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World Summit on the Information Society

The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) is a UN world conference about information and communication. The summit happens twice: it's first part is termed for December, 2003 in Geneva, it's second part should happen in 2005 in Tunis. The summit process was started with the first "Prepcom" in July, 2002.

The UN General Assembly endorsed the proposal for a global summit on ICT issues in January 2002. The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) took the lead in organizing the event in which more than 50 heads of state participate. WSIS is also related to the UNESCO.

Table of contents
1 "Civil Society"
2 Civil Society's critique
3 United States priorities
4 External links

"Civil Society"

A great number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), scientific institutions, community media and others are participating as "civil society" in the preparations for the summit as well as the WSIS itself. They try to establish the broadest possible participation of civil society groups at the summit and to push civil society issues onto the agenda.

At the same time, there is plenty of WSIS-related discussion outside the official conferences. Workshops on the themes of the summit were held e.g. at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, and plans are shaping up for alternative events outside and parallel to the official WSIS summit.

In Germany, a WSIS working group initiated by the Network New Media and the Heinrich Böll Foundation, has been meeting continuously since summer 2002. This group has gradually developed into a broader Germany-wide civil society coordination for the WSIS.

Civil Society's critique

In a press statement released 14 November 2003 [1] the Civil Society group warns about a deadlock, already setting in on the very first article of the declaration, where governments are not able to agree on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the common foundation of the summit declaration. It identifies two main problems:
  1. On the issue of correcting imbalances in riches, rights and power, governments do not agree on even the principle of a financial effort to overcome the so-called "digital divide", which was precisely the objective when the summit process was started in 2001.
  2. In its view, not even the basis of human life in dignity and equality, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, finds support as the basis for the Information Society. Governments are not able to agree on a comittment to basic human right standards as the basis for the Information Society, most prominent in this case being the freedom of expression.

United States priorities

In a document released 3 December 2003
[1] the United States delegation to the WSIS is advocating a strong private sector and rule of law as the critical foundations for development of national information and communication technologies (ICT). Ambassador David Gross, the US coordinator for international communications and information policy, outlined what he called "the three pillars" of the US position in a briefing to reporters December 3.
  1. As nations attempt to build a sustainable ICT sector, commitment to the private sector and rule of law must be emphasized, Gross said, "so that countries can attract the necessary private investment to create the infrastructure."
  2. A second important pillar of the US position is the need for content creation and intellectual property rights protection in order to inspire ongoing content development.
  3. Insuring security on the internet, in electronic communications and in electronic commerce is the third major priority for the US. "All of this works and is exciting for people as long as people feel that the networks are secure from cyber attacks, secure in terms of their privacy," Gross said.

As the Geneva phase of the meeting draws closer, one proposal that is gaining attention would create an international fund to provide increased financial resources to help lesser-developed nations expand their ICT sectors. The "voluntary digital solidarity fund" is a proposal put forth by the president of Senegal, but it is not one that the United States can currently endorse, Gross said.

Gross said the United States is also achieving broad consensus on the principle that a "culture of cybersecurity" must develop in national ICT policies to continue growth and expansion in this area. He said the last few years have been marked by considerable progress as nations update their laws to address the galloping criminal threats in cyberspace. "There's capacity-building for countries to be able to criminalize those activities that occur within their borders ... and similarly to work internationally to communicate between administrations of law enforcement to track down people who are acting in ways that are unlawful," Gross said.

External links