The 10 year Review of the World Summit on Information Society(WSIS) +10 Review will culminate next week in New York. A High Level Meeting will conclude the review process and adopt an outcome document which is currently in its final stages of negotiations.
The co-facilitators recently conducted a briefing at the United Nations Headquarters in New York where they gave an update on the negotiations and discussed the Draft Outcome Document of the General Assembly Overall Review of the Implementation of the WSIS Outcomes released on 7th December 2015. This new draft released over a month after the previous draft has changed as expected after receiving comments and inputs from multiple stakeholders including those present at the IGF 2015.
This latest draft text represents the final stages of negotiations and a cursory look at the draft shows that some parts are far from agreed or consensus text. Ambassador Jānis Mažeiks said that the draft contains broadly three categories of text. First, text that has more or less been agreed upon and is uncontroversial is “[Suggested for closure]” indicating that ideally nations may not consider reopening negotiations on the text. The second category of bracketed text holds the rather controversial or as Ambassador Mažeiks stated, ‘sticky issues’ where new text has been added or no changes have been due to divergence of comments received. These will undergo further discussion and negotiations in the coming days. The third category of text is one which is neither suggested for closure nor bracketed. This part of the text indicates either there has been a significant new addition in the text or key suggestions through comments have not been reflected. The Ambassador remarked that the draft is ‘not quite a piece of literature’ but best efforts will be made to achieve an outcome document that is balanced and acceptable to all. While the negotiations are underway, let us briefly examine the new changes reflected in this latest draft section-by-section:
Linkages with Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have been made stronger. Paragraphs 4 and 5 in the preamble section makes a direct reference reaffirming the SDGs and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda. This addition gives the linkages between WSIS and the SDGs much more prominence as desired by many stakeholders.
Another welcome change reflected throughout the document is the change of the phrase ‘the digital divide’ in singular to ‘digital divides’ reflecting the plurality of the issue facing the information society.
Paragraph 11 of the preamble has a few new additions to the list of issues that require improvement such as access, cultural preservation, and investment. It also has new text with special emphasis on gender divide existing as part of digital divides. In general, the language in the preamble has been strengthened by bringing more specificity and precision.
ICT for Development
The section on ICT for Development too has some substantial additions. Most of which are ‘suggested for closure’ indicating that they aren’t really controversial inputs and reflects the comments from various stakeholders.
Paragraph 18 speaking of the digital economy now additionally recognizes “the critical importance of expanding the participation of all countries, particularly developing countries, in the digital economy.”
Disaster management and humanitarian response which in the previous draft was merely mentioned in the previous draft now receives greater emphasis with detailed text solely dedicated to this aspect in paragraph 20.
Within the ICT for Development Section, the section of Bridging the Digital Divide sees maximum changes and noteworthy new additions in the text.
The importance of acknowledging the existing inequalities in the conception of digital divides was one of the issues reflected in CCG’s comments to the earlier draft, and was reiterated during the WSIS+10 Review Consultation at the IGF this year. Reflecting this, paragraph 23 in the latest draft sees language on digital divides and its linkages to education levels and existing inequalities being brought to the fore when the issue is being conceptualised in this document. The text also lays emphasis on the exclusion of the poor from the benefits of ICTs. This paragraph with these key new additions has been suggested for closure contingent upon updated data and figures.
The conceptualization of digital divides in this draft has been more detailed that the previous and can been seen in the text of paragraph 24 and 28 which reiterate that ‘digital divides remain between developing and developed countries’ in addition to the divides in ‘digital uses and literacy.’
Radio frequency spectrum management is a completely new issue that finds a mention in paragraph 34 of the new draft document. It states that spectrum should be managed in ‘public interest’ and in ‘accordance with principle of legality with full observance of national laws and regulations as well as relevant international agreements’. Radio frequency spectrum was not mentioned in the previous draft, and this notable addition has not been bracketed or suggested for closure.
Human Rights in the Information Society
This section of the draft document has been at the heart of all WSIS debates and discussions. The transformation in the previous versions of the draft text giving due importance to human rights was an indication of the receptive nature of the consultation process with various stakeholders.
The paragraphs human rights section have been shuffled a bit, but largely remain the same. The General Assembly Resolution 69/166 finds mention. The right to privacy has been emphasised in addition to recognition that that the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online.
The following paragraph 46 replaces the term ‘bloggers’ with ‘media workers’ while referring to concerns of journalists and civil society surrounding freedom of expression and plurality of information.
