Looking back to move ahead: A recap of the WSIS+10 Overall Review

By Deborah Brown
Publisher: APCNews     Nueva York, 23 July 2015

Nearly 10 years ago, the second and final phase of the UN World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) concluded in Tunis, setting the tone for global discussions on the impacts of internet and ICTs on society. At the end of this year, the UN General Assembly (UNGA) will hold a two-day high-level meeting in New York, which has the potential to shape UN debates on the internet and ICTs in the coming years, if not decades. This post highlights recent developments in the WSIS+10 Overall Review, APC's priorities in the review process, and ways civil society can get engaged.

WSIS and the WSIS+10 Overall Review

WSIS set out a coordinated international action plan for harnessing the use of ICTs for development, brokered a delicate consensus on how the internet should be governed, and proposed a path forward for how to achieve more democratic and inclusive internet governance with outcomes such as the Internet Governance Forum. WSIS was instrumental in pioneering the concept that all stakeholders have a role in internet governance. The WSIS process itself is an ongoing platform for engagement of stakeholders around the common goal of a “people-centred, inclusive and development-oriented Information Society”.

The WSIS+10 Overall Review is a high-level meeting that will take place 15-16 December 2015. It will provide the opportunity to revisit the outcomes of WSIS, assess progress made, and look ahead at challenges in the coming years.The December event will result in a negotiated text, agreed on by governments. Early drafts of the text, known as non-papers and zero papers will be released in the coming months for input and comment by all stakeholders. While the UNGA meeting is the final and politically significant element of the WSIS review process, it is building on years-long efforts by UN agencies and organs most involved in implementing the WSIS outcomes, such as the Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD), the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), and UNESCO, to review progress made.

For more information on the WSIS+10 Overall Review, including analysis of earlier stages and modalities, see our guide Everything you need to know about the WSIS+10 review.

State of play and ongoing preparations for the Review

Preparations for the Review officially began in early June 2015 when the president of UNGA appointed two ambassadors, Jānis Mažeiks of Latvia and Lana Nusseibeh of the United Arab Emirates, as the review's co-facilitators to lead the intergovernmental preparatory process. Notably, the co-facilitators are responsible for coordinating the drafting a final outcome document in cooperation with UN member states and institutions. The UNGA president, Sam Kutesa of Uganda, is responsible for coordinating input from all other stakeholders for the intergovernmental negotiation process.

Following the appointment of co-facilitators, preparations accelerated with only six months to organise the high-level meeting. From 8-9 June 2015, an expert group meeting on "Advancing a Sustainable Information Society for All" was convened in New York to examine the ways in which governments and other stakeholders can address increasingly complex development and information society issues through more effective use of ICTs.

Days later, from 10-11 June 2015, UNGA held initial consultative meetings as part of the Review process in the form of a stocktaking session, which was open to observers and streamed live online. Primarily a briefing and information-sharing meeting for states, the co-facilitators used the stocktaking session to share a roadmap for the preparatory process leading up to the high-level meeting in December 2015.

Intergovernmental preparatory meeting

Then, on 1 July 2015, UNGA held its first preparatory meeting, which was a platform for states to share their expectations of the overall review, give their views on progress made in the implementation of the WSIS outcomes, and point to challenges and areas for continued focus.

States seem to agree that the objective of the Review is not to open up the Tunis Agenda, but to refocus the WSIS Action Lines so that they are more relevant in the current environment to achieve a people-centred, inclusive and development-oriented Information Society. Overwhelmingly, states pointed the need to refocus efforts to harness the use of ICTs for development and bridge the digital divide. A number of states called for explicit linkages and synergies between the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are to be adopted in September 2015. Various states, including the Group of 77 (G77) and China highlighted access issues including the gender divide, multilingualism and financing mechanisms for ICTs. Reflecting some of the most pressing and relevant internet issues today, several states raised their support for network neutrality; the importance of human rights in the information society, specifically the right to privacy and the need to achieve consensus on how to protect rights online while maintaining security; international cooperation around cybersecurity; and the internationalisation of ICANN, in particular the transfer of the domain name system from US authority.

