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[NOTE:If you're concerned about what the WCIT might mean for international Internet governance, Monday is the time to watch. Some of the most controversial proposals for changes to the international treaty on telecommunications will be discussed in the plenary session Monday evening in Dubai (that's going to be about 11:30 Eastern Time). The ITU has been live-streaming the plenary sessions here.]
Today, a number of civil society groups involved in the ITU's World Conference on International Telecommunications ("WCIT") sent a letter to the Secretary General of the ITU, urging him to increase openness and transparency of the ITU to civil society and the world at large.
Despite early signs that civil society was having an increased impact on the process, a number of structural barriers prevent delegates from having access to materials and voices from civil society. In particular, the letter focuses on three problems:
Lack of Delegate Access to Civil Society Documents
While the ITU had asked for civil society groups to submit comments, there's not much indication that those comments and documents have effectively made their way to the representatives of the countries and industries participating in the debates at the WCIT. While the proposals made by delegates are put into a document management system known as TIES, where delegates can review them, none of the civil society documents appear to have been included in TIES. As a result, many of the delegates are completely unaware that the civil society documents even exist.
Exclusion from Working Groups
While the ITU has webcast the plenary sessions and the meetings of one of the most relevant committees (Committee 5, which discusses the substance of the texts to be agreed upon), it still provides no webcasts and does not allow civil society to attend, meetings of working groups. The working groups are subsets of the committees, and the discussions that take place there are every bit as important as what happens in the open committee. Without the ability to even observe that process, the transparency of the full committee and the plenary could be reduced to mot much more than a formal exercise.
Lack of Independent Civil Society Participation
Right now, the ability of civil society to have a voice in actual negotiations is limited to whether or not member governments or industry members decide to include their people, voices, or views. For instance, Public Knowledge has two members of our staff present as part of the official delegation of the U.S., and other countries have also actively reached out for the views of civil society. Other countries, however, have not necessarily been so open to direct participation from citizens and public interest groups. And even where civil society members make it onto delegations, they're more likely to be limited in what they can say independently, since country delegations want to present a unified stance to other members. This limits the ability of those individuals to speak independently and freely outside of their delegations.
The ITU itself doesn't provide any way for civil society members who can't affiliate themselves with a government or an industry "sector member" to participate in the process. In other words, they're left on the periphery, trying to grab the attention of delegates in the hallways, or find themselves only able to speak freely with members of one given delegation that has been willing to accept them as official representatives of their government.
Openness to the views of civil society becomes increasingly important as some of the more controversial proposals come to be discussed in the days ahead. Watch this space, and follow our colleagues as well, for more information as that happens.