WSIS review UN GA plenary – 16 December 2015
Similar to yesterday’s plenary session, the predominant focus of the statements was on digital development and bridging the digital divide, which was mentioned by almost all speakers. The link between the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and WSIS was often reiterated. Again, different digital divides were mentioned, in particular the gap between developed and developing countries, rural and urban communities, and between men and women. There were also pleas to include the elderly (Liechtenstein, Singapore, Portugal), the disabled (Singapore, Egypt, Israel), cultural and linguistic minorities (Sri Lanka, Egypt, Argentina), and people facing humanitarian or emergency situations (Lebanon). Norway mentioned that bridging the digital divide is not only a priority for economic reasons, but also ‘to promote universal values and a sense of belonging’.
According to some states, providing access to the unconnected depends mainly on available infrastructure; in this regards, Albania mentioned that it considers infrastructure to be the main pillar of its strategy for digital growth. Others argued that infrastructure is insufficient and emphasised the importance of good policies and an enabling environment (Canada, Belgium). Furthermore, several developing countries (Sudan, Syria, Morocco) indicated the importance of developed countries to assist them with connecting to ICTs and to share their knowledge. Although Internet connection is important, Slovenia warned other states against zero rating practices that infringe on the principle of net neutrality.
Additionally, there was an emphasis on the utility of modern applications brought by the Internet. Several states shared their successes in e-government, such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Albania, and Rwanda. Israel mentioned the effectiveness of ICT in e-education, e-health and e-agriculture. Finally, Singapore mentioned its Smart Nation project, and progress in developing ‘smart’ and sustainable cities were mentioned by Argentina and Rwanda.
The need to develop skills and build capacity was highlighted extensively by different states in relation to both development and security. To bridge the digital divide, capacity development is seen as essential, because development policies are deemed unsuccessful without the necessary relevant skills among the population. Further, Bahrain mentioned the importance of raising awareness on the benefits brought by the information society, particularly in relation to e-government. Capacity development and confidence building in relation to security was mentioned as key to create a culture of cybersecurity. Egypt mentioned capacity building in relation to resilience against cyber terrorism.
Yesterday’s message of multistakeholderism was echoed today by many of the speakers. According to Belgium, the key of effective multistakeholder approach is in making effective cross-stakeholder communication. The risks of isolation and silos exist even if stakeholders are part of the process. Israel regards multistakeholder cooperation as essential to an environment of innovation. Peru argued that the multistakeholder processes should have a clear policy goal in order to be effective, for example: the development of consensus for an applicable, legal framework on Internet Governance.
Although delegates generally valued the importance of involving all stakeholders, the degree of their participation was a topic of discussion. On the one hand, Saudi Arabia and Egypt emphasised the sovereign right of states. Sudan encouraged the acknowledgement of the vital role of governments in their responsibility to provide security and disseminate ICT. On the other hand, Norway claimed that all stakeholders have an equally important role to play, without the dominance of the government sector.
Finally, Indonesia mentioned the importance of a successful transition of IANA stewardship to the multistakeholder community.
Cybersecurity and other cyber-challenges
Many states mentioned the challenge of cybersecurity and the need to move away from bilateral cooperation towards multilateral cooperation in fighting cyber threats. These threats have only increased with the growing dependency on the Internet. Norway even claimed that ‘the Internet today is the world’s most important infrastructure’. Syria focused on the threat of cyber terrorism and the responsibility for developed countries to hold accountable the companies that share ICT knowledge and services with terrorists. The Democratic Republic of Congo spoke of the specific challenges faced by young states and furthermore warned against the excesses in addressing cybersecurity.
Several countries (Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Syria) specified the proliferation of online hate speech as a challenge. For instance, Sri Lanka seeks to ‘introduce all necessary measures to ensure tolerance on the Internet, particularly among the youth’. There were also several comments on the social, long-term challenges of ICTs. For example, Liechtenstein and Tanzania highlighted the potential negative consequences of ICTs to health and social life, due to a growing ‘inactiveness and lack of productivity’. Tanzania even expressed its concern that ICTs make people ‘detached from reality’. Another challenge was mentioned by Slovenia concerning the importance of eliminating discriminatory practices and monopolistic behaviour on the market, to protect consumers.
Freedom of expression and privacy were often mentioned as important conditions for a knowledge society. Freedom of expression was explicitly mentioned by Belgium, New Zealand, Egypt, Slovenia, and Costa Rica. Liechtenstein emphasised the challenge of balancing human rights and security, and Lebanon mentioned the tension between freedom of expression and preventing hate speech. At the same time, Argentina argued that human rights should not be compromised in efforts to protect cybersecurity.
