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Political Leaders Must Address Information Society Issues

Global Governance Framework for ‘Cyberspace’ to be issue at World Summit

Geneva, 7 November 2002 — Despite the fact that activities based around the creation, processing and dissemination of information account for more than 80 per cent of employment in the developed world, "In the mind of political leaders, issues concerning Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) are not yet high on their political agenda," says Mr. Yoshio Utsumi, Secretary-General of ITU. He made his remarks to the European Regional Preparatory Meeting for the World Summit on the Information Society in Bucharest, adding that "the information society will pose new ethical challenges for political leaders similar to those posed by genetic engineering in that the information we generate and collect will give us much more power to control our environment."

Given that the information society covers virtually every aspect of our lives, Mr. Utsumi outlined what should be achieved by the World Summit on the Information Society, which is being organized by ITU under the auspices of UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan. Mr. Utsumi noted the Summit is needed:

  • To raise awareness among political leaders, at the highest levels, of the implications of the information society and the opportunities and challenges it will bring in the area of economics, development and governance.
  • To tackle the injustice of the digital divide between developed and developing nations which is characterized by overcapacity, falling prices and profits for telecommunication operators and manufacturers in the developed world, while in parts of the developing world investment can’t keep up with demand and millions of villages lack even a basic phone line.
  • To develop new legal and policy frameworks, appropriate to cyberspace, in order to guarantee fundamental human and intellectual rights while addressing issues such as cyber-crime, security, taxation, and privacy.

The World Summit on the Information Society represents a unique opportunity to address these issues and to set the policy agenda for years to come. The unique ‘two phase’ structure of the Summit provides a chance to refine this policy agenda and its implementation. The first phase of the Summit will be in Geneva 10 to 12 December 2003 and the second phase in Tunisia in 2005. "We must ensure that we attract high-level participation in both phases of the Summit. To do that, the draft action plan we develop must be forward-looking and address tomorrow’s problems, not those of today."

For developing countries, the information society provides an opportunity to free themselves from the constraints imposed by the distribution of natural resources or terms of trade. "ICTs can also help in nation building for those countries emerging from a troubled history. But how many political leaders in the developing world are seriously seeking these opportunities for their people?" asks Mr. Utsumi.

In recent years, there have been many initiatives designed to tackle the digital divide. He notes that while a number of these have been successful, we must seek new and innovative ways of mobilizing investment, by seeking a global perspective and securing justice. "We must develop programmes of sector reform based on competition, private sector participation and, most importantly, with truly global policies and effective regulation. Otherwise the digital divide will widen further."

About the World Summit on the Information Society

The World Summit on the Information Society offers a unique opportunity for the global community to reflect, discuss and give shape to our common destiny in an era when countries and peoples are interconnected as never before. The anticipated outcome of the Summit is to develop a clear statement of political will and a concrete plan of action for achieving the goals of the Information Society, while fully reflecting all the different interests at stake. For more information consult the website.

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