The following are my remarks to a bunch of non-governmental organization representatives last week organized by the UN Department of Public Information. These are my talking notes so there will probably be some questionable English in there, for which I apologize.
My goal for the next few minutes is to bring you up to speed on where we in the WSIS process. The main questions I want to address
- Where are we now?
- What are the key issues that I should care about?
- And How can I get active?
But first a couple of recent anecdotes that show the relevance of these information society issues for civil society:
- The UN Millennium Project report recommends that one of the “quick wins” in achieving the MDGs would be to _ “provide access to electricity, water, sanitation, and the Internet for all hospitals, schools, and other social service institutions. Thus they viewed the access to the internet as a public utility and a necessary service rather than a luxury.
- In this country, the US Federal Elections Commission is considering how campaign finance rules apply to internet websites and blogs. Early FEC language called for a high level of regulation of political oriented blogs, including whether or not they can endorse candidates, which was strongly opposed by the public and internet users from both red and blue states and was subsequently toned down just this past week.
- Washington Post reported yesterday that SMS cell phone text messaging is being used as a political organizing tool in
several countries in the Arab World. For example, Kuwaiti women are using SMS text messaging to organize demonstrations for the right to vote in their country. Similar SMS uprisings in the Philippines led to the ouster of President Estrada in
So where are we now?
Third and final prepcom in September in Geneva and then the final summit in November in Tunisia. A draft political chapeau and an operational document are undergoing negotiations between now and September. There are lots of intersessional regional and thematic meetings going on around the world, and a lot of activity
Why is the WSIS important? What are the key issues that I should care about?
The first thing I have to note is that the WSIS is not about technology. It’s primarily about human development and society.
- The WSIS can guarantee the primacy of Human Rights in the Information Society – particularly Freedom of Expression, Freedom of the Press.
- What are concrete steps that the international community can do to ensure that these fundamental rights are preserved as
new technologies become more widespread and available?
- And what can be done to ensure that these new technologies don’t become further means of censorship and
- In some countries, if you criticize the wrong
person in an email, you can go to jail. There will be efforts of some groups to highlight the situation in Tunisia on freedom of expression and press issues, which promises to continue to be the subject of contention and debate among civil society and governments alike.
- Similarly, there are a number of Privacy, Surveillance issues that will be raised in the WSIS.
- These new technologies make possible new means for governments, business and criminal elements to monitor and record online activity, from cell phone conversations to credit card transactions.
- How do we ensure that citizens can have reasonable means of maintaining their privacy and identity in this new world? What are reasonable policies that governments can follow to preserve this right to privacy?
- Civil Society groups are particularly concerned about corporate media dominance around the world.
- Many groups, particularly in the South, are concerned that foreign companies are seeking entry into their countries
to acquire their local media and resources, from television networks to
computer operating systems.
- Civil society has traditionally been the defender of alternative media sources, independent broadcasting,
community media, and open source software. What can be done at the policy level to ensure media diversity?
- Lastly, civil society groups are promoting access to technology for those communities that are beyond the reach of
- The World Bank and the Economist recently argued that cell phones will the key to bridging the digital divide in the developing world, and that governments just need to get out of the way and let the private sector make it happen.
- Civil society has a responsibility to ensure
that those who will not be reached by business or government also have the opportunity to benefit from these new technologies. These include for example disabled people, the elderly, and the rural and urban poor.
What can I do?
Luckily, there are lots of ways you can get active on these issues and others I haven_Ž“t had time to mention.
- Speak out on Internet Governance issues
UN Working Group on Internet Governance, which was set up by the Secretary General at the end of the first phase of the WSIS, is finalizing its work
There are several opportunities for NGOs to input into process _ thru the civil society members on WGIG, the internet governance NGO caucus and public meetings of the WGIG
WGIG will give final report in mid-July
- Input into structure of Global Alliance on ICT Policy Development
They need your ideas on what kind of loose structure
for the Global Alliance could be designed that transparently and fairly includes civil society views?
Great opportunity to impact the formation of a next generation UN global policy body
Open consultation process will continue until
mid-april. Ideas can be send directly to the secretariat.
There will be an in-depth discussion at the UN ICT Task Force meeting in Ireland next week
launching of Global Alliance in November in Tunis
- Plan to come to Tunis in November _Ž� set up an exhibit, hold a side-event. Deadline of 30 April to register interest in organizing a side-event or exhibit.
- Educate your own constituents _ stimulate dialogue and debate on these issues at your own meetings
- Attend upcoming meetings:
- 6-7 May, Bamako, Mali. meeting on “Multilingualism for Cultural Diversity and Participation of All in Cyberspace”
- 8-10 May, Cairo, Egypt. “Arab Regional Dialogue”
- 9-11 May, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia “Asia Media Summit”
- 13-15 May, Winnipeg, Canada – Views of Canada’s Civil Society_
- 16-17 May, Tokyo, Japan. Ubiquitous Network Conference.
- 24-25 May Tunis, Tunisia – NGO Forum for WSIS sponsored by IRENE
- 8-10 June, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil Regional Preparatory Conference for Latin America and the Caribbean
- 9-10 June, Seoul, Meeting on “Multi-stakeholder partnerships for Bridging the Digital Divide”
- 28 June -1 July, Geneva. Meeting on Cybersecurity and Spam
- 19-30 September, Geneva. Prepcom III.
- 16-18 November. WSIS Summit, Tunis.
- Participate online. There are lots of active working groups and networks that welcome participation via their email lists and websites.
I hope this has helped you identify what some of the key civil society issues are within the WSIS process. Hopefully I have encouraged some of you to get more involved. I look forward to answering any further questions you may have.