World Summit on the Information Society


Acronym: WSIS

Established: 2003

Address: Place des Nations, 1202 Genève, Switzerland


The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) was organised on the basis of the UN General Assembly Resolution 56/183 (21 December 2001), and it was aimed to contribute to the development of a unitary global vision on an inclusive and development-oriented information society. The summit was held in two phases: the first phase took place in Geneva, from 10 to 12 December 2003, and the second phase took place in Tunis, from 16 to 18 November 2005. Although a UN summit, WSIS was open to participation from the private sector, the technical community, and the civil society.

The overall objective of WSIS was to contribute to bridging the digital divide between the developed and developing countries, and to facilitate the implementation of the millennium development goals. But more complex issues related to the concept of Internet governance were also discussed within WSIS.

The Geneva phase finalised with the adoption of two documents: the Geneva Declaration of Principles, which underlines a set of principles to form the basis of an inclusive and global information society, and the Geneva Plan of Action, which contains several objectives and action lines related to bridging the digital divide. The Declaration also makes reference to Internet governance, by saying that this concept should constitute a key element of the information society agenda, and that the international management of the Internet should be a multilateral, transparent, and democratic process which includes all categories of actors. Signatories of the Geneva Declaration mandated the UN Secretary General to create a Working Group on Internet Governance, as a multistakeholder entity tasked with: elaborating a definition for the term ‘Internet governance’, identifying public policy aspects pertaining to Internet governance, and developing a common vision of the role and responsibilities of governments, international organisations, private sector and the civil society, as Internet governance actors.

The Tunis phase concluded with the adoption of two other documents: the Tunis Commitment and the Tunis Agenda for the Information Society. The two documents underline three main areas of action: the identification of financial mechanisms to be used in overcoming the digital divide, the promotion of debates on Internet governance, and the implementation of the WSIS documents. The Tunis Agenda also contains a definition for the term Internet governance (as proposed by the Working group on Internet Governance), and it mandates the UN Secretary General to convene the Internet Governance Forum.

The Tunis Agenda also called for a ten-year review of the implementation of WSIS objectives and action lines. The review process culminated with a UN high-level governmental meeting, held in New York on 15-16 December 2015, which decided – among other aspects – on the renewal mandate of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), and the next steps in the enhanced cooperation process.