Similar to previous speakers, the UN agencies universally noted the importance of an inclusive and people centred Information Society, and the need for ICTs to support the Agenda 2030 and SDGs.
The ITU emphasised the importance of ICTs, not only in the context of the WSIS process, but also for the successful implementation of other agreements that were forged this year, such as the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda and the Convention on Climate Change. The ITU wishes to continue contributing to these efforts. It furthermore mentioned the matrix of WSIS Action Lines and the SDGs as an easy reference for shaping the future of both the SDGs and the WSIS process. Finally, the ITU reiterated that the preparations for the 2016 WSIS Forum are open for comments, through its Open Consultation Process, aiming at improving the forum’s efficiency and effectiveness.
UNESCO expressed its commitment to continue to contribute to WSIS implementation, and shared the lessons it has learned throughout the previous decade of the WSIS process. First, while infrastructure is important, it is worth very little without the capacities of men and women, local content, freedom of expression, privacy and access to information. Second, we need to move from information societies to inclusive and peaceful knowledge societies that make the most of the opportunities offered by ICTs in the education, science, culture and communication sectors.
The UNDP emphasised the importance of ICTs, in particular as a framework to address disaster situations. As it is the case with climate change, the role of ICTs in other forums is recognized, and it will be important to anchor this role across issues. For example, WSIS is positioned to lead the way to transform the work to support SDGs and and development.
The topic of divides is more than an infrastructure issue. Digital inclusion is particularly important for engagement across stakeholders, digital tools, and platforms. Digital inclusion and overcoming divides refers to resolving inequalities in decisions-making structures, for example, in the case of women, youth, and marginalised people.
UNCTAD noted the greater scope for ICTs impact as we are placed on the verge of further rapid change with developments such as big data and Internet of Things. Digital divides between men and women, old and young, rural and urban, and others must now be addressed. In addition to infrastructure, transparent policy processes and attention to content and capabilities are important in this regard. UNCTAD continues to work with other partners towards WSIS outcomes that harness ICTs to achieve SDGs. UNCTAD also highlighted the importance of international cooperation and dialogue in dealing with ICT related challenges such as cybercrime, digital inclusion, skill differences. It also noted that clear targets and tools for measurements are necessary to reach goals, while analysing previous groundwork to measure impacts.
Parminderjeet Singh compared ICTs and the Internet to industrial revolution, and asked whether we are politically more mature than we were at that time. Can the ideals of justice, human rights and democracy be part of the design of the emerging social structures? The speaker said things were ‘not looking good’. The Internet is supposed to be a socially egalitarian technology, the new oil, the new currency. But data may become a new ideology, with algorithms having hidden purposes, meaning that the Internet cannot be unregulated. The speaker cited the failure of adequate governance response so far in this regard, and suggested an imperative of global governance with three points:
Give up idea of Internet exceptionalism, the idea that the Internet cannot be governed.
The prevailing fear of abuse by governments must be addressed by checks and balances, not by denial of the need for government regulation.
The tension between multilateralism and multistakeholderism must be overcome by democracy. The people, through their representatives, must make policy decisions–not the private sector and the technical community.
The world needs well-defined democratic governance of the Internet, as an anchor point for governance changes across sectors. Left alone, the Internet will be appropriated by the powerful, as early trends show. What the UN does or does not do now will dictate the future.
Center for Democracy and Technology
Matthew Shears from the Center for Democracy and Technology highlighted a clear mission ahead of realising a knowledge society and achieving SDGs, while employing innovations, and recognising the power of individuals and stakeholders working together in multistakeholder processes. But we need more than talk about the processes, we are going to have to live them. We have no other choice but to cooperate, collaborate and bring expertise together, across silos. We will need to be more innovative, looking at ICTs more holistically discovering how those most affected can address their issues locally. Are these the best process to address the local policy environments? It’s not just about technology, but ensuring people have the tools to contribute to their own progress. With regard to human rights and fundamental freedoms, again, we must do more than talk, accepting the opportunity and responsibility to leave no one behind.
The 23-year Deniz Duru Aydin, the youngest to speak in this meeting, noted Access Now’s priority to defend and extend people’s rights. She noted that human rights must remain at the center of the development agenda for the Internet. Connectivity is not enough and human rights cannot be achieved just by subscription. She noted Access Now’s concerns about mass surveillance, especially in the form of arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy.
