This weekend, a group of Patterson students travelled to Washington, D.C. to attend the Meridian Summit at the United States Institute of Peace. This was the first in-person Summit since COVID-19, and this year, the focus was primarily on issues facing cyberspace. The Summit was split into two locations: the Main Stage and the Innovation Stage. The Main Stage primarily focused on what was called “The Global Divide,” focusing on this incredible divide between those who have access to the internet and those who do not. The Innovation Stage, however, focused on a variety of issues including inclusivity in cyber careers as well as cybersecurity.
The Summit began with a presentation that illustrated this global divide—walking through more developed nations as well as LDCs (“least developed countries”). The numbers emphasized that while a country may be “developed,” that doesn’t necessarily mean that every citizen has access to the internet, whether through a phone or through another device. What shouldn’t be surprising, however, is how large that number became in LDCs, and this divide is further deepened when other factors like age, gender, and ethnicity are considered. For example, in some parts of the world, women have even less of a chance to gain access to the internet.
To continue with this idea of The Global Divide, a panel convened to discuss what happens when the nations finally obtain access to the internet. What stood out to me the most was this idea that while access to the internet is important, it is cybersecurity that is the key issue that shouldn’t be dismissed. If one has access to the internet but fails to have the proper defense against cyber attacks, then would that person be more vulnerable than if he never received that access? The answer to that question is quite simple: he would be. Therefore, the panel emphasized this “package deal” that would need to be presented to those without internet access. And finally, the panel addressed another key component to closing this global divide: affordability. For someone in a LDC, affordability could be the one thing that prevents them from gaining access to the internet. Logically, if one must choose between food for their family and paying for internet access, one would always choose to provide for their family.
Another interesting panel included a discussion on how governments and the private sector can work together to improve what is called “tech diplomacy.” Tech diplomacy is essentially collective action between government and the private sector to maintain regulations and innovation in our evolving world. Tech diplomacy not only involves expanding access to LDCs, but it also includes keeping the internet “open and free”—even in authoritarian regimes. Moreover, we cannot discuss keeping the internet “open and free” to all people without mentioning the private sector’s responsibility in helping keep the internet affordable for all people—regardless of where they live. The panel concluded by emphasizing the importance of tech diplomacy being at the forefront of modern diplomatic policy.
That night, we realized a few students in our group had never visited D.C. before, so we met up with a few Patterson alum and took the metro out to the National Mall to see the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. As we read Lincoln’s words along the walls, we were reminded of our patriotism and dedication to continue moving toward a more inclusive and equal society.