Perhaps the area around which their was most visible disagreement was the role of governments in internet governance and the extent to which the process to achieve “enhanced cooperation” as set out by the Tunis Agenda has been implemented. The G77, for example, noted that this process has been “blocked” stating, “[i]t is imperative that this important issue be resolved, so that all nations have an equal say in the public policies affecting the Internet.” The US, on the other hand, recognised that there are different interpretations of enhanced cooperation and according to their understanding, enhanced cooperation was meant to improve and strengthen the cooperation between and within existing institutions and organisations, which they believe has been a “tremendous and ongoing success”.

Some states, Russia in particular, proposed a larger role for the UN in internet governance, suggesting that authority for domain names be transferred to international control under the UN aegis. China called for an international convention on cybercrime, echoing a recent BRICS Ufa Declaration that makes a case for “a universal regulatory binding instrument on combating the criminal use of ICTs under the UN auspices”.

Finally, a number of governments, notably Brazil the EU, Japan, Israel, Mexico and US, expressed support for an extension of the mandate of the IGF, which expires in 2015, while Canada and the EU, among others, indicated support for meaningful input from all stakeholders throughout the preparatory process for the Review and in the high-level event itself.

There will be a second intergovernmental preparatory meeting on 20-22 October 2015 at UN Headquarters in New York City.

Informal, interactive stakeholder consultation

On the day following the intergovernmental preparatory meeting, an informal interactive stakeholder consultation was held with the goal of collecting input from all relevant WSIS stakeholders to input into the intergovernmental negotiation process. The consultation was comprised of three panel discussions on progress in the implementation of WSIS outcomes; challenges and areas for continued focus; and the way forward with ICTs for development.

APC participated in the informal consultation, raising in the third panel the following priorities : access and effective ICT use, human rights, gender equality, good governance, extending the mandate of the IGF, participation and cooperation in internet governance, participation in the Review, and the centrality of sustainable development in the Review. We further elaborate on these points in the next section.

Others from civil society also participated on panels. Access raised unlawful surveillance, censorship and network shutdowns, ensuring the protection of rights in the context of cybersecurity, and protecting network neutrality. LIRNEasia focused its intervention on access, specifically the lack of affordability and quality access, how access should be measured, and relevance of content for local needs. LIRNEasia also raised the risk of Asian regulators importing regulatory models from developed countries, where users have completely different contexts. From the audience, a member of the Just Net Coalition (JNC) raised issues of inclusivity, among them flaws in the multistakeholder selection process for speakers at the consultation, which led to a failure to achieve a diversity of views. The JNC participant noted that multistakeholderism only works when there are essential procedural safeguards.

Other stakeholder groups were represented: The private sector, such as Microsoft, Oracle, and Verizon; the technical community, such as the Internet Society, and Japan Network Information Center (JPNIC); and academia, such as the International Association for Media and Communication Research and University of Information Science and Technology.

While APC welcomed the consultation, we are concerned that the way in which it was organised did not guarantee meaningful input from all stakeholders. For example the short time between the call for speakers and the consultation itself, combined with the requirement that speakers be self-funded made it difficult for members of civil society, especially from developing countries, to participate. Input from nongovernmental stakeholders was of variable quality and too many simply marked their own initiatives. Additionally, stakeholders should have been given the opportunity to share their views with states before the intergovernmental consultation. As it were, government attendance and participation was low in the stakeholder consultation. Nonetheless, we appreciate the opportunity to influence the selection of speakers. We recognise the hard work of the UN Non-governmental Liaison Service (NGLS) and look forward to working with them on implementing our concrete suggestions for how to improve stakeholder input, particularly through remote participation.

