In December, the United Nations will host the World
Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT). Public Knowledge has
joined a group of more than thirty academics and civil society groups in
signing a letter calling for greater opportunities for civil society
participation in the planning process for WCIT.
PK is concerned by the lack of civil society participation
in the preparations so far. Among other topics, at WCIT the UN Member States
will decide whether the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the
United Nations agency responsible for information and communication
technologies, should take a greater role in shaping the future of the Internet.
The potential impact of such a decision on freedom of expression, access to
information, and privacy rights—areas of great concern to human rights groups—could
be profound. Yet participation in this process is severely limited.
Restrictions on sharing preparatory documents, the high cost of ITU membership,
and the difficulty and expense of attending preparatory meetings—which cannot
be attended remotely—all hamper the ability of civil society groups to
participate in and remain informed about the planning process.
Compare participation under the ITU’s system to that of the
World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). Like ITU, WIPO is part of the
UN, but their public input process is comparatively much more open. A civil
society organization wishing to participate in the WIPO process can apply to be
an observer at WIPO meetings. This process is free and only requires submitting
the organization’s information to the WIPO Secretariat.
In contrast, joining the ITU as a Sector Member or Associate—required
to participate in working groups or attend preparatory meetings—is an expensive
proposition, with minimum annual membership fees in the tens of thousands of
dollars. Comparing the list of ITU members
with WIPO observers, there
is virtually no overlap. While private industry is represented at WIPO through
trade associations, public interest organizations are also widely represented.
In contrast, private companies are more than 90% of ITU members, with the
remainder being academic institutions.
This exclusion of an entire class of stakeholders is
contrary to World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) commitments, which
called for international organizations to take a multi-stakeholder approach in
policy decisions. PK joins the other signatories in urging ITU Secretary-General
Dr. Hamadoun Touré, the Council Working Group preparing for WCIT, and ITU
member states to take action to make participation in WCIT more inclusive,
consistent with WSIS commitments. The following actions would do much to remove
barriers to participation:
- Release all WCIT preparatory documents, and
remove restrictions on their distribution and sharing.
- Allow participation by civil society—without
cost—in preparations for WCIT and in WCIT itself by providing
opportunities for participation, including remote participation.
- Allow participation within each Member State by
soliciting input from all stakeholders on a national level and by releasing
individual proposals for public debate.
The letter can be read online at CDT’s website.