ESCWA organized a workshop on building trust in digital government services in collaboration with the Arab Information and Communication Technologies Union (AICTU), the Internet Society and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). The workshop took place over two days, on September 11 and 12, 2023. The opening session on the first day was attended by Rola Dashti, the United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of ESCWA; Engineer Mohamed Ben Omar, the Director-General of the Arab Information and Communication Technologies Organization; and Dr. Najla El Riachi, the Minister of Administrative Development in Lebanon.
In her opening remarks, Rola Dushti highlighted the importance of cybersecurity in our era and the focus on personal data security, as well as the need to deliver services in a secure manner to achieve sustainable development goals. She emphasized the importance of defining strategic measures and innovative solutions to improve the digital landscape, enhance trust between the government and users, and strive for a better and more positive future for everyone. She also stressed the importance of investing in emerging technologies for social and economic development and progress in the digital transformation journey.
Ben Omar continued that, in light of these major transformations, it is necessary to maximize the benefits from technological services and further develop and integrate cybersecurity into society. He considers cybersecurity to be a priority in the action plan, as the safety and security of information are fundamental pillars in the digital transformation journey. Ultimately, there must be a balance between the privacy of personal data and the services that governments can offer.
He further added that three basic principles should be dedicated to this context: voluntary trust, information exchange and strong cooperation among various sectors. He emphasized the importance of harnessing technological advancements and ensuring digital safety and security in the services provided by the government to Arab citizens.
From her point of view, Dr. Najla Riachi emphasized the importance of the workshop itself, as it revolves around an empowered digital world and a secure and trustworthy digital realm. As society moves towards this world, it should provide all the necessary requirements in a timely manner. Lebanon has started its journey towards digital transformation through various collaborations and initiatives. The first step is to regain trust by eliminating corruption and providing advanced and quickly-implemented public services that preserve the dignity of citizens at affordable costs.
The digital transformation journey is not limited to transitioning from traditional work to technological work alone but also involves improving performance to meet the needs of citizens today. A comprehensive strategy will restore the confidence of investors and enable growth, which is a fundamental step in the recovery strategy and plan. Work is therefore being done to integrate digital applications and platforms to better enhance governance in communication management and provide overall services to citizens.
The speakers discussed the opportunities and challenges presented by new technologies, including the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, and big data, and their role in developing digital government services. The issue of cybersecurity is of paramount importance in combating information crimes and protecting digital infrastructure from cyberattacks and electronic warfare. Concerned governments are working on developing a legal framework that facilitates electronic transactions and establishes the necessary legal controls to protect users from electronic breaches and misuse. Such a strategy is aimed at encouraging investment in this field and achieving the desired outcome throughout.
The first session, titled "Cybersecurity in the Arab Region," was coordinated by Dr. Nibal Idlebi, Acting Director of the Statistics, Information Society, and Technology Division at ESCWA. The speakers in this session highlighted the role of cybersecurity as a fundamental axis for providing digital services, preventing network breaches and securing data protection. Cybersecurity is essential for legal and regulatory compliance to enhance trust in government services. The countries in the Arab region are concerned about cybersecurity and have launched several initiatives in this regard. Recently, the region has witnessed significant activity in organizing cyberspace, which will have a positive impact on the digital transformation process.
The session also addressed the regional perspective based on the Global Cybersecurity Index in the International Telecommunication Union, represented by Senior Advisor Mr. Ahmed El Raghy. He discussed the issue of cybersecurity in the Arab region and the existing gap between countries, with some still lacking widespread implementation of necessary cybersecurity measures.
For his part, Mr. James Shiers, the chief researcher, pointed out the history of cybersecurity strategies in the Arab region and the similarities and differences in the region.
The second session, titled "Enhancing Cybersecurity in the Enabling ICT Eco-System," was coordinated by Mr. Charbel Chbeir, a lawyer and member of the Beirut Bar Association's Internet Society. Among the key topics discussed were artificial intelligence in cybersecurity — examining its positives and negatives — with Dr. Imad El Hajj from the American University of Beirut. Additionally, Mr. Olaf Kolkman, executive-level advisor to and spokesperson for the Internet Society, presented guidelines for securing internet infrastructure. Finally, Dr. Roxana Radu, Associate Professor of Digital Technology and Public Policy at the University of Oxford, emphasized cybersecurity as a public policy priority.
The next discussion session was titled "Legal and Regulatory Aspects for Enhancing Trust in Public Digital Services: Privacy and Personal Data Protection," coordinated by Ms. Nada Laabidi, Head of the Planning and Projects Department at the Arab Organization for Information and Communication Technology. This session covered the topic of personal data protection and privacy in the context of emerging technologies with Dr. Janane El Khoury from the Lebanese University in Beirut. The Arab regional framework for personal data transfer and governance was discussed by Dr. Mohamed Hamdi, Team Leader of the Elaboration of the Arab Cybersecurity Strategy (AICTO). Best practices for protecting personal data from a governance, risk management and compliance perspective were presented by Dr. Adel Abdel Moneim, an expert in cybersecurity, governance, risk management and compliance from Egypt.
The final session was entitled "Enhancing Cybersecurity Measures” and was moderated again by Olaf Kolkman. This session highlighted the mutual recognition of EU trust services with Mr. Nick Pope, Chairman of the ETSI TC Electronic Signatures and Trust Infrastructure. The session also touched on the development and implementation of a national cybersecurity strategy: challenges and opportunities for cybersecurity strategies, with Mr. Ahmed Al-Raghy, Senior Advisor, International Telecommunication Union.