What issues to monitor when discussing digital competitiveness for Ireland?

I’m putting together a document at work that will define the scope of our Digital Future group. The question is, what issues should be included and why if the group is to examine digital competitiveness in Ireland in the coming years?

In 1999 the Government’s Action Plan to Implement the Information Society noted that: “we are at the early stages of a new industrial revolution – one which will have more dramatic implications than any other single industrial development in the history of the State”. Today, the information and communication technology sector accounts for about one third of Irish exports and directly employs 93,000 people in more than 4,000 enterprises. Larger still is the digital sector, which could be far more broadly defined to include sub-sectors of the financial services, medical research, foreign development initiatives etc.

An important contributor to Ireland’s future competitiveness will be the government’s capacity to produce foreword looking policy that enables it to adapt to, and leverage the benefits of, the digital revolution that is currently underway. This means foreseeing not only the benefits of digital convergence and user-driven innovation, but also the vulnerabilities inherent in an increasing dependence on vulnerable – but indispensable – communications technologies. This is particularly true if Ireland is to remain attractive to the forward looking, innovative companies that can enhance our competitive edge and maintain Ireland’s E-ready, knowledge-rich economy in the decades to come.

Issues:

1. Legal & regulatory issues;
2) Competitiveness; and
3) Vulnerability inherent in dependence on the Internet.

1. Legal & Regulatory issues

Regulation and law relating to content on the Internet
This question will perhaps have the most fundamental impact in determining the future character of the Internet, and the opportunities it can offer Ireland and the EU.

First, commercial stakeholders might be particularly interested in copyright and related issues such as intellectual property, digital rights management and ISPs’ (Internet Service Providers) liability for illegal traffic that transits their networks.

Second, there is a broader and more fundamental question that relates to Internet governance and the role that governments will play in controlling the Internet. There is a wish on the part of some governments to control what their citizens can access and distribute on the Internet. This has significant short term legal and long term economic implications. (On this issue, the Digital Future Group could build on the Institute’s previous contribution in this area, including its citation in the European Commission’s recent impact assessment on Internet censorship.)

Privacy on the Internet
To what extent should commercial and other services that depend on collecting personal data be legally empowered to do so?

2. Competitiveness

Infrastructural developments
This might include discussion of the roll out of next generation networks, and the need to promote high speed broadband access

Web innovation
The Internet is evolving rapidly, and new services and means operating are emerging. These may include trusted payment on the Internet, new platforms for delivering content and media etc.

Education & Research

3. Vulnerability inherent in dependence on the Internet

iWar – attacks on consumer infrastructure
On 27 April 2007 a blizzard of distributed denial of service attacks hit important websites in Estonia and continued until mid June. Targets included the website of the president, parliament, ministries, political parties, major news outlets, and Estonia’s two dominant banks, which were rendered unable to interact with customers. This is an example of the threat that Ireland could face as it develops its digital profile, and should be considered as a sign of things to come. The potency of attacks on the consumer communications infrastructure, such as the denial of service attacks directed at Estonia, will grow as the governments, communities, and corporations of the world embrace the internet to interact and deliver services.

Other Critical Infrastructure challenges
This could include insuring resilient energy supply to data centres, and there ICT related aspects of the European Programme for Critical Infrastructure Protection.

Online crime
This could include online fraud and illegal transactions, protection of youths on the Internet, and violent radicalisation on the Internet.

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