Reflections on WSIS - An opinion piece submitted for the special edition of the ITID Forum
by Amali De Silva - Mitchell M.Sc.
January 12, 2004
Phase I of the United Nations Summit on the Information Society is complete. Over the past 18 months numerous regional meetings, three Preparatory Committee meetings and a Summit have taken place. Hundreds of organizations and individuals have met virtually on-line and on location to discuss the myriad of issues that form the dynamic digital information society.
The information society under observation and discussion is the society that can be also called the evolving "informed society". Information is at the core of the discussions. It's primary facets are access, delivery, ownership and government. The three major sectoral participants at the conference; government, civil society and the private sector, engaged in discussions on all four of these concepts.
Access - Universal access has been promoted consistently and has been embraced by all as the pre-eminent issue of the conference. The cost of providing universal access however remains an obstacle, with the current infrastructure in place at the local level the rate determining step. Human rights advocates have strongly voiced the rights of access for children, women, the aged, disabled, persons in remote location and for all humans. The issues of privacy and security in an ever-transient society were critical areas of debate. The Civil Society Declaration of December 2003 very effectively portrayed the views of it's Civil Society members that contributed to the process.
Delivery - The issues underlying the concept of delivery are vast. They range from issues dealing with language, speech recognition techniques, script, culture, wireless, to realizations such as it is children who may be the future educators of their mothers in this new information age. Yet again the rate determining step which will allow consistent and equitable delivery is founded in the issue of "cost". The Civil Society plea for 1 access point for every village by 2010 translated itself in to a commitment by governments to connect all villages around the world by 2015.
Ownership - Passionate discussions took place regarding the rights of ownership of the plethora of items and actors that are components of the information society. Intellectual property rights, freeware, servers, communication lines, content, but to name a few of the resounding issues of our time were debated. The private sector was very active in this area, protecting their wares and profit. As always, Civil Society faced the stumbling block of cost head on promoting, as the governments have done, private sector partnerships in the struggle to alleviate poverty and meet the Millenium Development Goals. The Civil Society declaration made a valiant attempt to cover the opinions of its members in this area.
Government - The government of the information society is going to be one of the most fascinating processes that we are going to witness over the next few decades. Governments debated the issues right until the very end, with the eminent representative from the worldwide consortium kept at a distance while proceeding were underway behind closed doors. To date no concrete conclusions have been reached. It will be difficult to reach a conclusion and this area. It will always remain in a very fluid and evolutionary form.
Civil Society has an important role to play in this forum and must continue to demand an accountable and transparent process of all parties including it's very own self. If Civil Society is to demand a truly democratic process of others it must set an example, whatever the challenges or barriers that it faces. Again, the cost to operate structures and forums has been voiced as the obstacle. However, I do not believe that this need be a bar. In true grass roots fashion with passion and commitment Civil Society must proceed to set the high ideals of society.
We are at a turning point. The new digital information civilization that was a vision in Star Track is now a reality. The future rulers of the world are those that will be able to effectively govern the information space. The competitive edge will be with those who are truly informed, as always. To truly create the "strong form" (1) of the information society and effectively bridge the digital divide it is critical that the four primary foundation stones of the information society access, delivery, ownership and government are allowed to function with ease. To enable this to occur freedom of information and expression in it's truest form will have to exist. The second phase of the United Nations World Summit on the Information Society will address these issues.
(1) Fama 1970 - Efficient Capital Markets - A review of theoretical and empirical work. Journal of Finance
by Amali De Silva - Mitchell M.Sc.
Co-coordinator North American Caucus Civil Society Section UN - WSIS
Finance Committee List Moderator - Civil Society Section UN - WSIS
Acting President Vancouver Community Network ( Canada )
Director Freedom of Information and Privacy Association ( Canada )
Amali De Silva - Mitchell received a Bachelor of Science degree in Economics from the University of Warwick and a Master of Science degree in International Accounting & Finance from the London School of Economics. Amali pursued post -graduate work in the Department of Computer Science at the Imperial College of Science ( UK ). She has worked in management and accounting for over 12 years in high-tech, public practice and in the non-profit sector. She is a former director of the United Nations Association of Victoria, Canada. Amali is President of 2000 Solution Finders Inc. a management services firm based in Vancouver, Canada. Amali De Silva - Mitchell is a native of Sri Lanka and has lived in Switzerland and the United Kingdom and currently resides in Canada.