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Digital Inclusion and a Trusted Internet: The Role of the International Development Community in Balancing Internet Access and Cybersecurity

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Publication date: 2018

Author: Jonathan Dolan

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The international development community has embraced the potential of digital technology to expand the reach of life-enhancing services and provide a platform for collaboration and innovation. For at least the past two decades, international development practitioners have turned to digital tools to improve the delivery of traditional development programs in health, education, agriculture, and so on. More recently, digital inclusion—that is, direct efforts to extend internet access to previously unserved populations and accelerate the adoption of digital services—has emerged as an international development practice in its own right. There is, however, an increasingly strong countervailing force to such progress: the erosion of trust in the internet driven by an accelerated spread of misinformation, new forms of government surveillance, and the exponential growth of cybercrime.

This report offers international development donors, particularly bilateral donors, recommendations for navigating the trade-offs implicit in the access-security debate. The report looks at the current context and emerging trends that have increased theurgency for development donors to refine their approach to the relationship between access and security. It then focuses on digital inclusion programs specifically, arguing that, if countries are to effectively navigate the relationship, they should resist calls to mainstream cybersecurity and instead take a more targeted approach to building a trusted digital space.