Kofi Annan wrote an editorial in the Washington Post to address the “mistaken notion” that the United Nations wants to “take over, police or otherwise control the Internet.” “Nothing could be farther from the truth,” he maintains.
In the editorial, the UN Secretary-General seeks to do damage-control to counter the US government’s and popular media’s portrayal of the WSIS as an effort of the United Nations to overthrow the current overlords of the Net.
He notes that the explosive growth and stability of the Net is largely due to the unprecedented collaboration among private business, academia and civil society, outside of the traditional inter-governmental processes. However he maintains that “developing countries find it difficult to follow all these processes and feel left out of Internet governance structures.”
He argues that as the Internet becomes increasingly important for the economies of the South, developing countries are going to want more say in how this vital resource is managed. The key is seperating and balancing the technical management of the internet’s resources, which has been handled by the private sector and technical communities, from the broader policy oversight, which should be in the hands of governments.
The SG concludes:
Everyone acknowledges the need for more international participation in discussions of Internet governance. The disagreement is over how to achieve it. So let’s set aside fears of U.N. “designs” on the Internet. Much as some would like to open up another front of attack on the United Nations, this dog of an argument won’t bark. I urge all stakeholders to come to Tunis ready to bridge the digital divide and ready to build an open, inclusive information society that enriches and empowers all people.
What those of us active in the WSIS process know is that in Tunis next week there will likely be no specific agreement on any kind of new internet governance architecture. The governments of the world will not be signing a “Treaty of Versailles” for cyberspace.
Instead what is most likely is that they will agree on a broad set of principles and loose mandate for a future international internet “forum” and ask the UN Secretary General to develop a specific proposal on this by some deadline. His proposal would then be delivered to the UN General Assembly for ratification at some point in the future.
So the fight now is on two fronts: (1) to make sure that in the final Tunis agreement that there is enough specificity in the text to ensure that all of our issues of human rights, gender justice, disability rights, etc. don’t get lost in the horse-trading and (2) that the future mechanism includes our active participation.