The people’s voice may not be heard at its full volume during a global summit on the concept of an “information society”.
New Zealand’s civil society lobby missed a deadline of May 31 to contribute its detailed views to the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in December following the second preparatory meeting for the summit (Prepcom 2) in Geneva in February.
The lobby’s representative, Ian Thomson of the 2020 Communications Trust, however, managed to feed some points into a New Zealand government submission, coordinated by Winston Roberts of the National Library and submitted on May 30.
Roberts and Thomson say popular input from New Zealand has not missed its opportunity altogether. The long series of meetings leading up to the conference itself will include a drafting meeting in Paris, where New Zealand civil society will still have an opportunity for direct input.
The summit, under UN auspices, aims to “develop a better understanding of this revolution and its impact [of information and communications technologies] on the international community … The anticipated outcome of the summit is to develop and foster a clear statement of political will and a concrete plan of action for achieving the goals of the information society, while fully reflecting all the different interests at stake,” say WSIS coordinators at the summit’s website.
Thomson’s document points to the lack of focus on non-governmental and not-for-profit take-up of ICT, and those organisations’ need for help. “There is no mention of support for research on community use of ICT,” he says.
“There is little mention of the special issues facing rural communities — apart from [commitment to adequate] infrastructure.” Things like access to quality technical support and training and community awareness-building in rural areas are not covered, he says.
Thomson says he believes the principle of a digital information commons (free use of community information) is a right that must not be given away. Current WSIS papers say only that it is desirable.
The abuse of ICT is not covered, apart from illegal activities. “The principles must cover support of acceptable practices and condemnation of unacceptable practices — spam is one quick example. This flows from the relatively weak mention of consumer protection. This whole area needs to be much stronger,” Thomson says.
The Internet Safety Group has expressed the further view that questions of a safe internet environment for children and other vulnerable people had been covered only in a fragmentary way in the WSIS draft declaration of principles and plan of action.
The preparatory conference itself was obstructed by procedural negotiations on right of representation for civil society and private industry, and is having to hold “intersessional” meetings like the Paris meeting to catch up on its two key documents before the summit.