Lots of folks have been asking me what was the main result of the World Summit on the Information Society. My answer is that the WSIS affirmed emphatically that the Internet and other information communications technologies fall firmly within the domain of the United Nations as a policy-making forum.
Different actors wanted different outcomes from the WSIS process.
- Many developing countries lobbied for the creation of a new global fund to finance ICT infrastructure development in their countries so that their economies can catch up to the West.
- Many countries and NGOs wanted the management of the domain name system to be wrested away from ICANN and given over to some more multi-lateral, inter-governmental body.
- Human rights and privacy groups wanted solid commitments to human rights in cyberspace.
- The private sector just wanted to keep everyone’s grubby hands off of the technologies and networks that they developed and largely control.
In the end, nobody really got all of what they wanted, which I guess is what diplomacy is all about. But everyone agreed that important issues were raised at a global level that will continue to be relevant into the future — from cybercrime to spam to pornography. And most everyone agreed that the current arrangements for policy dialogue and agreement were not sufficient — i.e. ICANN, WIPO, the Council of Europe, etc.
Only the United States really opposed to creating any new policy forums.
So the WSIS conclusion that the United Nations was the proper body to coordinate policy dialogue and coordination on Internet issues is an important decision for the future of these technologies. Whatever the failings and weaknesses of the United Nations, and there are many, it is the most representative and inclusive body in the world for the discussion of these important questions. The United Nations at least gives developing countries and civil society groups a fighting chance to get their views in, rather than leave the major decisions up to large multinational corporations and the United States.
The real fight then becomes how will the structure, mandate and operations of the Internet Governance Forum and the Commission on Science and Technology for Development be decided?