GISWatch is both a publication and a process: it aims to build networking and advocacy capacity among civil society organisations who work for a just and inclusive information society. February 2009.
The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) is a United Nations (UN) conference managed by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). The aim of the WSIS is to develop a global framework to tackle the challenges posed by the information society. In accordance with how it was originally conceived, the WSIS differs from other UN conferences in that it is a two phase process culminating in two "world summits", the first of which took place in Geneva from 10-12 December 2003, with the second one in Tunis from 16-18 November 2005. In contrast to previous UN conferences, the idea was that the deliberations to take place at the WSIS should be of a consensual nature, incorporating the viewpoints of multiple actors (reflecting government, private sector and civil society interests).
The year 2003 found the WSIS process taking place against a backdrop of political changes in multilateral negotiation processes, marked by a new central role for countries from the South and a high level of involvement by organized civil society. Tensions between alliances of countries in the South and the North led to the collapse of the WTO ministerial meeting in Cancun in September 2003, coinciding with the third WSIS preparatory meeting and one of the most difficult moments in the intergovernmental negotiations. Furthermore, the Summit is led by the ITU, an organization that is attempting to recover its leading role through an agenda based on the expansion of telecommunications following the laws of the market, following a period of economic contraction and a drop in foreign investment, in particular in the telecommunications sector, where interest dropped sharply at the end of the 1990s. Justifiably, then, expectations around what could be achieved at the Summit were not high.
The first phase of the WSIS ended with the adoption of two official documents: a Declaration of Principles and a Plan of Action. Controversial issues such as ICTs financing in the South and Internet Governance went under a heat debate during the preparatory process but no agreements could be reached on them. Other politically hard issues such as intelectual property rights, trade of goods and services and debt swaps were hardly addressed. Delegations of Northern countries (the United States, in particular) put a lot of effort in keeping them out of the WSIS agenda, arguing that it was not the appropiate forum to address them. Some of the issues left out in Geneva are to be reexamined in the second phase of the summit in Tunis. Two working groups are to be created within the orbit of the United Nations to examine the issues of Internet governance and the creation of a Digital Solidarity Fund proposed by Senegal as a financial mechanism for ITCs in Southern countries.
The second phase of the WSIS took place in Tunis from 16 to 18 November 2005. While heated debates on the future of the Internet were taking place inside of the police-surrounded conference venue, citizens' demonstrations reclaiming the host country's compliance with international human rights agreements were being severly repressed in downtown Tunis.
The Tunis Summit, which was supposed to give an answer to unresolved issues that emerged during the first phase of the WSIS in 2003 in Geneva - in particular the democratization of the Internet governance system and the leverage of funding for the development of information and communication in the South - was closed with mixed emotions.
WSIS outcomes express good intentions but in no way provide concrete mechanisms to address the disparities in access to information and communication in developed and developing countries. The gap between what civil society organizations aimed for the second phase of the Summit (expressed in civil society's declaration at the end of the WSIS first phase) and the real outcomes of the official negotiations is almost as wide as the so-called digital divide between the North and the South.
In this report we aim to facilitate access to the most relevant information on this process, with special emphasis on the visions emanating from civil society. We include information on the regional and general preparatory meetings, as well as on the events that took place during the first phase of the WSIS summit in Geneva. The "News" section contains new and relevant information as it emerges.
With its mandate to promote the free exchange of ideas and knowledge, UNESCO plays a key role in preparations for the WSIS. Given that UNESCO's mandate includes a focus on diversity and multilingualism, freedom of expression and education, it has considerable experience with many WSIS objectives, and has engaged with numerous NGOs and civil society groups in preparation for PrepCom I.
On March 2001 the United Nations Economic and Social Council requested the Secretary-General to establish an Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) Task Force. This initiative is intended to lend a global dimension to the multitude of efforts to bridge the global digital divide, foster digital opportunity and thus put ICT at the service of development for all. At the launching of this initiative, Kofi Annan asked the Task Force to support the WSIS.
In its Plenipotentiary Conference in 1998 the ITU proposed a meeting to discuss issues relating to the information society. Following this, the General Assembly of the United Nations resolved that the meeting should be a global conference at the level of heads of state and government, and the ITU was given responsibility for the Summit's Executive Secretariat.
AISI was launched at the 22nd meeting of ECA’s Conference of Ministers in charge of social and economic development and planning in May 1996. ECA is among others responsible for the overall coordination of the implementation of the AISI action framework.
This website by the UN-Non-Governmental Liaison Service (NGLS) offers information and links to other sites related to the WSIS process. It also provides the latest news, announcements and documentation from the Executive Secretariat in Geneva and from civil society organisations engaged in the WSIS process.
