World Summit on the Information Society Must Focus on Sustainable Development Goals

Written by Matthew Shears

2015-11-05-un-WSIS_blog

In December, the UN General Assembly will be convening in New York to discuss a range of issues related to Internet policy and development. This convening, a culmination of the review process of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), will be guided by a negotiated document (first draft available here) that sets out the scope of issues the government representatives will discuss. Consultations with non-governmental and governmental stakeholders in October provided those drafting the document with invaluable and, at times, divergent input. But the overall message was clear: the WSIS post-2015 should contribute to achieving the targets of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The October consultations also revealed continued support for the original WSIS vision of “a people-centred, inclusive and development-oriented Information Society, where everyone can create, access, utilize and share information and knowledge, enabling individuals, communities and peoples to achieve their full potential…”. This vision remains as valid in 2015 as it was in 2003 when the WSIS principles were developed. And there was support for renewing the mandate of the Internet Governance Forum. These are welcome areas of general agreement, ones that CDT has supported in its comments to date.

The consultations also revealed predictable differences on issues such as whether new international legal instruments or treaties are needed to address Internet governance and cybersecurity issues. There were also divergent views on the nature of the WSIS review process going forward and, in particular, whether there is a need for a high-level meeting or summit. CDT does not support calls for new legal instruments or treaties, nor are we convinced of the need for a WSIS summit, the purpose of which is far from clear. CDT does recognize, however, the importance of reviewing WSIS progress in supporting the achievement of the SDGs.

The co-facilitators of the WSIS review process (the UN Ambassadors from Latvia and the United Arab Emirates) have a challenging job in trying to balance the remaining divergent views in the next draft. But we cannot be distracted by the remaining differences. Rather, the draft must focus on identifying ways forward and the imperative of linking the WSIS post-2015 with the SDGs. This unique development-oriented opportunity of harnessing the potential of ICTs and the Internet for achieving the targets of the Sustainable Development Goals should shape WSIS post-2015 implementation and follow-up.

CDT looks forward to a new draft that includes:

  • A clear and substantive alignment between the WSIS post-2015 and the Sustainable Development Goals
  • Annual multistakeholder reviews of the progress made towards realizing the alignment between the WSIS post-2015 and the SDGs
  • A renewal of the mandate of the Internet Governance Forum for ten years
  • A focus on finding and highlighting new and innovative ways of harnessing the potential of ICTs and the Internet for achieving the SDG targets
  • A renewed commitment to uphold and promote human rights and the rule of law
  • A call for multistakeholder approaches to addressing issues highlighted in the consultations for which there is no clear agreement or way forward.

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