Let me come back to my opening remarks. There are many ways in which we can talk of ethics and values in the digital age. There are areas which some would not normally think of as having ethical implications. There are different approaches to ethical reflection on the digital age.
This afternoon I could have launched into a litany of criticism of internet pornography, of insider trading, of internet crime, of exploitation. These are question we must address in the digital era. I preferred to take a different path which looks at the opportunities that information technology offers and at the manner in which people, ordinary men women and children, can and should be enabled to enter into the digital age, as active participants who draw equitable benefit from progress. The fundamental ethical challenge of the digital age is equitable access.
This I think is one of the contributions which religion can make to our debates on the digital age. The Church, in Christian theology, sees itself as called to be a witness to the unity of humankind in Jesus Christ. The more we can forge a world where unity emerges, where all share in an equitable way the good things that God has given us, the more we contribute to the building of a broad ethical culture for the information technology at the service of humankind.
That is the ethical vision. The challenge is how to generate that new culture. Conferences such as this one today are extremely important in developing that culture and in proposing new policies on a national and international level.
But returning to my days working in Geneva, I remember the Director General of the International Telecommunications Union telling me at the beginning of my mission there how, in the short period of his own mandate, his organization had radically changed from one dealing primarily with governments to one where the principle partner was the private sector.
In setting future policy for Information Technology we have to remember that the private sector will be the prime mover in this area. Government policy can set a broad ethical and legal framework. That framework will only work for inclusion when it is accompanied by a new spirit of corporate social responsibility. The difficulty is that all too often corporate social responsibility remains an “optional extra”. It cannot be decreed by government.
But it can be influenced by that other great creation of the digital age: international public opinion. Public opinion emerges where people are empowered and given voice around the areas that concern them. International public opinion has shown that it can change policies, prejudices and even the market. International public opinion is a good example of how human creativity can harness the digital age and achieve social goods, despite all odds.
We need policies which place people at the centre of our activities in the digital age. If we do not, people will sooner or later do it themselves and all the spin in the world will not shelter us from our mistakes.