With contributions from Carolina Rossini, Vice President of International Policy
In December 2015, the conclusion of the ten-year review of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), otherwise known as the WSIS +10 review, will take place in New York at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). The purpose of this two-day, intergovernmental meeting will be to conclude the assessment of the WSIS Action Lines implementation and set the course for WSIS goals post-2015. The preparatory discussions and final review will potentially have a significant impact on the way the Internet is governed, the protection of human rights online, and the future of Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) for development (ICT4D). For an overview on the WSIS conference and its ten-year review, see “Everything you need to know about the WSIS+10 review”. For additional information, please refer to our background section at the end of this post.
Last week, the ICT and international human rights communities gathered in Geneva for the 2015 WSIS Forum. The Forum is responsible for coordinating the implementation of multistakeholder activities and clarifying how the actions and goals of the WSIS process feed into and support the fulfillment of what is now known as the Sustainable Development Goals. This is significant because in the last ten years, the international consensus has solidified around the notion that ICTs play a large role in international development, and have greatly helped to advance the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to combat global poverty, improve health, promote gender equality, and provide universal primary education, among other goals. The next step in the review process is an international Expert Group Meeting on ICTs from June 8 – 9, 2015, in NY. This will serve as a vital opportunity for experts to brief Member States and other stakeholders on updated facts, recommendations, analysis, and conclusions on the role of ICTs as key enablers of sustainable development. Both reunions mark a crucial step towards the conclusion of the WSIS+10 review process.
Given that there are only six months left to steer the course on the preparatory process, the time leading up to the WSIS +10 high-level meeting is critical. It is important to ensure that during this time all WSIS stakeholders have ample opportunities to participate in the process to express their views and concerns. This is especially true for developing countries who often lack representation in the consultation process due to lack of funding, resources, and limited capacity. Although approval of the WSIS next steps depend entirely on an intergovernmental approach, voting diplomats will need help to better understand the issues at stake and make informed decisions. This is where key stakeholders, including civil society, can help move the process forward – by providing input to their respective countries in an open and transparent way.
In this process, Public Knowledge has joined organizations from around the world to call for a re-commitment to multistakeholder cooperation beyond 2015 to foster an inclusive approach to Internet policy and development discussions. Join us by endorsing the Open WSIS 2015 letter to the UN General Assembly President H.E. Mr. Sam Kahamba Kutesa to call for an open and inclusive WSIS +10 preparatory process. For a copy of the full letter sent to the UNGA President on May 12, 2015, please see www.openwsis2015.org.
National governments, the private sector, the technical community, and civil society have a duty to foster and implement a people-centric vision of international development and to guarantee the full exercise of human rights online and offline through multistakeholder cooperation. This inclusive, multistakeholder approach to the WSIS review guarantees the preservation of institutional memory and procedural expertise, which can sometimes be lost with rotating intergovernmental actors throughout the years. Public Knowledge believes that this broad participation will help to advance clear goals for ICTs for development and garner commitments from governments and other actors to invest in human development, build institutional capacity, secure human rights, and build democratic, transparent, and accountable governance.
In 2003, the United Nations (UN) established the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), recognizing the urgent need to harness the potential of Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) to promote the goals of the UN Millennium Declaration. The two-phase summit (Geneva 2003 and Tunis 2005) defined the issues, policies, and frameworks to tackle ICTs to foster development. It began with the goal of achieving a common vision, desire, and commitment to build a people-centric, inclusive, and development-oriented Information Society where everyone can create, access, utilize, and share information. In the first phase, a Plan of Action was devised with a series of Action Lines to cover such issue areas as human rights, greater engagement of youth and the disabled, expanding ICT infrastructure, increasing access to information and knowledge, and building confidence and security in the use of ICTs. The second phase of the WSIS process highlighted Internet governance issues and led to the creation of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) to serve as a multistakeholder venue to discuss public policy issues related to the Internet and to enhance cooperation.
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons user Basil D Soufi
 Annual WSIS Forums are an integral part to the follow-up of the WSIS, which defined a set of targets, recommendations, and commitments to build an inclusive, people-centric, and development-oriented Information Society.