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Comments on the Draft Outcome Document of the UN General Assembly’s Overall Review of the Implementation of WSIS Outcomes (WSIS+10)

Following the comment-period on the Zero Draft, the Draft Outcome Document of the UN General Assembly's Overall Review of implementation of WSIS Outcomes was released on 4 November 2015. Comments were sought on the Draft Outcome Document from diverse stakeholders. The Centre for Internet & Society's response to the call for comments is below.


The WSIS+10 Overall Review of the Implementation of WSIS Outcomes, scheduled for December 2015, comes as a review of the WSIS process initiated in 2003-05. At the December summit of the UN General Assembly, the WSIS vision and mandate of the IGF are to be discussed. The Draft Outcome Document, released on 4 November 2015, is towards an outcome document for the summit. Comments were sought on the Draft Outcome Document. Our comments are below.

  1. The Draft Outcome Document of the UN General Assembly’s Overall Review of the Implementation of WSIS Outcomes (“the current Draft”) stands considerably altered from the Zero Draft. With references to development-related challenges, the Zero Draft covered areas of growth and challenges of the WSIS. It noted the persisting digital divide, the importance of innovation and investment, and of conducive legal and regulatory environments, and the inadequacy of financial mechanisms. Issues crucial to Internet governance such as net neutrality, privacy and the mandate of the IGF found mention in the Zero Draft.
  2. The current Draft retains these, and adds to them. Some previously-omitted issues such as surveillance, the centrality of human rights and the intricate relationship of ICTs to the Sustainable Development Goals, now stand incorporated in the current Draft. This is most commendable. However, the current Draft still lacks teeth with regard to some of these issues, and fails to address several others.
  3. In our comments to the Zero Draft, CIS had called for these issues to be addressed. We reiterate our call in the following paragraphs.

(1) ICT for Development

  1. In the current Draft, paragraphs 14-36 deal with ICTs for development. While the draft contains rubrics like ‘Bridging the digital divide’, ‘Enabling environment’, and ‘Financial mechanisms’, the following issues are unaddressed:
  2. Equitable development for all;
  3. Accessibility to ICTs for persons with disabilities;
  4. Access to knowledge and open data.

Equitable development

  1. In the Geneva Declaration of Principles (2003), two goals are set forth as the Declaration’s “ambitious goal”: (a) the bridging of the digital divide; and (b) equitable development for all (¶ 17). The current Draft speaks in detail about the bridging of the digital divide, but the goal of equitable development is conspicuously absent. At WSIS+10, when the WSIS vision evolves to the creation of inclusive ‘knowledge societies’, equitable development should be both a key principle and a goal to stand by.
  2. Indeed, inequitable development underscores the persistence of the digital divide. The current Draft itself refers to several instances of inequitable development; for ex., the uneven production capabilities and deployment of ICT infrastructure and technology in developing countries, landlocked countries, small island developing states, countries under occupation or suffering natural disasters, and other vulnerable states; lack of adequate financial mechanisms in vulnerable parts of the world; variably affordable (or in many cases, unaffordable) spread of ICT devices, technology and connectivity, etc.
  3. What underscores these challenges is the inequitable and uneven spread of ICTs across states and communities, including in their production, capacity-building, technology transfers, gender-concentrated adoption of technology, and inclusiveness.
  4. As such, it is essential that the WSIS+10 Draft Outcome Document reaffirm our commitment to equitable development for all peoples, communities and states.
  5. We suggest the following inclusion to paragraph 5 of the current Draft:
“5. We reaffirm our common desire and commitment to the WSIS vision to build an equitable, people-centred, inclusive, and development-oriented Information Society…”

Accessibility for persons with disabilities

10. Paragraph 13 of the Geneva Declaration of Principles (2003) pledges to “pay particular attention to the special needs of marginalized and vulnerable groups of society” in the forging of an Information Society. Particularly, ¶ 13 recognises the special needs of older persons and persons with disabilities.

11. Moreover, ¶ 31 of the Geneva Declaration of Principles calls for the special needs of persons with disabilities, and also of disadvantaged and vulnerable groups, to be taken into account while promoting the use of ICTs for capacity-building. Accessibility for persons with disabilities is thus core to bridging the digital divide – as important as bridging the gender divide in access to ICTs.

12. Not only this, but the WSIS+10 Statement on the Implementation of WSIS Outcomes (June 2014) also reaffirms the commitment to “provide equitable access to information and knowledge for all… including… people with disabilities”, recognizing that it is “crucial to increase the participation of vulnerable people in the building process of Information Society…” (¶8).

