The following is the talk that I gave for the Department of Public Information NGO Briefing yesterday at the United Nations.
DPI/NGO Briefing on WSIS
\2 February 2006
Remarks by Rik Panganiban
When I was eight years old, what I wanted more than anything in the world was an Atari video game system. When youre a kid, you want things will your entire being. I would look at the print ads in the newspaper for the Atari and dream about what it would be like to play with it. But my parents werent that well off and I knew that we couldnt afford what was then a very expensive toy. So I tried to manage my expectations when Christmas came along.
When December 25th finally rolled around, sure enough there was a big rectangular present with my name on it. I could not believe my eyes when I opened it and found an Atari game system enclosed. I held its black plastic and fake wood casing like it was a teddy bear.
After thoroughly playing the included video games, and eventually getting other games, I became interested in how those games were made. As I got older I dreamed of designing my own video games, and read about the programming languages that computer games were built with. I got my parents to get me a Commodore 64 computer, which was a great tool for learning how to program. I took computer classes as a teenager and saved up for my own Apple portable computer.
Fast forward to today where I use computers every day as an activist and organizer. My entire career I owe in some way to my parents getting me that Atari almost 30 years ago.
Much of what we have fought for in the WSIS process was to ensure that children of the future, whether in Laos or Liberia, have that same opportunity to benefit from information communications technology that I did.
I addressed many of you in March of last year at another DPI Briefing on the WSIS to bring you up to speed on where the process was at. My goal today is to tell you what we achieved at the WSIS and what work is left for us to accomplish.
What Was Achieved in Tunis?We have heard from the other distinguished speakers from their own perspectives on what was achieved in Tunis. Let me give you some flavor of what the view was like from the civil society corner of the room.
Human Rights Concerns
Many of us feared that there would be a showdown in Tunis between independent civil society groups such as the Tunisian League for Human Rights and the government. Indeed there were a couple of incidents in Tunis surrounding the holding of a citizens summit in parallel to the WSIS in another venue in Tunis. The venue of some of these meetings were blocked by the tunisian police, preventing the organizers from entering. In course of this action, some of the organizers were roughed up and beaten by police.
On a more positive note, in a very last minute effort, the Human Rights Caucus managed to put together an impressive campaign to get Ms. Shirin Ebadi, 2003 Nobel Peace Prize recipient and Iranian human rights activist, selected to speak as the civil society speaker at the opening ceremony of the WSIS. As anticipated, Ms Ebadi pulled no punches and delivered a very strong statement in support of basic human rights and social justice. It was a moving moment for many of us.
The Official Texts
Much of the actual government lobbying was done by the time we got to Tunis. There was some last minute sword rattling by the EU on Internet Governance issues, but otherwise we entered Tunis basically knowing what we were going to get.
What did we get? We got a broad package of vague commitments and pledges by governments to ensure the broadest possible access to the benefits of the Information Society. Specifically:
- Language on the importance of human rights in the information society: the freedom of expression, right to receive information and a free press.
- Language on open source, people with disabilities, cultural and linguistic diversity that was due to civil society advocacy.
- Affirms the importance of education in science and technology of girls and women to enable their effective participation in decision-making fora.
- Supports the creation of child helplines in all countries.
- Calls upon ECOSOC to restructure the existing Commission on Science and Technology for Development to be the follow-up coordination body, with multi-stakeholder participation.
- Creation of an Internet Governance Forum for broad-based, multi-stakeholder dialogue on public policy issues related to internet governance. Greece has already offered to host the first meeting of the IGP.
- Secretary General to create a group on the Information Society within the Chief Executives Board for coordination (CEB) to facilitate cooperation.
- Review of the Summit commitments in 2015.
- May 17 declared “World Information Society Day.” Kiss your computer.
On a larger note, 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. 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.
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 UN, 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 or the United States alone.
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? That brings us to where we are now.
What Can I Do?
Now that the WSIS is over, and the beginnings of an implementation process have been put in place, what is civil societys role? To ensure that the commitments made toward an inclusive, multi-stakeholder process and the integration of concerns of human rights, gender justice and poverty alleviation are fully implemented.
The three things you can do from now forward are to educate, participate and advocate.
1. Educate your own constituencies (and yourself) on these issues. There are lots of resources on the WSIS online as well as books and papers that can get you up to speed. APC is a good place to start.
2. Participate at upcoming UN meetings:
- 16 – 17 February : Internet Governance Forum – consultations , Geneva http://www.intgovforum.org
- 24 February: multi-stakeholder consultation meeting convened by ITU, UNESCO and UNDP in the Palais des Nations, Geneva.
- 1519 May : Commission of Science and Technology for Development, Geneva http://stdev.unctad.org
- 27 June – 29 July : ECOSOC Substantive Session (Palais des nations, Geneva) UN CSTD reform will be addressed.
- 2006: Greece will host 1st official meeting of Internet Governance Forum. http://www.igfgreece2006.gr/
- Other meetings of other UN agencies: WHO, WTO, UNCTAD, FAO, the regional commissions, etc.
3. Advocate: Stay engaged with the networks working on the issues you care about, whether its broadband internet access, community and independent media, or girls education in science and technology. There are lots of active national and international campaigns and coalitions that could use your help.
Weve opened a small door for us to remain engaged with governments, the private sector and the UN on these vital ICT issues. Its up to us to keep that door open and to make our voices heard.
Because for many children of the world computers and the Internet are things they can only dream about, just as I dreamed of that Atari game system when I was eight. Its up to us to ensure that their dreams are fulfilled.
You can find the final statement from civil society on the WSIS at http://www.ngocongo.org/wsis . And you can stay up to date on my work and views on my blog at http://www.rikomatic.typepad.com .