The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) created the Coordinating Committee of Business Interlocutors (CCBI), by request of the Summit host countries and executive secretariat, as a vehicle through which to mobilize and coordinate the involvement of the worldwide business community in the processes leading to and culminating in the Summit.
The Global Information Infrastructure Commission (GIIC), a confederation of chief executive officers (CEOs) of firms engaged with information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure facilities, issued a ‘Declaration Regarding the First Phase of the United Nations World Summit on the Information Society’ in December 2003.
The idea of holding a Communication Summit first emerged at the 1998 Conference of the ITU and was subsequently endorsed by UN General Assembly Resolution 56/183. The Resolution assigns the ITU a leading managerial role in the Summit's Executive Secretariat, and encourages the active participation of all relevant UN bodies, other international and regional organizations, NGOs, civil society and the private sector in the intergovernmental preparatory process and the Summit itself.
A lack of timely and comparable data on access to information and communications technologies (ICTs) is a major barrier to understanding the depth and causes of the digital divide or a gap in ICT access within and between richer and poorer countries, according to a report by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).
This document from the Non-Governmental Liaison Service (NGLS) provides background information on the WSIS, as well as reporting on PrepCom 1, meetings held in the run-up to it, and activities carried out by NGOs, the business sector and UN bodies. It also includes information about the different organizations involved in this first PrepCom, which took place in July 2002. The document is in English, and will shortly be available in Spanish.
This is a collection of news and reports from the third preparatory meeting (PrepComm-3) for the second phase of the World Summit on the Information Society that took place from 19-30 September 2005 in Geneva.
This is a collection of news and reports from the second preparatory meeting (PrepCom2) for the second phase of the World Summit on the Information Society that took place from 17-25 February 2005 in Geneva.
IPS news agency, with the support of HIVOS, is offering coverage of the WSIS from a multi-cultural, multi-lingual team of reporters in Geneva, with a news focus on the South and on civil society perspectives.
Global Information Society Watch 2008 (or GISWatch), published in print and online by the Association for Progressive Communications (APC), the Third World Institute (ITeM), and Dutch development organisation Hivos, collects the perspectives of ICT academics, analysts, activists and civil society organisations from across the globe in over 50 reports. December 2008.
The Global Information Society Watch 2007 report looks at state of the field of information and communication technology (ICT) policy at local and global levels and particularly how policy impacts on the lives of people living in developing countries. May 2007.
The report by the Arab NGO Network for Development suggests that the main blocker to the adherence of Lebanon to the Information Society is the role that the government has failed to assume. Taken by regional and political priorities, ICT does not figure on the national agenda of priorities. The question now is how can Lebanon get involved in the information age.
At the initiative of the Office of the Delegate of the Swiss Federal Council for the WSIS, the aim of the platform is to bring the actors together (Governments, Non-trading and Private Companies and Media) and so give visibility to projects and events promoting the implementation of the Geneva 2003 World Summit Plan of Action, at the same time as ensuring that it is followed through until the 2005 Tunis Summit.
"Shaping information societies for human needs" is a document prepared by civil society organizations participating in the WSIS process that promotes a human-centered vision of the information society.
This statement is presented as the Civil Society’s official contribution to the Summit outcomes. Civil society took a month after the closure of the Tunis Summit to discuss the outcomes and the process of WSIS, and evaluated the experiences and lessons learned in the four years of WSIS I and WSIS II: "Civil Society has every intention to remain involved in the follow-up and implementation processes after the Tunis summit. We trust governments realize that our participation is vital to achieve a more inclusive and just Information Society." PDF format. December 2005.
The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) has been roundly criticised in the past and this new study from APC concludes that the summit “is not the best starting point for new action.” So, what is the point of looking at how developing country delegations and civil society fared at the summit? Because, says the author of “Whose Summit? Whose Information Society? Developing countries and civil society at the World Summit on the Information Society”, David Souter, “it is always important to learn from experience – particularly where it did not deliver up to expectations.” September 2007 (pdf version).
In November 2005, the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) will meet for the last time in Tunis. In its five year history, the WSIS has failed to succeed in redressing the North-South "digital divide". Consensus in the WSIS has been elusive: the private and public sectors hold opposing views on issues such as market fundamentalism, FOSS, intellectual property rights reform, financing ICTs and Internet governance. It remains to be seen whether civil society groups will be able to shift attention away from these competing interests towards human rights issues. November 2005.
Joint submission to the 7th meeting of the WSIS GFC by civil society organisations and individuals on the proposed draft text for paragraphs 10, 11 and 29 of the operational part of the Tunis document. September 2005.
Report from the African Civil Society on the Information Society Forum, held in Abuja, Nigeria, July 3, 2005. The meeting was one of several regional forums to prepare the ground for Africa’s effective participation in the second phase of the World Summit on the Information Society. PDF format.July, 2005
CS declaration at the Regional Preparatory Ministerial Conference of Latin America and the
Caribbean for the second phase of the World Summit on the Information Society, Río de Janeiro, 8-10 June, 2005. Is focused on internet governance, financing mechanisms for ICTs for development, free software and production of technological and organizational knowledge issues, from a civil society perspective. PDF format.
