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Internet Governance, Policy Up for Debate at UNESCO Meeting in Paris

This week, Internet governance experts and advocates gather in Paris to start preparing for the ten-year review of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in 2015. This week’s meeting is hosted by the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); CDT’s Leslie Harris and Matthew Shears will be appearing on several panels addressing questions of privacy, free expression, and cybersecurity – key issues in Internet policy that will shape governance debates over the next few years. The WSIS+10 event will give government, industry, civil society, academics, and the technical community an opportunity to continue conversations about Internet governance and policy that were features of the WCIT debates.

What is WSIS?

The WSIS was the first global summit to address a range of Internet policy and governance issues, and to begin investigating the role of ICTs in economic and social development.

The WSIS is comprised of two phases. The first took place in Geneva in December 2003, with the objective “to develop and foster a clear statement of political will and take concrete steps to establish the foundations for an Information Society for all, reflecting all the different interests at stake.” The second occurred in Tunis in November 2005, to put in action key elements of the Geneva phase and to “find solutions and reach agreements in the fields of Internet governance, financing mechanisms, and follow-up and implementation of the Geneva and Tunis documents.”

The WSIS has a set of bold aims: “[T]o build an inclusive Information Society; to put the potential of knowledge and ICTs at the service of development; to promote the use of information and knowledge for the achievement of internationally agreed development goals, including those contained in the Millennium Declaration; and to address new challenges of the Information Society, at the national, regional and international levels.”

All stakeholders – government, industry, technical experts, human rights advocates, and academics – were called upon to contribute to these goals, with various UN agencies taking the lead in different lines of action. The WSIS+10 review is designed to assess progress towards these goals, to discuss developments in the ICT space, and to encourage stakeholders to work together and build, as the subject of the UNESCO meeting suggests, knowledge societies for peace and sustainable development.

The Information Society under review

The UNESCO WSIS+10 review event is not dissimilar to an Internet Governance Forum in terms of its composition, structure, and diversity of subjects covered. CDT’s CEO Leslie Harris moderated a panel on “Promoting Freedom of Expression and Privacy on the Internet”, which examined UNESCO’s comprehensive survey of privacy and freedom of expression law and policy around the world. Matthew Shears will be a panelist in workshops on “Cybersecurity – Searching for a common understanding” and “The new PII – Privacy-impacting Information.” Much like IGF, the UNESCO WSIS+10 event is truly embracing the multistakeholder model, with members of civil society and the technical community organizing a variety of panels and weighing in with their expertise in workshops and informal conversations throughout the event.

The overall WSIS review is a complex process that involves multiple UN agencies. The review will also encompass the future of the Internet Governance Forum and the complex and politically charged issue of enhanced cooperation. This week’s UNESCO event is one of two WSIS+10 review conferences; the other will be a high-level review hosted by the ITU in 2014. Importantly, the UNESCO review is multistakeholder – as we’ve seen with previous ITU meetings, the ITU-hosted review is likely to be far more restricted in terms of participation. The UNESCO WSIS+10 event will also develop recommendations that will feed into the review process that culminates in the UN-level WSIS review meeting in 2015. These recommendations will be drawn from research undertaken by UNESCO for the review, and from the plenary and workshops during the meeting itself.

Given the range of issues encompassed by the WSIS, including Internet governance, it is important that civil society continue to engage with the review process. Recommendations from the UNESCO meeting, the ITU meeting in 2014, and the WSIS Forum in May will shape the WSIS+10 review and any possible future WSIS programs.