WSIS and the Civil Society Internet Governance Caucus
Date: Monday December 15 2003, @06:12PM
Topic: WSIS

One of the most interesting features of the World Summit on the Information Society is the aggressive role played by "civil society organizations" in the process. Although governments had the final say, and oftentimes civil society (CS) was excluded from key sessions or reduced to a subordinate role, the presence of these political, research and cultural groups loomed large in setting the overall tone of the event. Civil society groups organized themselves into loose "families" and "caucuses" to develop positions on issues and propose language. They also forwarded "leaders" or spokespersons to plenary sessions to interact with governments and other observers. In general, CS statements made very high-level normative statements and addressed distributional equity issues without getting very specific about policy.

But in Internet governance policy, as IcannWatch readers know well, the devil is always in the details.

An Internet Governance Caucus (IGC) was founded during the Preparatory conferences by Y.J. Park and Wolfgang Kleinwachter. General information about the mailing list of the caucus can be found here.

During the Prepcoms, the IGC tracked the evolution of the Internet governance debate fairly well, developing position papers and engaging in direct dialogue with governments. The final statement of the entire civil society plenary, "Shaping Information Societies for Human Needs," contains some very good ideas and language about broad ICT governance issues which was developed in the caucus.

Regarding Internet governance, the caucus upheld the position that "the Internet cannot be governed effectively by any one organization or set of interests." It criticized the traditional intergovernmental model as "exclusionary" and "especially ill-suited to the Internet's unique characteristics." It insisted on using the word "multi-stakeholder" in order to avoid more corporate "public private partnership" or purely intergovernmental language advocated by some.

The caucus recently went through some turmoil regarding its name, leadership and focus. In the three months leading up to the Summit, the Caucus decided to broaden its focus, due mainly due to the efforts of Geneva-based William Drake, an American telecommunications policy expert. It renamed itself the "ICT Global Governance Caucus" and decided that everything from the WTO trade-in-telecom services regime to Intellectual property regimes to privacy was within its mandate. The broader focus had the positive effect of contributing to the development of the high-level analysis for the civil society statement, and also prevented some really dumb language about keeping telecommunication settlement rates artificially high from getting into the civil society statement. But the downside was that the broad focus detracted from the development of more detailed policy positions on ICANN and the specific set of issues now addressed by the WSIS Declaration and Plan of Action.

So the name and focus of the caucus was debated again at a meeting Tuesday December 9. The caucus was forced to reconsider its name and its mission by virtue of the fait accompli given to it by the new draft declaration. It was also required to iron out some personal conflicts over the leadership of the caucus that emerged during the transition. Although yet to be ratified by the members, the consensus at the meeting was that the name should be changed to "Internet/ICT Governance" as a compromise. Whatever it is named, the group will focus almost entirely on ICANN-related issues now as the UN forms its working group.

The group's first task is to proffer a definition of "Internet governance" to the UN Working Group that will be created by the UN Secretary-General. People who want to join the caucus and attempt to influence the UN working group and/or prepare for the 2005 Summit in Tunisia can join its mailing list at governance@lists.cpsr.org.

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