geert lovink on Mon, 28 Jul 2003 09:17:05 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> George Greve: Report of WSIS preparation meeting in Paris

(interesting report of a recent WSIS preparation meeting. i took out some
of the formal stuff. if you want to read the entire report go to:

Debriefing on World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS)
Intersessional Meeting, Paris, July 15-18
by Georg C. F. Greve <>

(representative for WSIS coordination circle of German civil societies in
German delegation & Free Software Foundation Europe, president)

The main documents for the WSIS, namely the "Declaration of Principles"
and the "Plan of Action" had become very big, sometimes self-contradicting
and almost unreadable due to the many comments and contributions
incorporated. Therefore, the purpose of this intersessional meeting in
Paris was to go through the documents for the WSIS and get them into a
more concise, clear and workable shape; so they would provide a good basis
for further discussion at PrepCom-3 in Geneva, Switzerland from 15 to 26
September 2003.

With the WSIS being a UN conference, the countries were invited to send
delegations for the official negotiations, civil societies, business and
international organizations were admitted as mere observers.

Of most interest for civil societies were the groups on Communication
Rights, Cybersecurity & Privacy and Internet Governance, all of which were
open at least to observers from civil societies, sometimes they were given
permission to speak.

Also, Switzerland and the USA were asked to come up with a new draft of
the part about Free Software and open standards after the United States
had announced having problems with that particular part.

There were several topics that dominated the discussions at the
intersessional meeting in Paris -- especially those for which ad-hoc
working groups were formed.

a. Communication Rights

Many governments outright refused to consider the effects of information
technology on human rights, a topic often addressed under headings of
"communication rights" or "informational self-determination" by civil

  After the viewpoint was brought up that this would mean defining new
human rights -- something the WSIS could not do as it was not a human
rights panel -- this view was quickly adopted and put forward by
governments from USA to China.

  So although (thanks to the intransparent drafting process) it is not
clear what exactly the draft Declaration of Principles currently says,
references to human rights and basics of society were apparently
significantly reduced.

  Both Brazil, which argued strongly for a more human rights based vision
in the document, and the EU, which was officially arguing along the lines
of the common position paper worked out before the intersessional meeting,
were unsuccessful at convincing the rest of the delegates.

  Within the EU, the positions seem to be varying quite a bit. Some
countries are more in line with China and the USA, others were suggesting
to take the first paragraph of the civil societies document instead, as
that seemed of much higher quality to them.

b. Cybersecurity & Privacy

After some discussions, the proposal of the EU was universally accepted.

  Only Russia made their acceptance dependent on the adoption of two
paragraphs against "cyberterrorism" and for "national sovereignty" -- a
position which they refused to negotiate. So after hours of discussion, it
was agreed to use the EU proposal plus the two Russian paragraphs in
square brackets.

  Also the USA were distributing documents about cybersecurity and
homeland defense, apparently in an attempt to gain support for a more
restrictive regime.

c. Internet Governance

There are again to major fractions in the internet governance area. One
group, most prominently China, seeks to establish a pure governmental
organization for internet governance. The other group, mainly the USA and
EU wish to see a reform of ICANN with a strengthened influence for

  The position of the business sector is to leave it entirely without
governmental influence, while civil societies would like to see
strengthened direct influence of the users in the governance of the

 d. Digital Solidarity Fund

Another issue debated is the creation of a Digital Solidarity Fund that
would help developing countries getting up to speed for the information

  Some countries -- especially the developing ones -- are very much in
favor of this fund, while others seem very reluctant. The German
government has for instance a clear position against such a new
instrument. Their reason is that there is already quite a number of
bilateral and multilateral activities in the "ICT and Development" area.
Also creation of such a new instrument wouldn't mean that it would have
sufficient funds. A position that seems to be supported by a significant
amount of other EU countries.

e. Free Software & industrial control of information (IPR)

Especially the USA demand to leave the issue of Free Software and related
issues about industrial control of information (IPRs) out of the
discussion. Their strategy is particularly one of marginalizing Free
Software as a pure development model by referring to it under the proposed
marketing term "Open Source" suggested in 1998.

  The position taken by supporters of that viewpoint is to leave these
issues entirely up to the WIPO and WTO, declaring the WSIS the wrong
platform for these discussions.

f. "Classic" issues

Although no country would openly ask for removal of statements towards
gender mainstreaming or empowering youth, these sometimes seem to
disappear from the documents (as it happened with the draft circulated on
day three).

  So it remains important to keep reminding the governments of these
issues that are sometimes still far from being understood and need to be
put forward with the adequate weight.