What to expect between now and December

The months leading up to the high-level meeting are packed. Here are the key dates to keep in mind:
  • 31 July 2015: Deadline for written submissions to the Non-paper.
  • End of August: Publication of the Non-Paper
  • Second week of September: Deadline for written comments on Non-Paper
  • Last week of September: Zero Draft Paper
  • 15 October: Deadline for comments on Zero Draft
  • 19 October: Multistakeholder Consultation in New York (note: date to be officially confirmed)
  • 20-22 October: Intergovernmental Meeting in New York
  • Last week of November: Second Draft of final outcome document
  • 15-16 December: UNGA High Level Meeting in New York.

APC’s priorities for the Review

APC has been engaged in the WSIS process since the 2003 phase, when helped shape the Civil Society Declaration to WSIS, and has been actively participating in each phase of follow up on the WSIS outcomes as well as the Review. In 2013 APC carried out a survey Communication rights ten years after WSIS: Civil society perceptions. Based on our deep and ongoing engagement in WSIS we have identified the following as priorities for the overall WSIS review:

A stronger response from states to achieve access and effective ICT use, including public access, promoting net neutrality and non-discriminatory access, and in addition to access, support for capacity development, useful content, appropriate technology, relevant applications, and an enabling cultural, economic and political environment.

Renewed commitments by states to respect and promote human rights, moving beyond acceptance that international human rights norms apply online, to applying those norms. This includes both civil and political rights and economic social and cultural rights. Additionally, businesses need to stop violating HR for commercial gain.

Gender equality is a top priority as poverty, patriarchy and violence keep women from being able to use the internet freely. Renewed commitment is required by all stakeholders to not only expand women’s access to ICTs but to achieve full and equal participation in all spheres of society and in all decision-making processes.

States must renew their commitment to ICTs as a tool for good governance at all levels and recognise that multistakeholder participation is not just for ICT policy-making but all policy-making.

We call for states to extend the mandate of the IGF for at least another 10 years. The IGF needs to be strengthened, including with more government participation.

Regarding participation and cooperation in internet governance, multistakeholder participation needs to evolve further to be fully democratic and inclusive. We view enhanced cooperation and multisatekholderism as mutually reinforcing.

As for participation in the WSIS+10 overall review itself, an open, inclusive, participative and transparent process with meaningful input from all stakeholders, in person and remotely, is essential. The overall review should build on previous efforts of and inputs from CSTD, ITU, and UNESCO.

We call for the centrality of sustainable development in the WSIS review. This requires more than access to technology. It requires a commitment to to social justice; collaboration to address problems such as poverty, war, insecurity, and exploitation; and investment in human development, institutional capacity, human rights, environmental sustainability, and democratic, transparent and accountable governance.

Civil society engagement

Unfortunately, the WSIS+10 Overall Review is less inclusive than the WSIS summits and many other global internet governance processes convened since. There are still ways that civil society can get engaged and influence the process both formally and informally.

Join the formal process

  • All relevant stakeholders are invited to provide inputs into a Non-Paper that will be released at the end of August and eventually developed into the final outcome document. The non-paper will capture stakeholder perspectives on progress made in the implementation of the WSIS outcomes, and on potential gaps and areas for continued focus, as well as challenges, including bridging the digital divide, and harnessing ICTs for development. The deadline for written submissions is 31 July and submission guidelines are available online.
  • There will be subsequent opportunities for written submissions on the non-paper (deadline second week of September) and on the subsequent Zero Draft(deadline 15 October).
  • There will be additional opportunities for in-person and remote participation in the second multistakeholder consultation on 19 October in New York (to be officially confirmed)and in the high-level WSIS review meeting itself 15-16 December. Details on the second multistakeholder consultation and high-level meeting are not yet available.

