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On the Civil Society Seoul Declaration

June 23, 2008 , , , ,

For the past couple of days, I've been in South Korea, attending the OECD's Ministerial on the Future of the Internet Economy. Rather than try to give a blow-by-blow account, I've tried to package some of my thoughts in a series of posts. Here's one:

The OECD Ministerial has ended with the signing of the Seoul Declaration, a document signed by the member nations of the OECD, as well as the European Community and observer countries Chile, Egypt, Estonia, India, Indonesia, Israel, Latvia, Senegal and Slovenia. The Declaration sets out the international organization's general policies for ensuring the future of the Internet Economy–including policies they believe will encourage creativity, support convergence, and promote confidence online.

At the same time, a large and diverse coalition of civil society groups, including Public Knowledge, has drafted its own Civil Society Seoul Declaration, summarizing the policies we believe are necessary to protect the rights of consumers, users, and citizens online. Among those policies are a number that PK has worked on and advocated for, including balanced approaches to copyright law, net neutrality, open access to research, and access to public information.

This document represents not just the expression of a common will to use the Internet to better society, it also represents the ability and advantage to having civil society participate in the OECD process.

The OECD, while not creating binding treaties the way WIPO does, has a great deal of influence in issuing guidelines for member countries. Its guidelines on privacy, for example, have served as the basis for the comprehensive privacy laws of a number of countries.

The weight accorded to OECD recommendations is at least in part a virtue of its desire to have its policies based in empirical economic data. But data does not in and of itself frame issues, spot problems, or make policies.

To that end, it's important that the OECD get the perspective not only of member countries when it makes decisions, but also of a number of other stakeholders. Right now, for instance, there are permanent Advisory Committees to the OECD representing businesses and trade unions.

The creation of the Civil Society Seoul Declaration, and the Civil Society Background Paper represent a step toward further recognition of civil society at the OECD–hopefully a step that will culminate in a Civil Society Advisry Committee to parallel and balance the interests represented by business and trade unions at the OECD. In his closing remarks at the end of the ministerial, Secretary General Angel Gurria recommended that civil society and the technical community be given a more formalized role in the process, something that civil society coalition the Public Voice has been pushing for some time.

The Internet economy–and economies in general–affect more than just business and trade unions. The economy is more than an engine of share prices or jobs–it is something that affects every consumer, every user, and every citizen. Hopefully, our interests as individuals–and not just as employees, producers, or consumers–will tomorrow have that greater voice hinted at today.