21 September 2005
Final Preparatory Meeting for Upcoming Tunis Phase of World Summit on Information Society Opens in Geneva
Delegates Seek to Break Deadlocks on Internet Governance, other Key Issues
GENEVA, 19 September (ITU) -- The final preparatory meeting for the forthcoming Tunis phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) opened this morning in a spirit of cautious optimism, as delegates expressed their willingness to try to work together to break deadlocks on key agenda items including Internet governance.
The two-week meeting, which is taking place at Geneva's Palais des Nations from 19 to 30 September 2005, represents the last chance for more than 130 national delegations and over 150 other stakeholders comprising international organizations, non-governmental organizations and business entities, to arrive at an accord ahead of the second phase of WSIS, which begins on 16 November.
As the United Nations specialized agency for telecommunications, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is the lead organizing agency for the Summit, which is focused on bridging the so-called "digital divide" and using information and communication technologies (ICTs) to help achieve social and economic development goals.
In his opening address to the 1,350 delegates gathered in the Assembly Hall of the Palais des Nations, ITU Secretary-General Yoshio Utsumi emphasized the opportunities offered by ICTs in helping achieve the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. He urged all delegates to use the next two weeks to create an ICT-based "road map to a more equitable and just information society". "Everything is now up to you", he told the assembly. "Will you be trapped by tradition and narrow interests, or will you be creative enough to deliver a concrete road map for the future?"
Mr. Utsumi's address was followed by a speech by Montasser Ouaili, Tunisian Minister of Communications Technology. Mr. Ouaili spoke of his country's hope, as the host of the next phase of WSIS, that PrepCom-3 would serve as a platform for building international solidarity on ICT issues. "The Tunis Summit is conceived as a Summit of Solutions -- a summit that will create a solid foundation on which to build the Information Society", said Mr. Ouaili. "We look forward to active participation in this process by all stakeholders."
Swiss Federal Councillor Moritz Leuenberger, Head of the Department of Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications, then took the floor to make a strong plea for open and equitable access to ICTs. Acknowledging that Governments have a duty to protect their citizens from ICT-based threats, such as cyberterrorism or websites containing illicit material, he nonetheless stressed that no State should manipulate fears about the dangerous uses of ICTs to silence free speech or inhibit its citizens from obtaining access to information.
Spotlight on Internet Governance
While key agenda items for PrepCom-3 include financing mechanisms for ICT development and implementation mechanisms for the WSIS Action Plan, the issue of Internet governance is widely expected to dominate discussions.
The transformation of the Internet from an academic research network into a mainstream communications platform and a key strategic resource in today's emerging Information Society has prompted a wide range of divergent views regarding the mechanisms for future Internet governance.
The growing importance of the Internet as a source of information and knowledge, along with the advent of a host of new ICT-related issues such as spam, online intellectual property protection, cybercrime, network security and secure frameworks for e-commerce, has led some countries to propose a new management structure that would be independent of the oversight of any single Government.
If adopted, such a proposal could see some aspects of Internet management moved to a new, more global coordination mechanism. However, with some key delegations already publicly stating their desire to preserve the status quo, the issue remains highly contentious and is expected to be the subject of vigorous debate during the morning sessions of the conference over the coming fortnight.
Efforts to build global consensus on this complex issue had earlier led to the establishment of the Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG), which was set up to examine and make proposals for action on the governance of the Internet by the Summit's second phase. The final report of the WGIG, released on 18 July (see www.wgig.org), will serve as the catalyst for ongoing debate on this issue at PrepCom-3.
The opening session of the plenary also saw the election of key conference officials, including the Chairs of the conference's two principal subcommittees. The Chairman of PrepCom-3 is Janis Karklins, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of the Republic of Latvia to the United Nations, Geneva. Mr. Karklins was elected Chairman for the entire PrepCom process for the Tunis phase of the World Summit on the Information Society at the first PrepCom meeting in Hammamet, Tunisia, in June 2004.
Subcommittee A on Internet Governance will be chaired by Ambassador Masood Khan of Pakistan, while subcommittee B, which will tackle all other agenda items, including financial mechanisms and implementation, will be chaired by Lyndall Shope-Mafole, Director-General of South Africa's Department of Communications.
The plenary also elected George Papadatos of Greece as PrepCom-3 Rapporteur.
For further information about the World Summit on the Information Society contact: Sanjay Acharya, Communication Officer, WSIS Executive Secretariat,
tel: +41 22 730 5046; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org .
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