UNGA High-Level Thematic Debate on
Digital Cooperation and Connectivity:
Whole-of-Society Approaches to End the Digital Divide
New York, 27 April, 2021
Thank you for convening this meeting to address the digital divide and digital cooperation at a time when the need for equal access to these technologies has become more evident than ever.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting lockdowns and social distancing have shown how the use of digital technology is rapidly growing in so many areas of our daily life. Many children and students use it for their education, businesses and workers need it to make a living, it has become a vital way for families to keep in touch and even for faith communities to worship together. It is increasingly used by doctors to provide healthcare, and has become our source of news and information.
Digital connectivity, however, is not a reality for many people. Those who have the least access to digital technology and connectivity are those who can least afford it. Data provided by the International Telecommunication Union indicate that Least Developed Countries or rural areas are at a significant disadvantage or even excluded when it comes to individuals connected to the internet. With so many areas of life dependent on digital connectivity, such stark disparities impact much more than mere internet use: they affect human rights, worsen existing exclusion and exacerbate economic and social inequality.
The international community should work toward digital access not only that is universal, but also safe and secure, ensuring that fundamental human rights are respected. Indeed, the digital environment can also be one of loneliness, manipulation, exploitation and violence, up to the extreme case of the ‘dark web’. Various forms of violence are spreading through social media, for example cyber-bullying, recruitment to terrorist groups and organizations, facilitation of criminal activity, such as human, drug and organ trafficking, child abuse and child pornography. There are also privacy and data security concerns, and the manifold forms of financially, politically or militarily motivated cyber-attacks. We see that, like every human reality, while the benefits of digital technology are numerous, it also has its share of limitations and deficiencies. For this reason, the elaboration of some sort of framework of international standards that would guide the proper use of such technologies for the common good of humanity is so necessary.
Faced with these challenges, and particularly now with the pandemic, we see that solidarity and international cooperation are essential to ensure universal access to the internet and digital technologies, also in order to provide adequate infrastructure and adequate education.
As Pope Francis said, when the Covid-19 pandemic unexpectedly erupted, "For all our hyper-connectivity, we witnessed a fragmentation that made it more difficult to resolve problems that affect us all. Anyone who thinks that the only lesson to be learned was the need to improve what we were already doing, or to refine existing systems and regulations, is denying reality". This is also the case for the topic we are presently considering. May we implement that which we have learned and, in solidarity, realize that one person’s problems are the problems of all.
Only with this awareness, will we achieve inclusive, responsible, and secure digital cooperation and connectivity, which must go hand in hand with a holistic approach to integral development so that nobody is left behind, or worse, pushed even further back.
Thank you, Mr. President.
 Pope Francis, Encyclical Letter Fratelli Tutti, n. 7.