Shaping Europe’s Digital Future: Take 2
Written by Sarah Borg
Many countries in Europe introduced social distancing measures to fight the Coronavirus pandemic. As a result, the demand for Internet capacity has increased, be it for teleworking, e-learning or entertainment purposes according to the European Commission (CION). The CION wants a European society powered by digital solutions that are strongly rooted in our common values, and that enrich the lives of all of us: people must have the opportunity to develop personally, to choose freely and safely, to engage in society, regardless of their age, gender or professional background. To respond to this intensified flow of internet traffic, the CION called upon the cooperation of all telecoms stakeholders to ensure connectivity and an open internet across Europe.
There were already plans to shape Europe’s digital future, however, the pandemic has brought about an unprecedented situation that will necessitate a rethinking or redirection of certain planned actions. These actions are part of a proposed set of the council of the EU Conclusions. Conclusions normally refer to a given direction or a way forward on which the Member States (MS) agree upon and include in a number of proposed actions that either the CION or the MS or both these EU institutions together, sometimes also involving the European Parliament to implement such action through proposed legislation. The Conclusions invited MS and the CION to thoroughly analyse the experiences gained from this pandemic in order to draw conclusions for the future, emphasizing that the focus should not only be on the experiences gained, however, we insisted that there also has to an assessment (in collaboration with MS) of what worked and what did not work during this period.
Moreover, we underlined the importance of cybersecurity making a loose reference to the National Critical Infrastructure especially in the areas of connectivity and power, in a wider sense, not only focusing on cybersecurity but also with respect to the operational sustainability and stability of such critical infrastructure. The Agency made reference to an increase in several innovative working practices and increased ways of doing business online and interacting remotely which led to less traveling and lower traffic emissions. Like other MS, Malta recorded lower traffic pollution during the present COVID-19 crises.
The digital transformation has in the past impacted and transformed sectors where Europe has great strengths, health, public administration, amongst others. However, we insisted that new strengths should be sought in new areas such as digital tourism and localisation in manufacturing (essential products possibly using 3d printers), areas that were necessitated by the pandemic. For emerging technologies, especially artificial intelligence (AI) we insisted that apart from safety and security, the EU should also ensure the ethical usage of AI and address the needs of AI usage within a local context, such as customisation of AI solutions that use the Maltese Language.
The CION asked us to list initiatives taken to address the COVID-19 crisis as part of the EU’s Digital Economy and Society Index. Amongst other things, MITA invested in its infrastructure and ancillary support services to be able to offer all Government employees the facility to work remotely when the COVID-19 started to restrict movement. The Agency also shifted training sessions related to emerging technologies through a remote means. The same approach has been used on lectures being delivered to University ICT students in line with the University of Malta.
Over the past couple of years, MITA has also invested in enhancing its tooling, facilities and workforce capabilities in cybersecurity to ensure the maximisation of integrity, availability and confidentiality of Government IT systems, whilst ensuring that Government’s workforce can work at the office or remotely in a seamless and secure manner. To retain the attained levels of Information Security, MITA augmented its visibility and detection capabilities within MITA Security Operations Centre, extending its operating hours and augmenting concurrent Cyber Security Analysis.
In this period, special attention was dedicated to Health Solutions demanded by the pandemic crises. With the purpose of reducing the number of people going to Primary Healthcare centers and to hospitals, the Department of Health started the introduction of online consultations using video conferencing tools. MITA extended its operational hours within the local public sector and ensured timely processing of security-related tasks to facilitate fast deployment through operational teams within MITA. This was intended to be able to keep up with the surge of requests, particularly related to health environments and remote working in line with Security Policies and Enterprise Risk Management processes.
This being an unprecedented situation, it is still unknown what the implications of the COVID-19 on the development of digital platforms to support the ever-changing socio-economic world will be. This leaves opportunities and challenges that will need to be addressed as they arise.
MITA has also invested in enhancing its tooling, facilities and workforce capabilities in cybersecurity to ensure the maximisation of integrity, availability and confidentiality of Government IT systems, whilst ensuring that Government’s workforce can work at the office or remotely in a seamless and secure manner.