UNESCO, CONNECTing the Dots, 3-4 March 2015
“Over the past decade the focus has been on the Internet technology’s development; I believe the next decade will be about policy and governance.” This concluding statement from Bill Dutton (Professor at the Michigan State University) at the UNESCO Connecting the Dots Conference that ended last Wednesday sets the stage of the year-long discussion ahead of us, leading to the WSIS 10-year Review.
Three hundred participants gathered this week in Paris to discuss how the Internet affects access to information and knowledge, freedom of expression, and also how our personal information is collected and processed. Leading UN agency in the field of Ethics and the Internet, UNESCO presented on Tuesday a report articulated around the concept of “Internet Universality”, i.e. the Internet should be Rights-based, Open, Accessible to all and nurtured by Multistakeholder participation (ROAM).
This vision was extensively discussed, sometimes roughly debated. Indeed, each of these principles can have different meanings for different people and communities. A few practical questions came into the discussion: If human rights are universal by nature, how to ensure that privacy frameworks are effectively interoperable between regions and countries? Beyond the development of Internet infrastructures, what kind of training do people need to be empowered by the technology? How do we organize meaningful and accountable multistakeholder participation mechanisms?
Asserting principles, grounded in profound human aspirations, is an essential stage for a group of individuals that want to shape a common society. As the digital revolution gradually impacts all spheres of our public and private lives, it is time for users, business actors and governments to assert their beliefs, and take action to shape the future of the Internet. It is time to come together as an Internet society.
In the current Internet ecosystem, all stakeholders can contribute to shaping the Internet. The openness and transparency of Internet policy and technical development processes have been intrinsic to the success of the Internet itself, which relies on a global and interoperable system. What is becoming obvious today is that the impact ofthese principles goes way beyond the field of technology.
The principles of openness and transparency have been a catalyst in allowing the Internet to evolve constantly. They have contributed not only to unleash innovation and creativity but, equally significantly, they have allowed the Internet to manifest its full potential in terms of social empowerment, political expression and economic development. Additionally, they have produced a fertile ground for the organic growth of a set of abilities that have further enriched our societies: the ability to connect, to innovate and to communicate, but also to choose and to share.
The final outcome document of the UNESCO conference was developed as a shared vision affirming faith in an open governance model, such as the IGF, but also that human rights must be protected online as they are offline, and that they are enablers of the post-2015 Development Agenda. This is a strong vision that people felt they could assemble around and an important milestone in the path leading to the 10-year Review of the WSIS, end of December.