In November 2002, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan issued a Challenge to Silicon Valley to create nearly up-to-date computers and communications systems that would enable villages to afford Information and Communication Technologies for Development (ICT4D). Some examples from around the world were:
The Summit's first phase took place in December 2003 in Geneva. The summit process began with the first "Prepcom" in July 2002. The last Prepcom, held from 19-30 September 2005 in Geneva, ended without securing final agreement on Internet governance, with the U.S. rejecting a European Union proposal to relinquish control of ICANN.
An issue that emerged was Internet governance and the dominant role that the USA in policy making. The most radical ideas about devolving this authority were those supporting a civil society approach to Internet governance.
Civil Society delegates from NGOs produced a document called "Shaping Information Societies for Human Needs" that brought together a wide range of issues under a human rights and communication rights umbrella: http://www.itu.int/wsis/docs/geneva/civil-society-declaration.pdf
The second phase took place 2005-11-16 to 2005-11-18 in Tunis, Tunisia. It resulted in agreement on the Tunis Commitment and the Tunis Agenda for the Information Society, and the creation of the Internet Governance Forum.
APC said it had participated extensively in the internet governance process at the World Summit on Information Society. It says: Out of this participation and in collaboration with other partners, including members of the WSIS civil society internet governance caucus, APC has crystallized a set of recommendations with regard to internet governance ahead of the final Summit in Tunis in November 2005.
APC proposed specific actions in each of the following five areas:
The summit itself attracted 1500 people from International Organizations, 6200 from NGOs, 4800 from the private sector, and 980 from the media.
French reporter Robert Ménard, the president of Reporters sans frontières, was refused admission to Tunisia for phase two of the Summit because of his participation in the occupation of the Tunisian office of tourism in Paris in 2001. The occupation was organized in protest of the arrest in Tunisia of human-rights activist Sihem Bensedrine. Ménard was told that he was not welcome in Tunisia. He is reportedly under judicial instruction and can enter the country only if called by a magistrate.
The summit itself was marred by criticism of Tunisia for allowing attacks on journalists and human rights defenders to occur in the days leading up to the event. A French journalist for Libération was stabbed and beaten by unidentified men after he reported on local human rights protesters. A Belgian television crew was harassed and forced to hand over footage of Tunisian dissidents, while local human rights defenders were roughed up and prevented from organizing a meeting with international civil society groups.
As the Geneva phase of the meeting drew closer, one proposal that was gaining attention was to create an international fund to provide increased financial resources to help lesser-developed nations expand their ICT sectors. The "voluntary digital solidarity fund" was a proposal put forth by the president of Senegal, but it was not one that the United States could currently endorse, Gross said.
Gross said the United States was also achieving broad consensus on the principle that a "culture of cybersecurity" must develop in national ICT policies to continue growth and expansion in this area. He said the last few years had been marked by considerable progress as nations update their laws to address the galloping criminal threats in cyberspace. "There's capacity-building for countries to be able to criminalize those activities that occur within their borders...and similarly to work internationally to communicate between administrations of law enforcement to track down people who are acting in ways that are unlawful," Gross said.
Many governments are very concerned that various groups use U.S.-based servers to spread anti-semitic, nationalist, or regime critical messages. This controversy is a consequence of the American position on free speech which does not consider speech as criminal without direct appeals to violence. The United States argues that giving the control of Internet domain names to international bureaucrats and governments may lead to massive censorship that could destroy the freedom of the Internet as a public space.
Ultimately, the US Department of Commerce made it clear it intends to retain control of the internet's root servers indefinitely.
At the same time, there is plenty of WSIS-related discussion outside the official conferences. Workshops on the themes of the summit were held e.g. at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, and plans are shaping up for alternative events outside and parallel to the official WSIS summit.
In Germany, a WSIS working group initiated by the Network New Media and the Heinrich Böll Foundation, has been meeting continuously since mid-2002. This group has gradually developed into a broader Germany-wide civil society coordination for the WSIS.
Some civil society groups expressed alarm that the 2005 phase of the WSIS was being held in Tunisia, a country with serious human rights violations. A fact-finding mission to Tunisia in January 2005 by the Tunisia Monitoring Group (TMG), a coalition of 14 members of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange, found serious cause for concern about the current state of freedom of expression and of civil liberties in the country, including gross restrictions on freedom of the press, media, publishing and the Internet.
The coalition published a 60-page report that recommends steps the Tunisian government needs to take to bring the country in line with international human rights standards. At the third WSIS Preparatory Committee meeting in Geneva in September 2005, the TMG launched an update to the report that found no improvements in the human rights situation.
Yoshio Utsumi, Secretary General of the International Telecommunication Union, declared that with the emergence of such a society comes the risk of widening the existing digital divide. The Holy See (Vatican) reaffirmed this position in its address to the summit members given by Archbishop John Foley. “This summit,” he said, “is a unique opportunity to connect and assist those living in the poorest and most isolated regions of the world… [I]f this process creates only new opportunities for those who already enjoy a good living standard and excellent communications possibilities, then our work will have been a failure.”