13. In our previous submission, CIS had suggested language drawing attention to this. Now, the current Draft only acknowledges that “particular attention should be paid to the specific ICT challenges facing… persons with disabilities…” (paragraph 11). It acknowledges also that now, accessibility for persons with disabilities constitutes one of the core elements of quality (paragraph 22). However, there is a glaring omission of a call to action, or a reaffirmation of our commitment to bridging the divide experienced by persons with disabilities.

14. We suggest, therefore, the addition of the following language the addition of paragraph 24A to the current Draft. Sections of this suggestion are drawn from ¶8, WSIS+10 Statement on the Implementation of WSIS Outcomes.

"24A. Recalling the UN Convention on the rights of people with disabilities, the Geneva principles paragraph 11, 13, 14 and 15, Tunis Commitment paras 20, 22 and 24, and reaffirming the commitment to providing equitable access to information and knowledge for all, building ICT capacity for all and confidence in the use of ICTs by all, including youth, older persons, women, indigenous and nomadic peoples, people with disabilities, the unemployed, the poor, migrants, refugees and internally displaced people and remote and rural communities, it is crucial to increase the participation of vulnerable people in the building process of information Society and to make their voice heard by stakeholders and policy-makers at different levels. It can allow the most fragile groups of citizens worldwide to become an integrated part of their economies and also raise awareness of the target actors on the existing ICTs solution (such as tolls as e- participation, e-government, e-learning applications, etc.) designed to make their everyday life better. We recognise need for continued extension of access for people with disabilities and vulnerable people to ICTs, especially in developing countries and among marginalized communities, and reaffirm our commitment to promoting and ensuring accessibility for persons with disabilities. In particular, we call upon all stakeholders to honour and meet the targets set out in Target 2.5.B of the Connect 2020 Agenda that enabling environments ensuring accessible telecommunication/ICT for persons with disabilities should be established in all countries by 2020.”

Access to knowledge and open data

15. The Geneva Declaration of Principles dedicates a section to access to information and knowledge (B.3). It notes, in ¶26, that a “rich public domain” is essential to the growth of Information Society. It urges that public institutions be strengthened to ensure free and equitable access to information (¶26), and also that assistive technologies and universal design can remove barriers to access to information and knowledge (¶25). Particularly, the Geneva Declaration advocates the use of free and open source software, in addition to proprietary software, to meet these ends (¶27).

16. It was also recognized in the WSIS+10 Statement on the Implementation of WSIS Outcomes (‘Challenges-during implementation of Action Lines and new challenges that have emerged’) that there is a need to promote access to all information and knowledge, and to encourage open access to publications and information (C, ¶¶9 and 12).

17. In our previous submission, CIS had highlighted the importance of open access to knowledge thus: “…the implications of open access to data and knowledge (including open government data), and responsible collection and dissemination of data are much larger in light of the importance of ICTs in today’s world. As Para 7 of the Zero Draft indicates, ICTs are now becoming an indicator of development itself, as well as being a key facilitator for achieving other developmental goals. As Para 56 of the Zero Draft recognizes, in order to measure the impact of ICTs on the ground – undoubtedly within the mandate of WSIS – it is necessary that there be an enabling environment to collect and analyse reliable data. Efforts towards the same have already been undertaken by the United Nations in the form of ‘Data Revolution for Sustainable Development’. In this light, the Zero Draft rightly calls for enhancement of regional, national and local capacity to collect and conduct analyses of development and ICT statistics (Para 56). Achieving the central goals of the WSIS process requires that such data is collected and disseminated under open standards and open licenses, leading to creation of global open data on the ICT indicators concerned.”

18. This crucial element is missing from the current Draft of the WSIS+10 Outcome Document. Of course, the current Draft notes the importance of access to information and free flow of data. But it stops short of endorsing and advocating the importance of access to knowledge and free and open source software, which are essential to fostering competition and innovation, diversity of consumer/ user choice and ensuring universal access.

19. We suggest the following addition – of paragraph 23A to the current Draft:

"23A. We recognize the need to promote access for all to information and knowledge, open data, and open, affordable, and reliable technologies and services, while respecting individual privacy, and to encourage open access to publications and information, including scientific information and in the research sector, and particularly in developing and least developed countries.”

(2) Human Rights in Information Society

20. The current Draft recognizes that human rights have been central to the WSIS vision, and reaffirms that rights offline must be protected online as well. However, the current Draft omits to recognise the role played by corporations and intermediaries in facilitating access to and use of the Internet.