This statement was elaborated and adopted by consensus by a group of individuals and groups drawn from Canadian civil society and representing a diversity of peoples, backgrounds, expertise, and perspectives, meeting in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada on the 13-15 May 2005. Canadian civil society represented at this conference affirm values of human rights, gender equality, multiculturalism, cultural and linguistic diversity, and inclusion
ITfC (IT For Change) is a non-profit organisation located in India. ITfC envisions a society capable of, and comfortable with, innovative and effective use of information and communication technologies (ICT) as a tool, to further goals of progressive social change.
Like bright flowers in a grey space, the grassroots women of India livened up February’s Prepcom proceedings and it wasn’t just their stylish saris that did the trick. Undaunted by the suits and officialdom of Geneva’s UN machinery, these Indian representatives vigorously
demonstrated the value of ICTs in their working lives and made a cogent case for finances to build more equitable ICT infrastructures in developing countries like India.
As new steps begin towards WSIS phase two, and given how close phase one came to the edge of the cliff, many civil society organisations have returned to familiar questions: is this really a useful exercise? Is participation worthwhile? Assessments have multiplied since last December, and they are mixed: negative as to WSIS’s results, slightly more positive about the indirect benefits of having put a consultation process in place.
The first phase of the World Summit on the Information Society in December 2003 marked the end of a long process that started five years earlier. Various analyses have begun to come out evaluating the process and its results. This document provides an exhaustive portrait as well as a critical analysis of the first phase of WSIS, the issues it raised and the role played by civil society. In French (an English version of this document will be available shortly). PDF format.
"The approach to the Information Society on which the WSIS has been based reflects, to a large extent, a narrow understanding in which ICTs means telecommunications and the Internet. This approach has marginalised key issues relating to the development potential inherent in the combination of knowledge and technology and thus conflicts with the broader development mandate given in UNGA Resolution 56/183".
Access to information and communications technologies (ICTs) is expanding but the majority of people in developing countries are still excluded, says APC. At the United Nations’ World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), held in Geneva in December, governments will agree on a declaration and action plan that could enhance or hinder access to ICTs for the vast majority of the world’s population. APC and the CRIS Campaign have been following the WSIS process and our publication – “Involving Civil Society in ICT Policy: the World Summit on the Information Society” – highlights some of the principal issues at stake.
Includes news about the participation of the Civil Society in the WSIS Process and links to the main documents produced by the diferent caucuses and working groups. The site is run by members of the German WSIS Civil Society Coordinating Group.
This website was prepared as an index of the listservs for the various civil society working groups involved in the World Summit on the Information Society. The archives of the discussions taking place in the regional and thematic caucuses can be reached from this page.
Site maintained by the Conference of NGOs in consultative relationship with the UN (CONGO) and the International Conference Volunteers (ICV). Includes news, information and statements produced by the caucuses and thematic families of the Civil Society.
CRIS is a campaign to ensure that communication rights are central to the information society and to the upcoming World Summit. The campaign is sponsored and supported by the Platform for Communication Rights , a group of NGOs involved in media and communication projects around the world.
Community Media demand 'universal access' to traditional and new communication technologies and reject the Declaration of Principles and Plan of Action approved by the governments at the first phase of the WSIS.
The civil society Human Rights Caucus of the World Summit on the Information Society is relieved that a major setback in the international consensus on human rights has been avoided in the final Declaration of Principles.
During the Asian Civil Society Forum 2004 held from 21-25 November at ESCAP, Bangkok, participants in the thematic Briefings on WSIS - Tunis and beyond and Internet Governance adopted the following statement. They also had opportunity to connect by video with the WGIG in Geneva.
The WSIS Gender Caucus is a multi-stakeholder group consisting of women and men from national governments, civil society organizations, non-governmental organizations, the private sector and the United Nations system. The strategic objective of the WSIS-Gender Caucus is to ensure that gender equality and women’s rights are integrated into WSIS and its outcome processes.
WNGSG was formed by the African Women's Development and Communications Network (FEMNET), Agencia Latinoamericana de Informacion, the Association for Progressive Communication-Women's Networking Support Programme, the International Women's Tribune Centre, and Isis International-Manila. They consider this an opportune time for women to begin sharing and discussing points and strategies for the WSIS.
African civil society organizations, alongside other civil society actors, were actively involved in making contributions to the draft documents in many forums. This issue of Chakula analyzes African participation and strategies for further intervention in the process.
