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Connecting the World 12 October 2015

Could connecting the next billion sideline the WSIS vision?

Noelle Francesca De Guzman
By Noelle Francesca De GuzmanRegional Policy Manager, Asia-Pacific

A recently released paper entitled the Pattaya Key Messages (PKM), a response to the upcoming WSIS+10 review, cites the dangers of connecting the next billion amid widening inequalities in development–a consequence of growing uncertainties in political will and the ineffectiveness of mainstream development policies. The paper is a product of an independent review of the 74 non-paper submissions to the WSIS+10 process, by 38 self-organised civil society and human rights activists in the Asia-Pacific region last month. The document lays out key observations and recommendations in three key areas: development, human rights and Internet governance.

Since its release on September 19th, the document has received strong support and endorsement by various groups within and outside the region. This document is currently the only independent and regional paper on the WSIS+10 review unaffiliated with any UN agency or country.

Below are the highlights of the non-paper submission specific to the Asia-Pacific region.

·      Development (Internet) has not reached its full potential

There is a universal recognition by development field experts that past development approaches focusing on growth rather than inclusiveness have consequently widened the divide between the rich and poor. And more importantly, development policy has been within the exclusive domain of governments and policy makers, estranging other stakeholders.  If development is to reach its full potential, this needs to change along with a few other things, noting the failure of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to meet its targets for developing regions.

·      The blurring line between Internet development, governance and human rights

Access alone is not enough. Equally important are quality of service, equal access, access to information, and other factors which were not mentioned nearly enough in the proposals. It was also noted that the growing number of issues around Internet development and governance are less about technology and infrastructure, but more about the Internet’s social dimension.

·      National sovereignty complicates things

Cybersecurity policy development and strategies proposed emphasise the state’s sole leadership and top-heavy approach while ignoring user’s rights to information, privacy or equal access, under the guise of sovereign rights and national security. Cybersecurity is about strengthening the trust of citizens who are users of the Internet, rather than a tool of for committing anti-trust activities like cybercrime and security breaches.

·      Multistakeholder is only vaguely mentioned

There is little mentioned on the multistakeholder approach within the reviewing process by countries. This explains why only a handful of submissions were made by non-state players.

·      Human rights were scarcely mentioned

There is a lack of coverage on human rights concerns in relation to both development (digital divide) and Internet governance (privacy, trust, cybersecurity), despite reports of increasing online and offline violations of human rights in the region in the name of sovereignty rights. This only exposes the flaw in development programmes that failed to account for the human-centered, inclusive development approach enshrined in the WSIS agenda.

·      Lack of representation by national and regional groups

Notwithstanding the fact that there was a submission by the Group of 77 (G77), there was no mention of a regional review process within the Asia-Pacific region, unlike other regions.

Recommendations critical to connecting the next billion

–       A more robust definition of the digital divide which reflects the next billion is imperative.

(1) Changing from binary and static targets to a more fluid definition means we can effectively focus on the most needed and impactful initiatives (not by numbers alone but by quality of life improved). These include life or death situations, as in the case of disasters, and projects that present significant opportunity for those in dire straits, in the case of abject poverty.

(2) In the same measure, the new definition should also take into account the dynamic nature of technology—that is, the blurring definition of digital divide vs. development divide.

(3) It should not exclude those who already have access but are not using the Internet. This takes into account the broader—both technical and non-technical–barriers to access: language, content, digital literacy, Internet outages, blocked websites/pages, cyber breaches and others.

–       A more robust definition of cybersecurity is needed. Equally important is the development of an internationally agreed cyber trust framework that is user-centric and promotes mutual respect, trust and accountability among all stakeholders for the greater good. Preservation of citizen’s rights and trust must be an integral part of national security and should supersede sovereign rights.

–       Move away from silo policy approaches to more holistic, broad-based development strategies that prioritises building a positive policy environment and a multistakeholder approach that is truly inclusive, within and beyond the WSIS and policy space.

–       Re-engineer the policy-making process to become more data driven, timely, collaborative, open, transparent and rigorous.

–       Move beyond economic growth to inclusive development; where human capacity building is the primary driver of Information Society, rather than infrastructure/technology focused investment.

–       Build better mechanisms to ensure greater representation in the WSIS review process for under represented regions (developing countries) and stakeholder groups

What’s next for the next billion and post 2015 agenda?

The paper leaves a strong recommendation for an even-keeled approach to the development agenda, accounting for both the negative and positive aspects of development through greater rigour and fact finding discipline. It bridges these using common values such as positive rights based approach, inclusion, development- versus economic growth-driven development goals, and connecting at the edges—meaning the most vulnerable and marginalised communities–first.

The WSIS post-2015 agenda needs to reaffirm the WSIS goals and strengthen its underlying principles and values in a more holistic, concrete and focused manner.  And to effectuate this, policy makers must provide the support that is commensurate with the times and do so without fragmenting the good progress made, nor undermining these through contradictory policies and actions (i.e. national security, sovereign rights).

To this end, the ability to collaborate openly and innovate is essential for policymakers. But equally important is allowing innovation to flourish elsewhere, beyond the policy realm or national borders. Field experiences have shown repeatedly that unconventional solutions which are far more effective, sustainable and life changing, are increasingly coming from those most affected, in resource-poor places (developing regions) and from cross-disciplines. How we ensure that we incorporate them as part of our policymaking process and future governance model will be our next challenge.

In a nutshell, the meeting calls to question the current WSIS approach and proposes an alternative rights-based approach within the three spaces: development, human rights and Internet governance. Groups in Asia-Pacific believe that the underlying thrust of Information Society development is based on strengthening these rights and building trust across the systems and its stakeholders. This includes the extension and elevation of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) mandate beyond 2015.

Note: The meeting was supported by several sponsoring organisations, including APNIC and ISOC’s Asia-Pacific Bureau

For ISOC’s WSIS resources, please visit our WSIS page.

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Disclaimer: Viewpoints expressed in this post are those of the author and may or may not reflect official Internet Society positions.

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