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Speech by SCIT at ITU TELECOM WORLD 2006 Forum Session "Shaping Our Future Digital Society" (English only)(with photos)

    Following is the speech by the Secretary for Commerce, Industry and Technology, Mr Joseph WP Wong, at ITU TELECOM WORLD 2006 Forum Session "Shaping Our Future Digital Society" today (December 4): (English Only)

Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

     I sincerely welcome you all to Hong Kong. Hong Kong is an exciting place íV full of life and dynamism. I hope in the next few days, you will have the chance to explore our city after participation of the programmes here. Our vitality never fails to charm visitors.

Innovation in the Digital World

     The topic for this session is shaping our future digital society. The digital world on the Internet has become a new and distinct, dimension to our three-dimensional physical world. Many businesses are taking advantage of the unprecedented reach and super efficiency of the Internet. Those who are reluctant or even slow to do so are losing out in business or disappearing in the physical world. We have seen the rapid rise in popularity of blogs, peer-to-peer file sharing, podcasting, video-sharing and witkey websites. We have also seen "social" websites which have successfully drawn huge subscribers or websurfers making fortunes for their founders, witness MySpace and YouTube. I expect innovations and business opportunities continuing to grow exponentially in the digital world.

Government's Role

     But what is the government's role in the face of these developments? The World Summit on the Information Society acknowledged in 2003 that a supportive, transparent, pro-competitive, technologically neutral and predictable policy and regulatory framework is essential for building a people-centred Information Society, and that governments should only intervene to correct market failures, to maintain fair competition, to attract investment, to enhance the development of the ICT infrastructure and applications, and to maximise economic and social benefits.

Hong Kong's Digital Policy and Strategy

     I fully concur with this view. In Hong Kong, our overarching philosophy is "big market, small government". We strongly believe that market forces are the best means of ensuring that resources would be put to their most efficient use. We consider that the key responsibility of a government is to help provide a favourable environment within which market forces can function effectively.

Digital 21 Strategy

     Obviously, it is necessary for governments to have a strategic view on where things are heading, and to co-ordinate or steer the relevant parties towards the right direction. So we have developed our Digital 21 Strategy since 1998 and update it every few years. Within our strategy, we provide a level playing field, and do not favour any particular player. We invest in basic infrastructure but do not make business decisions for companies. Because of this fundamental guiding principle, Hong Kong has been ranked as the world's freest economy by the Heritage Foundation for the 12th consecutive year in the Foundation's 2006 Index of Economic Freedom study.

Preserving Common Values

     In a way, public policy towards the digital world should as far as possible be consistent with that towards the physical world. For example, we know the digital world is more flexible in removing some of the practical constraints of the physical world and more creative in disseminating information and messages. And this flexibility may be used, sometimes more effectively, to support criminal deeds or to advance thoughts or acts relating to racism, hatred, violence that are against the common values of humanity. Therefore, as public policymakers, it is our duty and responsibility to ensure, as a first step, that our laws and regulations that prohibit such unacceptable acts are equally applicable to the digital world, and to educate our citizens that they should not be under any illusion that irresponsible acts in the digital world would go unnoticed or unpunished.  

Tackling Abuses

     Of course, there may be circumstances that are unique to the digital world.  The spamming problem is a vivid example of the abuse of the communications infrastructure on which the digital world operates. A number of advanced economies have enacted laws to regulate such acts. In Hong Kong, our Unsolicited Electronic Messages Bill which regulates spamming in a measured way, striking a balance between protecting individuals and companies from abuses, and preserving the use of Internet marketing is being scrutinised by our legislature. I am confident that it would be enacted in the next few months.

     I understand there will be a workshop this Friday on the problem of spamming.  Government officials, legal practitioners and industry representatives will participate in the workshop. I hope we can share all our views and experience on how to better tackle this growing and worldwide problem.  

Need for International Co-operation

     It is one challenge to ensure that the existing laws and regulations apply equally in the digital world in order to safeguard our common values. But it is another challenge to enforce those laws and regulations effectively for acts done in the digital world. Because of the inherent nature of the digital world, information and communications related to illegal activities can spread quickly to different parts of the digital world. This calls for international co-operation in sharing information, investigation and law enforcement. The present situation is unsatisfactory for a variety of reasons and we need to take more concerted efforts to meet this challenge.

Building an Inclusive Digital Society

     Another important policy consideration as we continue to advance in the digital world is to ensure that the less privileged segment of the society should also benefit by it. The prototype for the "US$100 laptop computer" unveiled at the World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis last year reminded us that, in this day and age where speeds of central processing units and storage capacities of hard disks dominate technology and market developments in the ICT industry, there are many in the developing, or even the developed, world who have been left behind.  

     At the opening ceremony, Professor Yunus has called on countries, ICT businesses and experts to join hands to help the underprivileged access the digital world so that they can have the same opportunities as the rest of the community. He said that digital connectivity is the most powerful tool to remove barriers, to develop technical solutions and business models for small enterprises and to open up opportunities in education and employment. I cannot agree more and I pledge that we will do my best in whatever international agreement which involves ITU members. In Hong Kong we have already set ourselves a goal in the Digital 21 Strategy to remove the digital divide in our own community and provide equal access of the underprivileged and less prepared sectors of our population to the boundless and exciting world of the Internet.  

     I therefore call on all stakeholders, whether in the public or the private sector, to work together to ensure that the needs of the less privileged segment would be addressed so that their full potentials would be developed through equal access to the digital world.  

     An inclusive digital society should also recognise the reality that our physical world comprises peoples of different racial, cultural, religious, and social background.  It would be against the interest of the humankind if the digital world were to have the effect of reducing the diversity of the human race, and the uniqueness of different peoples. National and regional public policies towards the Internet should be sensitive to this aspect and should take every care to safeguard the diversity of different peoples and cultures.

     Ladies and gentlemen, the digital society is developing at a phenomenal pace.  It is important for all stakeholders to agree to a set of guiding principles on the shape of the future digital society, and what we could do to help implement such principles.  The World Summit on the Information Society, held in Geneva in 2003 and in Tunis last year, had developed a comprehensive framework for multi-stakeholders to reflect and to act. This week's ITU TELECOM World Forum will no doubt generate more views and ideas on this important issue. I look forward to working with all the other stakeholders in realising the vision of an inclusive Information Society.

     Thank you!

Ends/Monday, December 4, 2006
Issued at HKT 17:42


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