Charting a concrete path for the future of the Information Society: Our comments on the WSIS+10 Zero-Draft

A report by
Rajat Rai Handa


Comments were invited on the Zero-Draft for the WSIS+10 Review from UN member-states, observer states and all relevant stakeholders until 15th October 2015. The Internet Democracy Project submitted comments in the form of specific text proposals on all the different sections of the zero-draft. We also joined in on a submission by a diverse number of global civil society groups that participated in the Civil Society Coordination Event preceding the Second Informal Stakeholders Consultation and the Second Preparatory Meeting of the WSIS+10 Review in New York.

The WSIS+10 Review zero-draft represents an effort to take into account the many written and oral contributions that were received following the release of the non-paper early in September 2015. While there were many points of agreement, there were also points of great divergence in the zero-draft that will need to be addressed by UN Member States, who will be the ones to ultimately decide on the ambition and scope of the review process. Nevertheless, the zero-draft does offer ideas on potential ways forward, which could contribute to narrowing the gap among perspectives — and spark new suggestions. Comments were encouraged from all relevant stakeholders to be submitted prior to the Second Preparatory Meeting so that views are known in advance and more time can be spent on forward-facing interactive dialogue.

The Internet Democracy Project welcomed the Zero-Draft, which we believe has been considerably strengthened vis-a-vis the non-paper. We were particularly pleased to see the continued emphases on harnessing ICTs for development, on efforts to bridge to the digital divide and on the importance of multistakeholderism in Internet governance. These also reflected some of the concerns that we had outlined in our comments submission to the non-paper. However, we still believe that the zero-draft requires further strengthening on a range of important points such as creating an enabling environment, financial mechanisms, Internet governance and human rights.

We re-iterated that a rights-based approach to development is essential to fully unleash the potential that ICTs have for development as well as to support the SDGs. We also noted that financial mechanisms should not only address development issues, but also be geared towards ensuring broad, effective participation of all stakeholder groups in Internet governance, especially from developing countries and from marginalised groups. We highlighted that, if affordable, open, secure, and full access for the most marginalised is a priority, community-based and community-owned information infrastructures and networks should be promoted as alternatives or complements to national-level infrastructure.

We also recommended holding another World Summit instead of a high-level meeting in 2020 to conduct a further overall review of the implementation of the WSIS outcomes. This Summit must be the outcome of a comprehensive global preparatory process that is open, inclusive and transparent; that builds on other multistakeholder processes since the WSIS including that used in developing the SDGs; and that makes use of online means, along with regional consultation and preparatory mechanisms. In addition, our submission highlighted specifically that in the absence of agreement on such modalities, a Summit would lack legitimacy and would not be acceptable.

Our submission in full can be found here — The Internet Democracy Project’s Comments on the WSIS+10 Zero-Draft.

The point about the Summit was echoed in another submission, developed collectively by a diverse group of civil society organisations, which participated in the WSIS+10 Review Civil Society Coordination Event in New York. The Internet Democracy Project was one of them.

The joint submission emphasised the centrality of sustainable development for the information society’s development. It was also noted that full, open, and non-discriminatory access to the Internet is necessary to ensure an enabling environment for ICTs to contribute to sustainable development. Changes were suggested to create links between the WSIS process and the SDGs, acknowledge the complex and changing nature of the digital divide, recognize the harmful effects of the use of internet shutdowns, and strengthen efforts to achieve development goals by mainstreaming gender, improving education programmes and supporting capacity building.

To strengthen the document so that it embraces more open, inclusive, transparent, and democratic approaches to all aspects of internet governance, the joint civil society submission addressed the question of financial mechanisms needed to increase consistent and meaningful participation in Internet governance processes as well. It called for a commitment to stable and sustainable, public, and other public interest funding mechanisms that are transparent and accountable to increase participation and engagement of civil society and other underrepresented and marginalised groups/​stakeholders, from developing countries in particular.

The submission also recommended placing a stand-alone section on Human Rights after the preamble to be consistent with the WSIS vision of a people-centered, inclusive, and development-oriented information society. Further proposed changes highlighted the need for the involvement of all stakeholders in efforts to build trust, confidence and security in the use of ICTs, through open, inclusive and transparent processes, as instrumental to achieving the WSIS vision. Finally, as the information society enters a crucial phase post the WSIS+10 review, the need was underscored to evaluate its progress by charting a concrete path for the future. It was emphasised that continued civil society input and multistakeholder contributions are needed as a means to addressing ongoing and emerging challenges through the WSIS framework. Realistic target dates for the adoption and implementation of WSIS were also set along with assigning responsibility to specific intergovernmental bodies to move forward through agreed upon processes.

The joint submission can be found here — Joint Civil Society Comments on the WSIS+10 Zero-Draft.