Since July 2003, the World Forum on Community Networking (WFCN) publishes Mosaic, a newsletter presenting an overview of the discussions on the information society, especially as part of the WSIS process. The aim is to present different cultural and linguistic (English, French and Spanish) perspectives using about a dozen civil society discussion lists and websites.
The Swiss platform for the information society - Comunica-ch - is a coalition of non-governmental organizations, associations representing civil society and Swiss media, working on themes connected to the information society.
Young people are the most avid consumers of technology and a driving force behind technological innovation and entrepreneurship. Therefore, youth are active participants in the Summit's process, and critical to its implementation. Information about youth participation in the summit can be found here.
The WSIS NGO Gender Strategies Working Group (WNGSG) announce the launch of the electronic mailing list that is one of the group's efforts in strategising and organising women's participation in the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) process.
CRIS has set up this electronic list to facilitate communication about the WSIS among NGOs and to offer news and other information related to our efforts to ensure that human rights, and especially communication rights, are fully incorporated into the WSIS process, agenda and output.
Between PrepComs a 'Virtual CS Plenary Group' has been created (email@example.com), comprising organisations and other entities accredited and registered at both PrepComs to date, from civil society, although organisations with a key interest in the issues but that are not part of the Summit process should also have the opportunity to participate.
A discussion list for people planning alternatives to the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) including another summit, countersummit, walkout, protest, or other strategies to advance communication as a human right and as a public good.
This list is for news and updates about the World Forum on Communication Rights (WFCR) and its website. The WFCR is an independent civil-society led initiative, open to all seeking democratic, just and participatory media and communication. The Forum is a one day event held alongside the WSIS.
This electronic discussion was intended to provide input for the Summit draft plan of action to be discussed by Member States during Prepcom II. This online discussion was held from 1 December to 20 December 2002, structured into thematic forums primarily reflecting the issues contained in the outcome of the Informal Meeting of Sub-committee 2 of the first Prepcom of the WSIS.
The Beyond Tunis publication series was launched by Global Knowledge Partnership (GKP) to examine the current state of information and communication technology for development (ICT4D) post WSIS and to look ahead to the future of ICT4D. April 2008.
The first phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) held in Geneva in December 2003, launched two critical issues with regards to the information society. One of this issues is related to the Internet governance system, that is to say, to the development and application by governments, the private sector and civil society of shared principles, norms, rules, decision making procedures and programmes that shape the evolution and use of the Internet.
What changes does World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) - which meets in Tunisia in November - bring in regards to gender equality and women's empowerment? Is WSIS worth it? How effective is gender advocates participation? What are the main challenges faced by gender equality advocates? September 2005.
The information society and the digital divide came in for scrutiny as more than a thousand policy makers and NGOs gathered at the United Nations in Geneva to prepare for the second phase of the World Summit on the Information Society. The key issues were Internet governance, a digital solidarity fund, and mechanisms to implement the action plans. March 2005.
The financial mechanisms of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in southern countries are one of the most controversial issues in the ongoing international negotations on the information society. A debate panel that took place in the framework of the Second Preparatory Meeting (PrepCom2) for the World Summit on the Information Society brought out the direct relationship between financing ICTs and economic development in poor countries. February 2005.
Born as part of an intelligence military system, Internet has become an essential means of communication and information with great democratic potential. The September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon led many countries to promote measures for the surveillance of individuals and organizations as part of the "war on terrorism". In fact, it also provided a perfect excuse to introduce measures that previously would have met more resistance from those concerned about how these new measures might erode essential civil liberties.
The World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial Declaration on Trade in Information Technology Products (ITA) was concluded by 29 participants at the Singapore Ministerial Conference in December 1996. The ITA provided for participants to completely eliminate duties on IT products covered by the Agreement by 1 January 2000, while developing country participants have been granted extended periods for some products. In October 2004 the WTO hosted a symposium to "on the expansion of trade in Information Technology Products".
Developing countries led by Brazil and Argentina launched an initiative to establish a Development Agenda for the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). Their formal proposal was presented at the to the 40th Series of Meetings of the Assemblies of the Member States of WIPO and to the 31st Session of the WIPO General Assembly. This proposal was welcomed by the WIPO Assembly on 4th October and it was decided to convene meetings to discuss it.
On the basis of the recommendation of the Executive Board (April 2003), the UNESCO General Conference at its 32nd session requested the Director-General to submit a Preliminary Report accompanied by a Draft International Convention on the Protection of the Diversity of Cultural Contents and Artistic Expressions at its next session (October 2005).
During the Second Ministerial Conference on the Information Society in Latin America and the Caribbean, which took place in the city of San Salvador from 6 to 8 February 2008, representatives of the Latin American and Caribbean countries approved the eLAC2010 Plan of Action. The aim of this ‘San Salvador Commitment’ is to build an inclusive and development-oriented information society. March 2008 (pdf version).