MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay, 23 May 2007
A new watchdog report monitoring promises made by governments and the United Nations to ensure that information technology is used to benefit millions of people, was launched in Geneva on May 22.
The fruits of the information technology ‘revolution’ are unevenly distributed between countries and within societies. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo it is claimed that as little as 2.5% of the population owns a telephone, whereas neighbouring Nigeria has one of the fastest-growing IT markets in Africa. In India, a burgeoning technology industry has failed to provide phones or internet to vast rural areas.
The gap is not only “digital”
The reasons for the inequalities are complex, but claim the authors, the Association for Progressive Communications and the Third World Institute, “experience shows that the status quo tends to prevail unless political will to implement change is strengthened by active citizen participation. A ‘Global Information Society Watch’ is needed to make governments and international organisations accountable.”
Launch of first Global Information Society Watch report
The Global Information Society Watch 2007 report – the first in a series of annual reports- looks at state of the field of information and communication technology (ICT) policy at local and global levels and particularly how policy impacts on the lives of people living in developing countries.
Studies of the ICT policy situation in twenty-two countries from four regions are featured: Africa (Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Uganda); Asia (Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and the Philippines); Latin America (Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico and Peru); and Eastern Europe (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania), with one report from a Western European country (Spain).
The report concludes that when it comes to ICTs for development, there are some conspicuous similarities between the countries. Excluding Spain, the other twenty-one countries each show obvious evidence of the “digital divide” which impacts on the majority of people negatively. According to Brazilian authors RITS, the absence of a people-orientated policy framework in Brazil runs the risk of condemning the vast majority of people to “eternal disconnection.”
The report also includes provocative, analytical essays on five international institutions (including ICANN and the World Intellectual Property Organisation) questioning the extent to which they allow all stake-holders to participate in their processes. There is a special section on how to measure progress.
“This report is an important effort at a critical time,” says Markus Kummer, executive coordinator of the Secretariat of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF). “It is of utmost importance to know the extent to which the people affected have a voice in the policy-making organisations. Participation of all stakeholders in policy processes is a key element of good global governance. In this sense, the report will also be good input to the IGF in its continuing work on a development agenda for internet governance and the special emphasis being placed on capacity building for all stakeholders. More so, while so much attention is being put on the effort to overcome the inequities in global information access it is important to make sure that the people who need this access are actually served by those efforts.”
"There is a lack of ICT-oriented indexes which focus on inclusion and exclusion in ICT policy decisions. Global Information Society Watch is a serious attempt to bridge this gap," says Rikke Frank Jørgensen, senior adviser at the Danish Institute for Human Rights.
Connecting the dots to form the big ICT policy picture
Alice Wanjira Gitau is part of KICTANet, a citizen-coalition which has worked critically with the Kenyan government to ensure issues of universal access and consumer rights are being addressed in Kenya’s first national ICT policy. “Rather than just publishing statistics,” she comments, “this new report provides an opportunity to share examples of the road traveled in policy-making, which will hopefully reduce the risk of following inappropriate paths.”
“While international organisations and research institutions regularly churn out reports packed with data about the diffusion of ICTs and offer mainstream assessments of policy trends, they generally devote little attention to what all this means for the global public interest. Global Information Society Watch [..] connect[s] the dots between national and global-level trends and give readers a ‘big picture’ understanding of where we are heading and the risks and opportunities that entails,” explains Dr William J. Drake, director of the “Information Revolution and Global Governance” project, Graduate Institute for International Studies (Switzerland)
More citizen involvement in policy-making is key
“Increase in access to ICTs will not reduce poverty,” conclude APC and ITeM in their introduction to the 2007 report. “But there is a real danger that lack of access to ICTs can deepen existing social exclusion and create new forms of exclusion. In this context that we believe it is essential for civil society networks to participate in and watch over ICT policy processes at the global, regional and national levels.”
OBTAIN THE REPORT
Download or read online: www.GlobalISWatch.org
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
In compiling this publication, the APC and ITeM are following up on their long-term interest in the impact of civil society on governance processes and their efforts to enhance public participation in national and international forums.
The APC network has been involved in global, regional and national ICT policy processes since 2000, with a focus on human rights and social inclusion in the information society and on promoting “digital inclusion”. Association for Progressive Communications (APC): http://www.apc.org
ITeM has been active in researching and promoting the use of ICTs to strengthen citizen involvement in decision-making processes. It hosts international civil society advocacy initiatives such as “Social Watch”, which monitors social development and gender policies, and “IFIwatchnet”, which monitors the activities of the international financial institutions. Third World Institute (known by its Spanish acronym, ITeM): http://www.item.org.uy