The speaker emphasised network neutrality as important for innovation and a free and open internet. She also specified that censorship, in its diverse permutations, must come to end, as it obstructs the free flow of knowledge. Protection of journalists and media workers is indispensable, and more youth and civil society actors are needed to shape the future of the Internet for generations to come.
According to Avri Doria, the outcome document not only does no harm, but offers opportunities to reinforce ways to come together to improve the Internet. The speaker appreciated the opportunities to give a ‘peek behind the curtain’ and was heartened to see a focus on human rights. She highlighted that special attention needs to be given to violence against women and the gay community, and called on stakeholders to continue working together on an equal footing, in spite of their different roles and responsibilities, emphasising the multistakeholder format that stimulates inclusive and democratic discussions.
Deborah Brown gave a summary of APC’s work, which centres in the global south, and emphasised the importance of human rights and gender equality. She felt that the outcome document missed specific mention of economic, social, and cultural rights, but accepted that these are included by default in mentions of human rights. She stressed that gender rights and equalities are needed to empower all, because access alone is not sufficient.
Recognising the importance of SDGs and the work of all actors, the speaker also noted that the private sector should be looked at not only as a partner, but especially as an actor with responsibilities. The Internet is a global resource, and must be managed in the public interest, as stipulated in the NETmundial statement. The speaker also called for protections of journalists and media workers, in particular, calling for the release of imprisoned bloggers by name. She cited the need to let go of the false dichotomy of human rights vs security, especially since cybersecurity is underpinned by human rights and trust in technology.
Kathryn Brown noted that not only has the Information Society emerged, but the Internet has been interwoven into our whole society. She congratulated the WSIS+10 Review meeting on a successful conclusion, and supported the renewal of commitments to current work, as well as the renewal of the IGF mandate in particular. She appreciated that the process has been as open, transparent and inclusive as the UN could allow. The Internet Society stressed that the outcome document represents a series of compromises, and so, falls short of recognising the transborder nature of the Internet. She also lamented the misbelief by some that cooperation should be only among governments. She suggested that all stakeholders should join efforts to reach an open global trusted Internet for everyone everywhere.
Veni Markovski also expressed his appreciation for the fact that the WSIS+10 review process has been as open as possible within the UN. He stated that significant progress has been made since the 2003-2005 WSIS phases. For example, efforts have been made to address the digital divide, and ICANN has joined these efforts through its work on increasing multilingualism in the digital space, with the implementation of Internationalised Domain Names. He underlined the input of the community, and raised the best practice of NETmundial for addressing issues of substance. He applied the adjective ‘historic’ for this meeting, as a turning point, made possible in the context of the 2030 agenda, progress in Climate Change, and the use of ICTs for the common good. ICANN is committed to continue its work with all stakeholders, including the UN, in an inclusive, multistakeholder manner for the good of all people.
Speaker Christian Wulff Sondergaard emphasised the need to address the broadband connectivity gap, in particular for poor, rural areas, as the opportunity costs of being unconnected are higher than ever. The utilisation of the potential of connectivity as an enabler needs the cooperation of other stakeholders. This also means that governments need to support investors (and not limit their activities with barriers, such as unjustifable taxes and fees), and to respect human rights, including freedom of expression. Furthermore, the speaker called for an equal approach to all operators, whether public or private, foreign or national.
John Danilovich reiterated the strong commitment on the part of the global business community to the SDGs, which will be impacted by WSIS, as ICTs are central to reaching the goals. He also mentioned the need to empower users, especially women, to not only use, but also create relevant services and transform lives and technologies. The engagement of business is vital to unleash the full potential of technologies, with benefits for all. To maintain a secure and trustworthy Internet, multistakeholder cooperation is needed to create a culture of cybersecurity. He also noted the importance of contributions of business in developing countries, and the need to develop effective mechanisms for inclusion of non-government actors. He expressed support for the continuation of the IGF, and made reference to the work of local and regional IGFs.
Alfredo Timermans noted that public-private cooperation is essential, as is private investment to achieve WSIS goals. Private investment has a large scope and must be supported by governments with related policies. He noted that open standards pave the way for an Internet that everyone can connect to. It is important for users to maintain confidence that the Internet can enrich their lives and digital realities within a secure framework achieved in cooperation between stakeholders. He noted that no other forum is equal to the diversity and openness of the IGF, which is integral to the WSIS and IG processes.