Information Note to the press: Resumed session of PREPCOM 3 achieves considerable progress
Negotiations on unresolved issues to continue prior to Summit
Geneva, 17 November 2003 — The third session of the Preparatory Committee resumed work from 10 to 14 November 2003 to bring countries' positions closer on a Declaration and Action Plan to build an Information Society for the benefit of humanity to be tabled for endorsement by Heads of States and Governments next month. The draft Declaration of Principles articulates a common vision of the key values that should serve as the foundation for the emerging Information Society. The draft Plan of Action sets out time-bound development targets aimed at extending access to information and communication technologies (ICTs) to all.
Ambassador Asko Numminen of Finland, Chairman of the PrepCom's Subcommittee 2, conducted the negotiations aimed at narrowing the difference of views on the Declaration of Principles and on the Action Plan. Subcommittee 2 decided to agree to use the "non-paper" of Mr Adama Samassékou, President of Prepcom, as a basis for the negotiations. The non-paper was elaborated after Prepcom 3 following consultations with participants to find consensus on the existing text of the draft Declaration to facilitate the discussions of the resumed session. PrepCom worked on the premise that "nothing is agreed unless everything is agreed" so that some text could find resolution without prejudging the negotiations on other issues yet to be discussed. It was also considered useful to agree on the main thrust of the Declaration to pave the way for a speedier adoption of the Action Plan where similar issues are also found.
To hammer out divergence of views on the Declaration, several working groups met along with bilateral and multilateral ad hoc groups. Each of these small groups focused on some particular issues of contention namely, security, Internet governance, intellectual property rights (IPRs); the financing of an inclusive global Information Society, open-source software, freedom of expression and opinion and the role of media.
Progress on substance with agreement was reached on a number of issues that lead to a better-balanced Declaration of Principles. The rate of progress accelerated considerably in the second part of the week but time was then too short and the positions of delegations on some of the outstanding issues were still too far apart to reach agreement on all the text.
Negotiations went into higher gear towards the middle of the week which finally led to the adoption of nearly 90% of the text of the Action Plan and 75% of the Declaration. The outstanding paragraphs of the Action Plan are those linked to the issues in the Declaration that are still proving challenging. However, a main objective of the Summit has already been achieved, according to Yoshio Utsumi, Secretary-General of ITU. “We have succeeded in raising awareness at the highest political level of the implications of the Information Society. Commitment has been expressed to tackle the injustice of the digital divide and to develop new frameworks for cyberspace to ensure that the benefits of the information society are extended to all, not just to a privileged few.”
KEY ISSUES ON WHICH AGREEMENT HAS BEEN REACHED INCLUDE
•ICTs as a powerful development tool. ICTs are potentially important in government operations and services, health care and health information, education and training, employment, job creation, business agriculture, transport, protection of environment and management of natural resources, disaster prevention and culture, and to promote eradication of poverty and other agreed development goals.
• Information and Communication Infrastructure. The development of an ICT infrastructure is an essential foundation for an inclusive information society. Universal, ubiquitous, equitable and affordable access to ICT infrastructure and services should be an objective of all stakeholders involved in building the information
• Capacity building. This refers to investment in human resources and universal access to information and knowledge, the recognition of the need to empower marginalized and vulnerable groups to support their efforts to get out of poverty. Acknowledged is the need to promote and protect their human rights and fundamental freedoms as well as to the preserve and protect their heritage and cultural legacy.
• Enabling environment. Particularly important is the need for rule of law accompanied by supportive, transparent, pro-competitive and predictable policies. Another important point concerns standardization. International standards will create an environment where consumers can access services worldwide regardless of the underlying technology.
• Cultural identity and diversity. Related paragraphs recognize the need for the creation, dissemination and preservation of content in various languages and formats as well as the need to reward rights of author but also to promote the production of and accessibility to all content including local content.
• Stakeholder roles. Building a people-centred information Society is a joint effort which requires cooperation and partnership among all stakeholders.
• Open source and free software, in order to increase competition, freedom of choice and affordability, since “proprietary” software solutions, which are copyright protected, often incur higher costs and may restrict options.
WORK IN PROGRESS
There has been considerable progress in substance on the items below but agreed language to encapsulate the spirit of the agreement is yet to be fully crafted. In a number of cases, this boils down to only a few words or parts of sentences in an entire paragraph or series of paragraphs.
• Intellectual Property (striking a balance between ensuring freedom of access to information, and protecting and stimulating innovation)
• Ethical dimensions (call on all actors to prevent abusive uses of ICTs, such as racism, intolerance, hatred, violence, pornography and child abuse)
• Connectivity (infrastructure development to expand access to ICTs for all people everywhere).
ISSUES YET TO BE RESOLVED
Finally, there are issues that require further negotiations and where consultation and negotiation is to take place in the period leading to a final meeting of PrepCom on 5 and 6 December. This final round of negotiations will be facilitated by the host country, Switzerland. These issues are:
• Security. This encompasses privacy, consumer protection and protection of data including the control of spam as well as integrity and protection of networks.
• Internet governance — the role of all stakeholders in the management of the Internet at both the technical and public policy levels and the balance between them.
• Financing of ICT for development.
Digital Solidarity Agenda (that puts the conditions for mobilizing financial and technological resources for improved ICT access) and Digital Solidarity Fund (to channel financing to ICT for development. A consensus is emerging on the need to undertake a thorough review of the existing funding mechanisms to take account of the imperatives of the information society with the possible creation of a Digital Solidarity Fund to be created if needed based on the results of this review.)
• Role of media and human rights issues — the importance of the role of media in the Information Society including whether the media should be considered as a separate stakeholder and whether references to the freedom of expression and opinion embodied in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) should be linked those of Article 29 of the UDHR on the duties to the community and to the limitation of one’s rights and obligations in relation to the rights and freedom of others.
THE ROAD AHEAD
The PrepCom will reconvene, at a high-level, on 5-6 December with consultations to be undertaken by the Host Country in the interim.
The Draft Declaration of Principles and Draft Plan of Action can be found here.
The World Summit on the Information Society provides a unique opportunity for all key stakeholders to develop a common vision and understanding and to address the whole range of relevant issues related to the Information Society.
It aims to bring together Heads of State, Executive Heads of the United Nations agencies, non-governmental organizations, civil society entities, industry leaders and media representatives to foster a clear statement of political will and concrete plan of action to shape the future of the global information society and to promote the urgently needed access of all countries to information, knowledge and communication technologies for development.
The Summit has been endorsed by the UN General Assembly. Organized by the International Telecommunication Union, it will be held under the high patronage of Kofi Annan, UN Secretary-General.
The Summit will be held in two phases: Geneva (10-12 December 2003) and Tunisia (16-18 November 2005).