Influence regional and global debates

In addition to the formal process, the regional and global IGFs present opportunities for coordination and input among stakeholders. Upcoming events include:
  • 3-4 August 2015: LAC IGF in Mexico City; and 5-7 August: eLAC Ministerial Conference on the Information Society in Mexico City
  • 3-5 September: APC, Bytes for All and Internet Democracy Project are organising a regional meeting on WSIS+10 for stakeholders in Asia
  • 6-8 September: Africa IGF in Addis Ababa, where APC is planning a pre-event on 6 September in cooperation with the Ministry of CIT of Egypt and the African Union Commission
  • 10-13 November: The global IGF in João Pessoa, Brazil will be an opportunity for coordination and information sharing among stakeholders. A main session is being organised on the Review and APC, Internet Democracy Project and the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) are planning a pre-event on the Review on Day 0, 10 November.
Finally, it should not be overlooked that national IGFs and other convenings are opportunities to reflect on WSIS outcomes at the national level, which is perhaps the most critical when it comes to assessing the implementations of WSIS outcomes, gaps, challenges, and areas for continued focus.

Resources and suggested reading

Website for the WSIS+10 Overall Review: http://unpan3.un.org/wsis10/

APC report: Civil society perceptions on communication rights ten years after WSIS: http://www.itu.int/wsis/review/inc/docs/roreports/WSIS10_Country_Reporti...

APC's contribution to CSTD report on ten-year review of the implementation of WSIS outcomes: http://unctad.org/Sections/un_cstd/docs/cstd_wsis10_apc_en.pdf

APC's input to the CSTD Working Group on Enhanced Cooperation: http://www.apc.org/en/system/files/APC_response_CSTD_WGEC_10092013.pdf

Joint statement by APC, Center for Democracy & Technology, Center for Global Communications (GLOCOM), Global Partners Digital, Internet Democracy Project, IFLA, Kenya ICT Action Network (KICTAnet), Kenya on WSIS+10 at the CSTD Intersessional 2014: https://www.apc.org/en/pubs/statement-ten-year-review-progress-made-impl...

Joint statement by APC, IFLA, and Internet Democracy Project at the 18th session of the CSTD: https://www.apc.org/en/system/files/CSTD%20statement_070515.pdf

APC's statement at the https://www.apc.org/en/pubs/wsis10-apcs-statement-way-forward-harnessing...

Joint letter to the President of the UN General Assembly on the World Summit on the Information Society Ten-year Review (WSIS+10): https://www.apc.org/en/pubs/letter-president-un-general-assembly-world-s...

Everything you need to know about the WSIS+10 Review: https://www.apc.org/en/news/everything-you-need-know-about-wsis10-review

UNGA resolution on modalities for the WSIS+10 Overall Review: http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/RES/68/302

Video recording of the UNGA stocktaking session, 10 June 2015: http://webtv.un.org/search/part-1-review-of-the-implementation-of-the-ou...

Video recording of the UNGA stocktaking session, 11 June 2015: http://webtv.un.org/search/part-2-review-of-the-implementation-of-the-ou...

Intergovernmental preparatory meeting, 1 July 2015: http://unpan3.un.org/wsis10/1julypreparatorymeeting

Informal interactive stakeholder consultation, 2 July 2015: http://unpan3.un.org/wsis10/2julystakeholderconsultation

CSTD Report: Implementing WSIS Outcomes - A Ten Year Review: http://unctad.org/en/PublicationsLibrary/dtlstict2015d3_en.pdf

ITU WSIS+10 High-level Event outcome document: http://www.itu.int/wsis/implementation/2014/forum/inc/doc/outcome/362828...

ITU matrix on WSIS Action Lines and SDGs: http://www.itu.int/net4/wsis/sdg/Content/wsis-sdg_matrix_document.pdf

UNESCO WSIS+10 Review Event outcome document: http://www.unesco.org/new/fileadmin/MULTIMEDIA/HQ/CI/CI/pdf/wsis/WSIS_10...

WSIS+10 Review timeline by Geneva Internet Platform: http://www.giplatform.org/sites/default/files/WSIS%2B10%20June-December%...