12 Sept 2005 |
GN3 Editorial Comment:
We have been regularly
commenting on the emergent qualities of global
civil society as a third social force alongside
States and Markets. Global social phenomena are
reinforcing this new map of the social terrain,
although existing social structures and processes
still have a long way to go. As discussed in the
article below, tensions are evident in the
Summit for the Information Society (WSIS) as it
tries to address the information gap and internet
governance among others. But it is perhaps more
interesting to note the formal participation of
government, business and civil society--each
bringing a different (though sometimes convergent)
point of view to the process.
The script for the final act of the World Summit for
the Information Society (WSIS) will begin to be
written on Sep. 19 in this Swiss city, with the
participation of a cast that will be made up - for the
first time on the international stage - of a wide
range of actors: governments, business and civil
Stemming from its novel makeup
are discrepancies that have stood in the way of the
drafting of a text that everyone can agree on, which
is to be signed by the heads of state and government
at the second phase of the WSIS, to be held Nov. 14-16
The WSIS, the first phase of
which took place in Geneva in December 2003, revolves
around the challenges posed by the information society
with respect to the future of the Internet, especially
the gap between rich and poor countries in the use of
computer and telecommunications technologies.
The business community and some
governments, especially the George W. Bush
administration in the United States, want to maintain
the current Internet governance regime, which so far
has been almost exclusively in the hands of the
private sector and the U.S. government.
Industry, which controls - and
profits from - the current system, wants to leave it
as it is, a position shared by the United States, said
Brazilian representative Josť Marcos Nogueira Viana.
The great majority of developing
countries, on the other hand, are pushing for reforms
of Internet governance, as are civil society
organisations, although they differ with the proposed
models for reform.
The issue of Internet governance
will be the focus of the last Preparatory Committee
Meeting, scheduled for Sep. 19-30 in Geneva.
Since its creation in the 1960s,
the worldwide web has been growing by leaps and
bounds, and currently connects some one billion users
around the globe.
The question of Internet
governance also includes aspects like the mechanisms
to be established to follow up on compliance with the
resolutions reached in the two phases of the WSIS, in
Geneva and Tunis.
The Working Group on Internet
Governance (WGIG) set up by U.N. Secretary General
Kofi Annan noted in its final report in July that
defining Internet governance "has been the subject of
It therefore provided the
following definition: "Internet governance is the
development and application by governments, the
private sector and civil society, in their respective
roles, of shared principles, norms, rules,
decision-making procedures, and programmes that shape
the evolution and use of the Internet."
The report made a significant
clarification by limiting the actions of the three
sectors - governments, business and civil society - to
"their respective roles."
That concept, which is supported
by the great majority of governments, would apparently
place limits on this first experiment in holding a
truly tripartite U.N. conference.
Civil society groups have
protested that the specific roles granted to
non-governmental organisations and the private sector
are ambiguous in relation to the role assigned to
Referring to civil society and
business, Viana said the governments were not opposed
to "observers," while adding, however, that there are
times when it is governments that must make the
He pointed out that Brazil and
the United States hold public hearings, but afterwards
it is the governments that decide by decree or by law.
Viana also noted that the digital
gap has two facets: financial inequalities, which make
it difficult to attain Internet connection and
purchase computers in poor countries; and political
inequalities, arising from the inability of developing
countries to influence decision-making with regard to
In the first phase of the WSIS,
participants decided to study the possibility of
obtaining resources to finance the expansion of
information and communications technologies in
But the U.S. and Japanese
representatives said there were no funds for that,
The only option for financing
emerged from an initiative put forth by the president
of Senegal, Abdoulaye Wade, which was taken up by
municipal authorities in a number of cities, led by
Lyon and Geneva, to create a "digital solidarity
Viana noted, however, that the
fund is an initiative to help cities, while at a
global level there is nothing, because donor nations
are not interested.
Another aspect of the controversy
focuses on the power exercised by the private sector
and the U.S. government in Internet governance.
The Internet Corporation for
Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a U.S.-based
private not-for-profit body, is exclusively
responsible for assigning Internet names and
addresses, such as domain names like .net, .edu or
The WGIG stated that "No single
government should have a pre-eminent role in relation
to international Internet governance."
But Michael Gallagher, assistant
secretary at the U.S. National Telecommunications and
Information Administration, recently indicated that
his government was not ready to give up the control it
The bloc of civil society
organisations active in the WSIS expressed concern
over Gallagher's statement, saying it "raised a number
of questions" and implied that unilateral U.S. control
would be maintained indefinitely.
Brazil, one of the countries that
has been most active in calling for the
democratisation of Internet governance, said the
incident involving the creation of a top-level domain
name for pornography websites had demonstrated U.S.
power over the Internet.
Two months ago, ICANN officials
approved the concept of the .xxx domain name.
Vint Cerf, one of the fathers of
the Internet and the chairman of the ICANN board, said
everything was ready for registering the domain name
and that the only concerns were technical ones.
The Brazilian representatives
argued that creating the .xxx domain name would pave
the way for accepting the registration of others like
.nazi, while the delegates from Spain said it would be
like approving a domain name like .odio (.hate).
"ICANN has the tendency to adopt
political decisions under the guise of technical
criteria," said Viana.
ICANN only postponed the creation
of the .xxx domain until Sep. 19 because the U.S.
government sent a letter stating that it had received
protests from church groups in the United States, said
the Brazilian representative.
"That proves that there is a
government that controls the entire system," he