
Simon Anholt, Founder, Good Country and Good Country Index
IGCF then heard from British policy advisor Simon Anholt, founder of the Good Country Index, author and advisor on the reputation of nations.
“The image of a country is crucial to its economy, whether that is through tourism, goodwill or foreign investment. In the 21st Century, we live in a very troubled world of weapons, drugs, human rights issues, pollution – the list goes on and on, and there is no single country that can solve any of these problems. All countries need to collaborate.
“I have advised 56 governments over 20 years and I still see countries acting as they did two centuries ago, as a series of warring tribes, seeing who can be the first, the strongest, the richest and that’s a dangerous stance in a world which is on the brink of extinction.
“Collaboration does work. It is no good acting as a leader, full stop – these nations must act as leaders of cooperation. We can only measure true success when we can say we are glad that our country exists, and when we say we are a useful member of the international community. In turn, that will be our greatest asset.”
HE Noura Al Kaabi, UAE Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development
As one of the UAE and GCC’s youngest (female) government leaders, HE Noura Al Kaabi, UAE Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development, addressed the role of young leaders in governments of the future.
She called on youth to follow similar footsteps of UAE’s founding father, late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, saying: “In the past 45 to 50 years, the UAE has set an exemplary government communication standard, embodied in an open and effective communication channel between the ruler and his people.”
Al Kaabi reflected how each emirate in the UAE has played a key role in carrying forward this distinctive leadership in government communication across numerous initiatives, and along the way, engaged and empowered the youth by optimising government communication channels and methodologies to engage directly with young leaders and citizens of the UAE.
Addressing Sharjah’s leading role in effective government communication, Al Kaabi noted: “His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Mohamed Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah, launched the ‘Mabarrah’ or the direct line programme for receiving calls from citizens who have special problems or cannot disclose their needs publicly.
Al Kaabi stressed on the importance of governments investing in the youth to enable them to drive communication strategies. She explained: “We need to address challenges by investing in the dynamics of government communications, and steer away from conventional communication styles such as the news we used to hear from televisions, radios and read from newspapers. We need to invest more in skills to sustain advanced and effective communication practices, as well as a measurement tool on how effective we are in reaching out to these youths.”
Khalifa Hassan Al Shamsi, Chief Corporate Strategy and Governance Officer of Etisalat Group, UAE
Khalifa Hassan Al Shamsi, Chief Corporate Strategy and Governance Officer of Etisalat Group in the UAE, shed light on encouraging greater involvement of the communications sector in supporting future governments.
He said: “5G technology will play a crucial role in transitioning the nation into an effective communication platform, and redeveloping the infrastructure of its Internet of Things (IoT), which plays a key role in how our government and nation function.”
He continued: “The technology will also play a key role in sending out strategic and important notifications which will boost efficiency and security across various industries. For example, 5G will contribute to the development of the nation’s renewable energy and its “smart city” initiatives, such as smart waste management technologies and notifications for efficient maintenance. It will also contribute to the safety and security of societies and communities, through push notifications on various threats and smart monitoring systems.”
Highlighting the significant role the new 5G technology will play in the healthcare sector, Al Shamsi explained: “Technology will connect several health facilities and establishments across the nation, with smart check-up reminders and transfer of data allowing a full access and understanding of patient health records, and more efficient diagnostics practices.”
In keeping with its goals to pioneer best practices in government communications, the International Government Communication Forum 2018 (IGCF) focuses on the contemporary challenges of government communication in the region and rest of the world and explores solutions which can enhance communications in the future. Each year, the forum features more than 2,500 professional experts from around the world, including decision makers, officials, communication experts, government media personnel, civil society organisations and media professionals, as well as students of journalism and communication from all colleges and universities.
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