Tomorrow the final Preparatory Committee meeting of the World Summit on the Information Society begins its two-week (!!) session. Whether or not the major substantial issues get resolved here will determine whether the summit is likely to be a watershed or a dismal failure.
There are a number of major issues to be addressed. Here are some of the main ones:
- Internet Governance: Particularly, how will governments choose to receive the report of the Working Group on Internet Governance? Some governments like the US would like the report to merely be “accepted” but for none of the language in the report introduced into the WSIS. The broader question is what will governments be willing to agree to in November on Internet Governance? Will they be open to agree to a process to improve upon the current system overseen by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). Will there be a commitment to open up the management of the internet to the broad range of stakeholders with vital interests in the Internet, from national governments to the private sector and civil society?
- Implementation of the WSIS. What kind of structures, if any, will be put in place to make sure that the commitments of the WSIS are put into place? Beyond Internet Governance, what will be the process to monitor the implementation of the commitments in the WSIS declaration in relation to ICT financing, human rights in the Information Society, and many other areas. The UN ICT Task Force presumably will continue to advocate their “Global Alliance” concept, while the US delegation is likely to oppose any strong implementation structures beyond Tunis.
- Practical arrangements for Tunis Summit: Including accreditation, side events, accommodations, visas, etc. Civil society groups are most concerned about the political implications of many of these arrangements. For example, the WSIS secretariat decided to not forward the NGO Human Rights in China to be accredited for the WSIS, which a certain delegation had obviously strong feelings about. Many groups are worried that groups critical of the Tunisian regime will not be allowed to air their views. And there are some basic infrastructure issues like wifi and meeting spaces that need to be resolved.
For civil society, we would like to see a strong formalized commitment of governments to a multi-stakeholder process of dealing with Information Society issues into the future. And we would like it to have a strong linkage to the United Nations to ensure it remains on the front burner of global decision-makers.
It could be a hairy two weeks.