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From 25 – 27 February 2013, delegates from civil society, government, industry and the technical community met at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris for the first WSIS+10 Review meeting to discuss action “Towards Knowledge Societies for Peace and Sustainable Development.”

The meeting is just one of many taking place as part of the upcoming ten-year review of WSIS by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015. Its intent was to assess progress towards goals set out at the original summits in Geneva in 2003 and Tunis in 2005.

The broad aim of WSIS has been to:

“build an inclusive Information Society; to put the potential of knowledge and ICTs at the service of development; to promote the use of information and knowledge for the achievement of internationally agreed development goals, including those contained in the Millennium Declaration; and to address new challenges of the Information Society, at the national, regional and international levels.”

Much has changed in the ten years since the 2003 Geneva summit and this recent meeting in Paris, hosted by UNESCO, demonstrated the power dynamics characteristic of internet governance in 2013.

Workshops dominated by “happy talk” on the benefits of ICTs were a source of frustration for some civil society delegates, who criticised the meeting for its lack of stocktaking such as serious discussion about the millions of people around the world currently excluded from the benefits of the “internet revolution.”

At the same time, civil society delegates recognised the enormous growth in internet usage over the past ten years, as well as the impact of mobile phones and social media. In her opening statement, Grace Githaiga from Media, Empowerment and Democracy in East Africa (MEDIeA) noted both positive and negative developments since the original WSIS, including growing awareness of the impacts of internet policies, development of the Charter of Human Rights and Principles, and evolving barriers to access.

The WSIS+10 review meeting in Paris also included calls for reflection on the normative frameworks that underpin the Information Society. In her closing statement, Anita Gurumurthy, executive director at IT for Change, drew attention to the role of the internet in “shaping exclusion and power,” expressing concern about the lack of awareness of “new forms of violence and misogyny in the open and ostensibly emancipatory corridors of the virtual world.”

“We need to pause and ask – are our normative frameworks – infoethics and info-civic imaginaries –adequate to ensure that every person, the last woman, can be a global citizen in the interconnected global world.”

There was also significant discussion on the role of multi-stakeholderism in tackling complex internet governance issues, such as cybersecurity and access. On 27 February 2013, APC co-hosted an event on Enhanced Cooperation, “Reflections on what needs to be done,” as a follow-up to the Internet Governance Forum pre-event on “Enhanced Cooperation: from deadlock to dialogue,” in Baku, Azerbaijan last November. Discussion at the workshop focused on the evolution of Enhanced Cooperation since 2005, new procedures and framework for increased interaction among diverse stakeholders and the need to distinguish between the realms of public policy-making and the day-to-day management of internet infrastructure.

At the Internet Rights and Principles Coalition workshop “Rights-Based Principles and the Internet: Taking Stock and Moving Forward,” participants agreed on a number of important human rights recommendations, primarily that “[t]he full range of human rights should be the normative foundation of any internet policy making and internet governance processes.” The coalition also developed a recommendation for “[t]he creation of a dedicated UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Internet as a monitoring and accountability mechanism for the online environment.”

Although the outcomes from this WSIS+10 review meeting were not legally binding, inclusion of human rights-related language in the final outcome document demonstrates a growing recognition of the impact of the internet on human rights. Indeed, participants committed not only to protect and promote freedom of expression (Article 19), but all human rights and fundamental freedoms proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, with particular focus on rights to cultural and language diversity, as well as access to education.

This emphasis on a wider range of human rights, as well as consideration of the internet as an axis of exclusion, indicates a willingness for critical evaluation going forward. As Grace Githaiga stated in her opening remarks “Any positive agenda for internet freedom will need to address issues raised by developing nations as well as being in line with the human rights values, and be negotiated through a multi-stakeholder process.”

APC will also be in attendance at the next WSIS event will be the annual WSIS Forum, taking place 13 – 17 May 2013 in Geneva.