Digital freedom, internet governance on agenda at two key meetings
Two key meetings being held in Geneva this week are exploring digital expression and internet governance, Brian Pellot writes.
13 May 13

It’s a big week for digital freedom and internet governance, with two key summits taking place in Geneva ahead of World Telecommunication and Information Society Day on Friday, May 17, Brian Pellot reports.

The week-long World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Forum bills itself as the “largest annual gathering of the ‘information and communication technologies for development’ community”. This multi-stakeholder UN forum brings together government, business and civil society to discuss internet policy and governance issues.

The forum’s agenda this year will address infrastructure, education, gender, disability, literacy and development — all important digital access issues for freedom of expression. Most country-specific sessions are organised by their host states, which include Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. These countries’ troubling track records on digital freedom of expression call into question how useful these sessions will be in addressing the most sensitive local issues.

The first WSIS took place in 2005. Annual fora and the ongoing WSIS+10 review process will culminate in 2015 when the initial action plan’s success will be evaluated on a range of issues including connectivity and access.

Also in Geneva, the three-day World Telecommunication Policy Forum (WTPF) on internet policy issues starts tomorrow. WTPF is less inclusive than WSIS, bringing together the International Telecommunication Union’s member states and sector members but leaving civil society on the sidelines. Unlike December’s World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) in Dubai, decisions made at WTPF will not be binding but are expected to guide the future direction of internet governance discussions over the next two years.

The push for a top-down government-led approach, which Index on Censorship has opposed, may be a key issue at WPTF. Index set out its positions on digital freedom in this note. Similar points are made by the Center for Democracy and Technology and Access Now in a joint statement. The open and inclusive multistakeholder model of internet governance will be called into question again. Net neutrality, affordable access, development, privacy and other fundamental rights will also be up for discussion. To combat the lack transparency and civil society’s exclusion at WTPF, is once again hosting leaked preparatory documents ahead of the summit.

Check back for more posts on WSIS and WTPF throughout the week.

By Brian Pellot

Brian Pellot is Director of Global Strategy and Religious Freedom Editor @RNS. Formerly @indexcensorship & @onfreespeech.