Attempts on goal

Hamadoun Toure

Dr Hamadoun Touré has been secretary-general of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the specialised agency of the United Nations dedicated to information and communications technology (ICT), since 2007. His remit is to fulfil ITU’s mandate to ‘connect the world’ and help countries to achieve their Millennium Development Goals. Touré also serves as co-vice-chair of the Broadband Commission for Digital Development, which was launched in May 2010 by ITU and UNESCO. 

The Mali-born electrical engineer studied at the Technical Institute of Electronics and Telecommunication of Leningrad (LEIS), receiving a master’s degree in electrical engineering and PhD equivalent from the Moscow Technical University of Communication and Informatics (MTUCI) in Russia. 

Global: You are on the International Advisory Board of the International Multilateral Partnership Against Cyber Threats. What do you think are the biggest concerns about cyber security in 2014 and beyond?

Hamadoun Touré: No-one doubts that the sophistication of cyber crime is constantly increasing and the relatively simple tactics of the past are being replaced with highly targeted attacks. ‘Phishing’ is now being supplanted by ‘spear phishing’, where email messages aimed at getting users to reveal confidential information like passwords and access codes are able to masquerade as originating from a known and trusted source. ‘Clickjacking’ – where web users are tricked into clicking on something different to what they perceive they are clicking on, with the aim of hijacking their computer or securing confidential information – is also a growing threat. 

It is a cat-and-mouse game, with cyber criminals always looking to exploit security vulnerabilities of new software, and software developers and security specialists working quickly to try to rectify or reinforce those weaknesses. In the global battle to curb the tide of cyber criminality, jurisdictional obstacles remain some of the biggest hurdles. Countries have different legislation structures and traditions (common law and civil law systems), different levels of development, different policy priorities and different needs. But the transnational, borderless nature of cyber crime means national legislation by itself is often no longer sufficient, particularly when cyber crimes are committed outside national borders. More harmonisation at the international level is needed to enable countries to complement national laws with the necessary international principles – for instance mutual co-operation, proper extradition mechanisms and common understandings on processes to be followed in case of major cyber attacks. 

ITU and IMPACT are both working, alongside UN partners like UNODC, UNICEF, UNICRI, UNICITRAL and UNDIR – as well as private sector specialists like Symantec, Kaspersky Labs, (ISC)², ABI Research and Trend Micro – to develop best practice, boost capacity-building, and propose policy frameworks for governments and institutions across regions worldwide. 

What impact do you think access to broadband internet can have for users in developing countries?

As we approach the target date for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), ITU is strongly advocating for the need to harness the unique power of broadband internet to drive development. The eight MDGs cannot be separated. If you combat disease, you also reduce child mortality; if you give every child at least a primary education, you promote gender equality. It is because all these goals are interlinked that broadband is so important. 

If we divide the MDGs into three areas – education, health and the environment – we see that broadband has a key role to play in each. It offers a solution for providing education in under-served areas. Around 90 per cent of children in the developing world are enrolled in primary school, but in some regions – notably Sub-Saharan Africa – up to 30 per cent of children drop out before their final year. Broadband can better engage children, equipping them with valuable ICT skills and opening a window on the world’s information resources, in a multitude of languages. What’s more, public-private education partnerships can be designed not only for students but also for the communities in which they live. I am proud to say that the ITU is targeting this area with its Connect a School, Connect a Community initiative. A school becomes the hub for everyone in the surrounding area, as well as the pupils themselves. 

In the area of health, the MDGs aim, in particular, at improving child and maternal health, and at eradicating such diseases as malaria and AIDS – and there is no doubt that broadband is a powerful tool for achieving these aims. More than half a million women die every year as a result of complications in pregnancy and childbirth. The majority of these deaths are preventable. But in Africa and South Asia, fewer than half of all births are attended by a midwife or skilled health worker. While there is no substitute for the physical presence of a health care professional, broadband is helping to train those professionals and provide mothers with advice that protects health – and indeed lives. Mobile phones, or computers linked to broadband networks, also enable health workers to access online patient records and transmit data to regional hospitals, where remote diagnosis and specialist advice can be obtained. 

The MDG on ensuring environmental sustainability spans a wide range of targets, from the provision of safe drinking water and basic sanitation, to protecting biodiversity and improving the lives of slum-dwellers. In many of these areas, broadband networks are a vital link. For example, so-called ‘smart’ electricity grids make it easier for locally-generated electricity – including that from renewable sources – to be integrated, stored and shared as demand fluctuates. 

Broadband can also help local farmers and fishermen by delivering weather forecasts directly to their mobile phones and providing information on sustainable farming techniques. Working lives are being changed by broadband. The need to travel to an office, and the pollution caused by transport, is reduced by videoconferencing or tele-working. Innovative projects are also improving the lives of slum-dwellers – for example in Brazil, India and Kenya – through providing access to employment and training. 

Broadband gives small businesses the opportunity to participate in e-commerce, and can also give a voice to less wealthy communities, helping empower people to improve their own lives. 

The eighth and final MDG is to “develop a global partnership for development”. It is, perhaps, the most fundamental of all the goals, because it enables progress towards all the other goals. Developing such a global partnership is a basic element of our work at ITU. Because we understand the incredible potential of broadband, in 2010 we launched the Broadband Commission for Digital Development to help move broadband to the top of the political agenda. 

The commission comprises 60 top-level leaders in their field, representing governments, industry, academia and international agencies.  It is co-chaired by Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda, and Carlos Slim Helú, President of the Carlos Slim Foundation, with Irina Bokova, UNESCO’s Director-General, and myself serving as co-vice-chairs.The commission has defined a vision for accelerating the deployment of broadband networks worldwide, with the aim of improving the delivery of services across a huge range of social and business sectors, and accelerating progress towards the MDGs. 

Part of ITU’s remit is to develop technical standards to ensure that networks and technologies seamlessly interconnect. Can you tell us how that work is progressing?

ITU remains the key global developer of the technical standards that support universal interoperability across networks, devices and applications. Recent milestones include approval of a new standard for online video, called ITU-T (ITU Telecommunications Standardization Sector) Recommendation H.265. The successor to ITU-T H.264, the standard that is already used for 80 per cent of video online, H.265 for video codecs uses 50 per cent less bandwidth to provide comparable quality. 

Another major achievement – this time in the area of broadband – is the imminent global approval of ITU-T Recommendations for, creating a new broadband standard that can deliver 1 Gbps over copper cabling, enabling operators to make the most use of existing networks. ITU-T’s continued work on technologies that bring fibre closer to the home is helping drive the accelerated rollout of superfast broadband around the world. 

A key milestone for global e-health standardisation was achieved in December last year with the publication of ITU-T H.810, a standard that gives interoperability design guidelines for personal health systems. 

In response to the growing challenge of climate change, ITU is also leading work on a set of standardised methodologies for monitoring, highlighting and – ultimately – reducing the environmental impact and carbon footprint of ICT devices. One example is ITU’s standard for a one-size-fits-all universal mobile phone charger – new versions are now being published that extend the concept to tablets, static ICT devices and laptops. 

And, finally, in the fast-growing area of mobile, the radio-interface specifications for IMT-Advanced and satellite IMT-Advanced have now been approved, paving the way for the mobile and satellite industries to roll out 4G and 5G.


Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Amnesty International