On the issue of narrowing the digital divide, the Holy See and the whole of the United Nations stand hand-in-hand. It was the direct goal of the Summit to create a way to provide information to all people in every nation. A joint-effort needed to be made on behalf of the entire international community to assist in providing access to digital communications to those citizens of less developed regions so that they might also share in the bounty of information available through digital mediums. “For far too many people, the gains remain out of reach,” Annan said. “There is a tremendous yearning, not for technology per se, but for what technology can make possible.” Annan continued by urging the Summit members to respond to that thirst and to make the necessary preparations and take the first steps towards the accomplishment of a society where all people have equal access to information. Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, president of the Republic of Tunisia, also called on the international community to aid in the efforts of helping all peoples, “particularly the least developed ones, to gain access to technological progress and to benefit from the scientific and digital revolution witnessed in the world today." The Vatican also reaffirmed the need for help from the international community.
Secretary General Utsumi said that in order to bring about the changes recommended, and new “pact” will need to be achieved between the information “haves” and the “have-nots.” The development of a new arrangement between developed and under-developed nations would not, he said, “obey the normal rules of negotiation of give and take” but would, instead, be based on mutual self-interest. “The value of information,” Utsumi said, “increases when it is shared. If we are able to create a new generation in the developing world, it will be to the benefit of information-producing countries.”
The overall intent of the World Summit on the Information Society was to bring about a feasible way to eliminate the ever-gaping digital divide. Members of the international community have recognized that an end to the divide must be sought in order to bring about equal information opportunities to the citizens of the less developed countries. Archbishop Foley ended his statement by stating, “It is our responsibility to fill these gaps of humanity and solidarity for the benefit of millions of people and for the next generation.” It is the responsibility of the countries of the international community to implement plans they made at the Summit to make information more accessible to all nations.
First the digital divide, which not only is addressed in Archbishop John P. Foley's address before the WSIS but also in a Vatican document, Ethics in the Internet. According to Archbishop Foley the digital divide is the current disparity in the access to digital communications between developed and developing countries and it requires the joint effort of the entire international community. The digital divide is considered a form of discrimination dividing the rich and the poor, both within and among nations, on the basis of access, or lack of access, to the new information technology. It is an updated version of an older gap that has always existed between the information rich and the information poor. The term digital divide underlines the reality that not only individuals and groups but also nations must have access to the new technology in order to share in the promised benefits of globalization and not fall behind other nations.
In a statement delivered by Senator Burchell Whiteman from Jamaica he stressed that Jamaica realizes the importance of bridging the digital divide which he sees as promoting social and economic development for 80% of the countries that are still struggling with this gap and the impact that it has on them. In a statement given by Mr. Ignacio Gonzalez Planas, who is the minister of Informatics and Communications of the Republic of Cuba, he also talked about the concern of only a few countries enjoying these privileges. Mentioning that over half of the world population does not have telephone access, which was invented more than a century ago. With more than 50% of those using cell phones and internet servers are found in developed countries. In a statement by Vice Premier Huang Ju, the State Council of the People's Republic of China, he stated that the information society should be a people centered society in which all peoples and all countries share the benefit to the fullest in greater common development in the information society.
Second the digital dilemma, which the Holy See emphasized as a disadvantage to the information society, because of this one must approach it with concern and caution to avoid taking the wrong steps. Not only what is being considered as digital opportunities could result in digital dilemmas. It is a real and present danger with technology especially the internet. The Holy See strongly supports freedom of expression and the free exchange of ideas but provided that one respects the moral order and common good. One must approach it with sensitivity and respect for other people's values and beliefs and protect the distinctiveness of cultures and the underlying unity of the human family.
Whiteman from Jamaica agreed on the issue of facing digital dilemmas as well. He stated that information resources combined with technology resources are available to the world and they have the power to transform the world for good or ill. In a statement made by Mr. Stjepan Mesic, President of Croatia, it was stated that we are flooded with data and we think that we know and can find everything about everyone but we also must remember that we don't know what so easily accessible is like. He states that although the information society is a blessing one should not ignore the potentiality of it turning into a nightmare.
The Holy See's caution of the information society is being heard and echoed by other countries especially those that were present at the WSIS in Tunis. Echoing the statement made in Ethics in the Internet, "The internet can make an enormously valuable contribution to human life. It can foster prosperity and peace, intellectual and aesthetic growth, mutual understanding among peoples and nations on a global scale."
The Jamaica Observer had a column which saw Cyberspace as backyard for the new 'Monroe Doctrine'. The Monroe Doctrine, expressed in 1823, proclaimed that the Americas should be closed to future European colonization and free from European interference in sovereign countries' affairs. The Doctrine was conceived by its authors, especially John Quincy Adams, as a proclamation by the United States of moral opposition to colonialism, but has subsequently been re-interpreted in a wide variety of ways, including by President Theodore Roosevelt as a license for the U.S. to practice its own form of colonialism.
From India, The Financial Express interviewed Nitin Desai, who is special advisor to the United Nations Secretary General. Desai is quoted saying, "Our main goal is to find ways for developing countries to gain better access to the Internet and information and communication technologies (ICTs), helping them improve their life standards right from their knowledge base to their work culture, and spread awareness about diseases and other crucial issues. This will aim to bridge the huge communication technology and infrastructure gap existing currently in the world. This will include connecting villages, community access points, schools and universities, research centers, libraries, health centers and hospitals, and local and central government departments. Besides looking at the first two years of implementation of the Plan of Action after the Geneva summit, the Tunis episode will seek to encourage the development of content meant to empower the nations."
He says: "The way India has made use of IT, fetching the country not only profits, but a huge percentage of employed people, it has been really impressive." My view: it's a shame that we in India have so many IT professionals, but these skills get used so much for the export-dollar, and hardly at all (except in a spillover manner) to tackle the huge issues that a billion seeking a better life have to daily deal with.