21. In our previous submission, CIS had noted that “the Internet is led largely by the private sector in the development and distribution of devices, protocols and content-platforms, corporations play a major role in facilitating – and sometimes, in restricting – human rights online”.

22. We reiterate our suggestion for the inclusion of paragraph 43A to the current Draft:

"43A. We recognize the critical role played by corporations and the private sector in facilitating human rights online. We affirm, in this regard, the responsibilities of the private sector set out in the Report of the Special Representative of the Secretary General on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, A/HRC/17/31 (21 March 2011), and encourage policies and commitments towards respect and remedies for human rights.”

(3) Internet Governance

The support for multilateral governance of the Internet

23. While the section on Internet governance is not considerably altered from the zero draft, there is a large substantive change in the current Draft. The current Draft states that the governance of the Internet should be “multilateral, transparent and democratic, with full involvement of all stakeholders” (¶50). Previously, the zero draft recognized the “the general agreement that the governance of the Internet should be open, inclusive, and transparent”.

24. A return to purely ‘multilateral’ Internet governance would be regressive. Governments are, without doubt, crucial in Internet governance. As scholarship and experience have both shown, governments have played a substantial role in shaping the Internet as it is today: whether this concerns the availability of content, spread of infrastructure, licensing and regulation, etc. However, these were and continue to remain contentious spaces.

25. As such, it is essential to recognize that a plurality of governance models serve the Internet, in which the private sector, civil society, the technical community and academia play important roles. We recommend returning to the language of the zero draft in ¶32: “open, inclusive and transparent governance of the Internet”.

Governance of Critical Internet Resources

26. It is curious that the section on Internet governance in both the zero and the current Draft makes no reference to ICANN, and in particular, to the ongoing transition of IANA stewardship and the discussions surrounding the accountability of ICANN and the IANA operator. The stewardship of critical Internet resources, such as the root, is crucial to the evolution and functioning of the Internet. Today, ICANN and a few other institutions have a monopoly over the management and policy-formulation of several critical Internet resources.

27. While the WSIS in 2003-05 considered this a troubling issue, this focus seems to have shifted entirely. Open, inclusive, transparent and global Internet are misnomer-principles when ICANN – and in effect, the United States – continues to have monopoly over critical Internet resources. The allocation and administration of these resources should be decentralized and distributed, and should not be within the disproportionate control of any one jurisdiction.

28. Therefore, we reiterate our suggestion to add paragraph 53A after Para 53:

"53A. We affirm that the allocation, administration and policy involving critical Internet resources must be inclusive and decentralized, and call upon all stakeholders and in particular, states and organizations responsible for essential tasks associated with the Internet, to take immediate measures to create an environment that facilitates this development.”

Inclusiveness and Diversity in Internet Governance

29. The current Draft, in ¶52, recognizes that there is a need to “promote greater participation and engagement in Internet governance of all stakeholders…”, and calls for “stable, transparent and voluntary funding mechanisms to this end.” This is most commendable.

30. The issue of inclusiveness and diversity in Internet governance is crucial: today, Internet governance organisations and platforms suffer from a lack of inclusiveness and diversity, extending across representation, participation and operations of these organisations. As CIS submitted previously, the mention of inclusiveness and diversity becomes tokenism or formal (but not operational) principle in many cases.

31. As we submitted before, the developing world is pitifully represented in standards organisations and in ICANN, and policy discussions in organisations like ISOC occur largely in cities like Geneva and New York. For ex., 307 out of 672 registries listed in ICANN’s registry directory are based in the United States, while 624 of the 1010 ICANN-accredited registrars are US-based.

32. Not only this, but 80% of the responses received by ICANN during the ICG’s call for proposals were male. A truly global and open, inclusive and transparent governance of the Internet must not be so skewed. Representation must include not only those from developing countries, but must also extend across gender and communities.

33. We propose, therefore, the addition of a paragraph 51A after Para 51:

"51A. We draw attention to the challenges surrounding diversity and inclusiveness in organisations involved in Internet governance, including in their representation, participation and operations. We note with concern that the representation of developing countries, of women, persons with disabilities and other vulnerable groups, is far from equitable and adequate. We call upon organisations involved in Internet governance to take immediate measures to ensure diversity and inclusiveness in a substantive manner.”


Prepared by Geetha Hariharan, with inputs from Sunil Abraham and Japreet Grewal. All comments submitted towards the Draft Outcome Document may be found at this link.