Fundación Telefónica has been analysing technological development and its impact on our lives for more than two decades. One of the most important tools in this work is the Digital Society Report in Spain (Informe Sociedad Digital en España), which is published annually, and this year is complemented by a forum for open dialogue with renowned experts in the country.
Within this forum, the debate "Ethical framework: a digital transition centred on people" was held, with the participation of Ofelia Tejerina (President of the Association of Internet Users and member of the MINECO Digital Rights Expert Group), José María Lasalle (Professor of the theory of law and philosophy of law at Universidad Pontificia de Comillas and former Secretary of State for the Information Society and the Digital Agenda) and Christoph Steck (Director of Public Policy and the Internet at Telefónica), moderated by Pablo Gonzalo (Head of Fundación Telefónica's Culture area and Espacio Fundación).
From left to right: Pablo Gonzalo, Ofelia Tejerina, Christoph Steck and José María Lasalle.
José María Lasalle began the conversation by reflecting on the consequences of the pandemic caused by the Covid-19 in our society, particularly, with the shift from "a digital transition" to "a digital consummation". The main reason is that we have digitised ourselves at a speed and on a scale unprecedented in history and we have achieved this in just a few months. However, these profound changes have not been accompanied by a modernization of the regulatory frameworks that need to be adapted to the digital ecosystem, as Christoph Steck pointed out. Ofelia Tejerina reminded us that the law always lags behind reality and this is an understandable process if we take into account the principle of the durability of rules.
"The law has to be thought through, rested and created with a spirit of permanence. For a correct and optimal regulation two concepts must be taken into account: responsibility and trust", Ofelia Tejerina.
Responsibility and trust are the bases on which both an updated regulation in accordance with the digital panorama and business behaviour should rest. "Companies not only have the obligation to comply with existing law, but also with their own responsibility and values to apply them in decision making," explained the Telefónica representative. As an example, he mentioned the Principles of Artificial Intelligence that the company created to guarantee that this technology has a positive impact on society and that this ethical commitment is applied in the design, development and use of Telefónica's products and services.
A new deal for the digital society
The idea of creating a new deal as a prerequisite for successfully managing today's digital society was recurrent throughout the debate. While Lasalle underlined the need to subscribe a deal "between man and technology", Steck argued that it should be "human-centred" and aimed at build back better our societies and economies after the impact of the Covid-19.
"The health crisis has become an economic crisis and we have to act now so that this does not become a social crisis", Christoph Steck.
Telefónica identifies five fundamental pillars on which to base this Digital Deal:
- Promoting digitalisation for a more sustainable society and economy, supporting key sectors, technologies and innovation, accelerating the green transition and the digitalisation of small and medium enterprises and public administrations.
- Addressing inequalities by investing in digital skills and adapting the welfare system, improving and re-skilling people, modernising education and reforming labour and social protection frameworks
- Build inclusive and sustainable connectivity by strengthening and investing in the very high capacity networks that have proven to be critical to future competitiveness, while supporting the deployment of green networks. Building better infrastructure means bringing connectivity to places where it is lacking. We need measures to connect all the people who are not yet connected.
- Ensure fair competition by modernising the fiscal, regulatory and competition frameworks in all key elements of the digital economy.
- Improve trust and confidence through the ethical and responsible use of technology, respecting privacy, security and other digital rights in a data economy, as well as adopting a risk-based approach to the use of Artificial Intelligence.
Here and now
If the time to do it is now, the place to do it is Europe. However, we cannot defend European values without first generating economic value. To do this, it will be essential to invest in key technologies and infrastructures and to further promote public-private partnerships, explained Christoph Steck.
"Europe has a responsibility to be a space for hope. We have a great strategic opportunity as a global player: articulating a cyber-democracy at the service of human dignity", José María Lasalle.
Europe needs to participate in the geopolitical game derived from technology. It is the most advanced region in the world for regulating the digital issue and the most suitable for designing a new welfare state for the digital framework. But we must not only be the referee, but also the player. It will then be a matter of seeking a balance to ensure that technology is inclusive and embraces diversity in order to make it our own, as Ofelia Tejerina concluded.