World Summit on the Information Society

From Academic Kids

The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) is a UN-sponsored conference about information and communication. The summit happens twice: its first part took place in December 2003 in Geneva. Phase two will take place in November 2005 in Tunis. The summit process began with the first "Prepcom" in July 2002.

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


"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, including human rights, people-centred development, freedom of speech and press freedom.

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.

Some civil society groups have expressed alarm that the 2005 phase of the WSIS is being held in Tunisia, a country with serious human rights violations [[1] (]. A fact-finding mission to Tunisia in January 2005 by the Tunisia Monitoring Group, a coalition of 13 members of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange, found serious cause for concern about the current state of freedom of expression and of civil liberties in the country, including gross restrictions on freedom of the press, media, publishing and the Internet. IFEX has published a 60-page report that recommends steps the Tunisian government needs to take to bring the country in line with international human rights standards [[2] (].

Civil Society's critique

In a press statement released 14 November 2003 [3] ( 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. But the 'digital divide' concept was also under criticism of the civil society. Groups such as FFII rejected the term.

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 commitment 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 [4] ( the United States delegation to the WSIS advocated 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 3 December.

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

Gross said the United States was 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 had 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.

The U.S. has been critiziced as hypocritical on this point, as many governments are very concerned that neo-Nazi and fascist groups use U.S.-based servers to spread their anti-semite and nationalistic propaganda. This controversy is a consequence of the unique American position on free speech.

External links

eo:Monda Forumo de la Elektronikaj Komunikiloj es:Cumbre Mundial sobre la Sociedad de la Información fr:Sommet mondial sur la société de l'information nl:World Summit on the Information Society


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