Following a United Nations General Assembly resolution adopted in December 2001 (Resolution 56/183), a World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) was launched, with the aim 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 not limited to governmental participation, but it also welcomed representatives of the private sector, the technical community, and the civil society.
The Tunis Agenda is one of the two final documents adopted at the conclusion of the second phase of WSIS. The document contains provisions on: financial mechanisms for bridging the digital divide, Internet governance and related issues, and the implementation and follow-up of the WSIS outcomes.
One of the main characteristics of the Agenda is that it deals extensively with the concept of Internet governance (IG). Firstly, it provides a working definition of Internet governance, as proposed by the Working Group on Internet Governance: 'the development and application by governments, the private sector and civil society, in their respective roles, of shared principles, norms, rules, decision-making procedures, and programmes that shape the evolution and use of the Internet’. This definition outlines two key principles that are also separately underlined in the document: that Internet governance encompasses not only technical issues related to the management of the Internet technical resources (names and addresses), but also public policy issues; and that the various stakeholders (private sector, civil society, the academic and technical communities) have roles and responsibilities in Internet governance.
Secondly, the Agenda lays the foundations for the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), created a forum for multistakeholder dialogue on public policy issues related to key elements of Internet governance (such as cybersecurity, cybercrime, spam, freedom of expression, privacy and data protection, digital divide, multilingualism). In addition, it introduces the concept of ‘enhanced cooperation’, aimed to enable governments to carry out their roles and responsibilities in international public policy issue pertaining to the Internet, and called for the launch of a ‘process towards enhanced cooperation’.
Although the Tunis Agenda is not a legally binding instrument, it outlines a series of recommendations regarding the implementation of the WSIS objectives and action lines at national, regional, and international level. Some of these include: building national e-strategies as part of the broader national development plans, using bilateral and multilateral technical assistance programmes, involving UN regional commissions and UN agencies in the implementation process, and the participation of all stakeholders in the implementation activities. An overall review of the implementation of WSIS outcomes was also called for 2015.
The Agenda was endorsed by the UN General Assembly through its Resolution 60/252 from April 2006.
Activities undertaken as part of the follow-up and review of the implementation of WSIS outcomes include: the designation of facilitators and co-facilitators of WSIS action lines (mostly UN agencies), the creation of the UN Group on the Information Society (tasked with facilitating the implementation of the WSIS outcomes), meetings on the action line facilitators, the WSIS Forums (held annually since 2009).
In December 2015, a UN General Assembly High Level Meeting was held in New York, and it was dedicated to an overall review of the implementation of the WSIS outcomes, as required by the Tunis Agenda. The meeting concluded with the adoption of an inter-governmentally agreed outcome document which, among others, reaffirmed the commitments set out in the Tunis Agenda, acknowledged progress made over the previous 10 years, and called for more efforts in bridging the digital divide and strengthening the information society. A new high-level meeting on the overall review of the implementation of the WSIS outcomes is planned for 2025, and it is aimed to take stock of progress and identify both areas of continued focus and challenges.