18 November 2003


NEW YORK, 17 November (ITU) -- The third resumed session of the Preparatory Committee for the World Summit on the Information Society, held from 10 to 14 November in Geneva, brought countries' positions closer on a Declaration of Principles and Action Plan to build an information society for the benefit of humanity, to be tabled for endorsement by heads of States and governments at the Summit itself, from 10 to 12 December.

Negotiations went into higher gear towards the middle of last week, which led to the adoption of nearly 90 per cent of the text of the Action Plan and 75 per cent of the Declaration, including on the previously contentious issue of open source and free software. Though the rate of progress accelerated considerably in the second part of the week, 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.

Issues that require further negotiation will be discussed at a final high-level meeting of the Preparatory Committee, on 5 and 6 December, facilitated by the host country, Switzerland.

At a press briefing held today, 17 November, in Geneva, Yoshio Utsumi, Secretary-General of both the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the World Summit, stated, “In many other summits, such as Johannesburg, they had no Draft Declaration or Plan of Action even in the last PrepCom.  Considering those precedents, here we have a win-win situation for industrialized and developing countries, business and civil society.  [We have had] a tremendous outcome in a short time.”

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.

Mr. Utsumi enumerated the contentious areas that remained unresolved:

-- Internet security.  Concerning paragraphs of the Draft Declaration pertaining to consumer protection, privacy, Spam and other security issues, Mr. Utsumi said the differences of opinion were “not that great”.  The sticking point was over one country insisting that security be linked to military issues.  Many countries opposed that, since they felt that freedom of expression might be curtailed in the name of security.


-- Internet governance.  In question was whether the Internet should be managed by ITU or an intergovernmental body rather than a private concern.  Several countries preferred the current private system arrangement, whereas others thought that a study should be conducted on the matter.

-- Financing.  Senegal had proposed a voluntary “digital solidarity fund”, which it and other developing countries wanted to see reflected in the Declaration.  Industrialized countries felt that existing mechanisms -- within the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), ITU, the World Bank or government official development assistance -- should be utilized.  In the more detailed Action Plan, the differences were narrowing.  Many heads of State are expected to come to Geneva to discuss this very point.  Switzerland has been entrusted with conducting informal negotiations on this question until the resumed Preparatory Committee of 5-6 December.

-- The role of the media.  Opinions diverged on the importance of the role of the media in the information society, including whether the media should be considered as a separate stakeholder.

-- Freedom of opinion and expression.  The Universal Declaration of Human Rights explicitly mentions freedom of opinion and expression in article 19, and related obligations in article 29.  Mr. Utsumi said that freedom of opinion and expression was “fundamental” to the creation of an information society.  Countries did not disagree on the concepts expressed therein, but on the definitions contained in the paragraphs.

Preparatory Committee 3 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.  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; the financing of an inclusive global information society, open-source software, freedom of expression and opinion and the role of media.

But a main objective of the Summit has already been achieved, according to Mr. Utsumi.  “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 the environment and management of natural resources, disaster prevention and culture, and promotion of poverty eradication and other agreed development goals.


-- 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.

-- 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 those involved in building the information society.

-- 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 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 creating, disseminating and preserving 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 that requires cooperation and partnership among all stakeholders.

Work in Progress

There has been substantial progress on the following items, 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 - calling 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.


For further information, please visit:  www.itu.int/wsis.


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