While it is heartening to see specific references to internationally binding human rights instruments such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), it is indeed disappointing that the entire document makes no mention of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). It is interesting to note that paragraph 47 that mentions Article 19 of the ICCPR while discussing freedom of expression has been suggested for closure, the following paragraph 48 which mentions the UDHR and the ICCPR has been left open for discussion. Hopefully countries will make an effort to negotiate the inclusion of the ICESCR that embodies some of the most important issues relating to the growing information society such as health, education and labour rights.
There is only a remote reference to economic and social development made in the previous section on enabling environment under paragraph 33 that urges states to refrain from “any unilateral measure not in accordance with international law and the Charter of the United Nations that impedes the full achievement of economic and social development …”.
Building Confidence and Trust in the Use of ICTs
This section where cybersecurity is discussed under a rather euphemistic sub-heading has almost entirely bracketed text or text left open for discussion. Paragraph 51 which acknowledges the contributions of various stakeholders now refers to the “private sector, civil society, the technical community and academia” as compared to the sole reference to governments in the previous draft. The problem however remains that cybersecurity concerns are being couched in national security vocabulary in a rather adversarial form against human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Notably paragraph 53 (paragraph 47 in the previous draft) has undergone some substantial changes and is placed entirely in square brackets leaving it open for debate during the negotiations. The text here addresses the ambit of international law in the cyber security context. It recognizes the importance of the principles of international law, and the UN Charter. It goes on to specifically list principles enshrined in the charter such as “sovereign equality; the settlement of international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security and justice are not endangered; refraining in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations; respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms; and non-intervention in the internal affairs of other States.” The text also welcomes the 2015 report of the Group of Governmental Experts on Developments in the Field of Information and Telecommunications in the Context of International Security.
It is also interesting to see a more detailed approach to cybercrime in this section. The prime issues of prosecution, and impact across multiple jurisdictions are featured in the text. The language makes specific reference to existing efforts and legal tools at both the national and the international level.
Another set of bracketed text in this section is concerning technical assistance and capacity building to address the challenges facing developing countries in combating cybercrime and terrorism.
The section is has been subject to extensive debate as there are diverging views on whether WSIS is the appropriate forum considering the multitude of initiatives mentioned in paragraph 51.
Internet Governance continues to remain a difficult issue. The language in this draft has hardly seen significant change, and key parts remain in square brackets reflecting the diverging views. The reference to ‘multi-lateral’ remains and seems oblivious to the numerous comments and inputs made in this regard.
Two interesting additions have been made in this section. First, a reference to Regional Internet Registries (RIRs) which remains in square brackets and second the hosting of the NETMundial Global Multistakholder Meeting on the Future of Internet Governance (not the NETMundial Initiative) which is suggested for closure. In light of these two additions, the absence [or avoidance] of any mention of ICANN and the IANA Transition Process becomes apparent.
The paragraph on net neutrality- which was included in the last draft- has been diluted. In its present form, paragraph 61 merely recognises the importance of ‘the ongoing dialogue on net neutrality and the open Internet in the context of the Information Society’ and removes any reference to its protection.
The renewal of the IGF comes as a relief in this section, however the weak conditionality attached to the renewal for 10 years may not provide a strong incentive to reform and address the concerns raised in the UN Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD) Report on Improvement to the IGF.
The concept of Enhanced Cooperation has been subject to controversy since its inception. This draft of the text however retains the language of the Tunis Agenda and suggests for closure. However, the following paragraph 64 on re-establishing a working group has been significantly modified to include ‘modalities to ensure the full involvement of all relevant stakeholders, in order to provide a diversity of perspectives and expertise.’. The report of this group is proposed to be submitted to the 73rd General Assembly, however this part of the text is in square brackets reiterating its contested nature.
Follow-up and Review
This section has mostly agreed text and is suggested for closure. Reflecting comments and inputs, regional reviews find mention in paragraph 67. The final paragraph 70 however remains open and creates more room for debate on whether the General Assembly should be the body that convenes the High Level Meeting in either 2020 or 2025.
The WSIS+10 Review process is now at its final stages. The on-going negotiations will result in the final draft that will be then be tabled for adoption at the High Level Meeting on 15 and 16 December, 2015. While the significant progress must be appreciated, there are some key concerns that remain. It can only be hoped that the countries negotiating the texts will iron out the creases.