Political impressions

Regarding internet governance, a reformed ICANN seems like the most likely
outcome, since the USA are taking a strong position on this and no EU
country seems to be so much in disagreement to actually oppose them on
this matter.

It seems that for the human rights issues, the situation is very complex,
but with the exception of single countries like Brazil, no country is
willing to risk going beyond what was known in 1948.

So we are currently facing the risk that the only occurence of human
rights in the knowledge society will be references to the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights and the Millennium Declaration but no explicit

With respect to the cybersecurity & privacy issue, it seems that the EU
proposal -- which is substantially not very far from what the civil
societies are proposing -- currently has found strong support.

Russia is pressing hard for a more restrictive regime, though, and it does
not seem unlikely the USA will join forces with them. So given that the EU
is currently very careful about alienating the USA, this situation should
probably not be considered stable.

Regarding the Digital Solidarity Fund, it seems unlikely that in the event
it will be created there will be resonable funds made available for it.
Also its creation seems unlikely given the amount of resistance
particularly among the wealthier nations.

>From a civil societies viewpoint, it would seem more useful to
concentrate on the systematic approach.

So focussing on making the system more just instead of pushing for a
(probably insignificant) fund -- that would then have to push money
against the slope created by a more inequal system -- seems like a sane

Closely related to issues of human rights, cybersecurity, industrial
control of information and privacy is the Free Software question. Free
Software as a paradigm provides each human being equal access to the
cultural technique that software has become. It empowers the individual
regardless of origin, belief or nationality and provides one seminal
pillar on which informational self-determination is based.

>From an economic point of view, the Free Software paradigm allows
sustainable development and a system without the strong monopolizing
tendencies of the proprietary software system. Freedom of markets is one
of the freedoms that Free Software can help uphold.

Unfortunately, the USA were quite successful in their attempt at
marginalizing Free Software as the "Open Source development model."

They were in fact so successful that even some civil society members were
accepting that marginalization, equally using the "Open Source"
terminology to refer to Free Software.

Particularly the question of industrial control of information -- usually
summarized under the acronym IPR, suitably expanded as "Intellectual
Poverty Rights" -- will become crucial for the information and knowledge

Governments around the world seem under immense pressure by the industry
to leave these issues to the WIPO and WTO, which are both strongly
influenced by the industry. Although the WSIS cannot ignore these
organizations, leaving the issue of industrial control of information out
of the WSIS would make it useless.

Instead the WSIS would provide an excellent possibility to -- in dialog
and cooperation with WIPO and WTO -- reexamine some of the established
policies in the light of the information age, allowing to get rid of those
that prove unsuitable for this new era.

Future options

Germany was -- to the authors knowledge -- one of three countries taking a
civil society representative into their official governmental delegation
(the other two were Switzerland and Denmark).

This was a visible sign of a general undercurrent which seemed to permeate
a lot of the WSIS intersessional meeting. A new understanding by the
governments that civil societies have substantial contributions to make to
the WSIS process.

So it seems settled that the German government will hold more meetings
with the governmental, business and civil society sector involved to come
to a German position to the WSIS.

Something similar might be possible on a European Union scale and was
raised during the intersessional meeting in Paris. Getting the European
civil societies together and finding political support for that kind of
interface would provide an excellent opportunity to help the WSIS do what
it set out to do.

Personal remarks

While from the civil society side it is sometimes easy to overestimate the
power of governmental delegates or get the impression everything was much
more transparent to them, governmental representatives sometimes seem
encouraged to feel civil societies don't understand the political process
or make unrealistic demands.

For these reasons, participation inside the German governmental delegation
was an important step as it helped building trust, understanding and
confidence from both sides.

Inside the German delegation, the governmental representatives were very
open, helpful and cooperative. They were always willing to answer
questions about the processes, the background and the issues.

Also, once enough trust had grown to know that no unwarranted statements
would be made on behalf of Germany, they encouraged to raise some of the
issues with the other governmental delegates directly. This may not become
immediately visible, but it did allow at times to raise the right point at
the right time, which sometimes can make a big difference.

Overall, the combined and coordinated approach with one representative
inside the governmental delegation and some people in the civil society
coordination process worked very well and is a model worth building upon
for the future.

Regarding the WSIS

>From the viewpoint of civil societies, we have to make sure that human
rights, privacy, industrial control of information and Free Software are
put into right perspective and not left out of the WSIS.

The biggest lack that seemed to permeate the whole intersessional meeting
was lack of vision for the knowledge society and lack of courage trying to
create a truly visionary Declaration of Principles for it.

So it seems that the governments of this planet are currently on the brink
of missing one very important and possibly groundbreaking opportunity.

More information
Official WSIS website

Web sites by civil societies about the WSIS

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