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Negotiating the WSIS+10 and the Future of the Internet

After two and a half years of technical analysis and discussions, six months of deliberations among all stakeholders, and intense negotiations at the United Nations, at three o’clock in the morning on December 12, 2015, the talented co-facilitators from the United Arab Emirates and Latvia dropped the gavel on the outcome document for the ten-year review of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS). That consensus document presents international principles that will guide the UN’s work on Information and Communications Technology (ICT)-related issues.

The original WSIS—a two-phase United Nations Summit that took place in 2003 (Geneva) and 2005 (Tunis)—established principles and a plan of action to catalyze and organize efforts towards achieving a “people-centered, inclusive and development-oriented Information society.” At that time, only 12 percent of the world’s population was online, and the developing world in particular remained almost completely unconnected.

Ten years later, the international community came together to assess the world’s progress and prioritize future work on these issues. The U.S. delegation worked with our colleagues toward consensus in recognizing, reaffirming, and committing to the existing multistakeholder model for Internet governance and harnessing ICTs for development, and in securing an extension of the mandate of the Internet Governance Forum. Our team succeeded. Just as important, the stakeholders at the Summit achieved consensus on evaluating the success of the development of the information society going forward not just in economic terms, but also by the degree to which it enables people everywhere to exercise their human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The negotiations and outcome document have been declared a success for the Internet community by leaders ranging from the Internet Society and the President of ICANN, to global Industry and civil society.

During the negotiations, some of our counterparts called for the establishment of an international legal instrument for Internet governance, an international treaty on cybersecurity, a UN convention on cybercrime, a special session of the UN General Assembly on the role of governments in the Internet, and a number of other proposals that we have actively resisted in a number of other venues. Each of these proposals was opposed by government leaders from across the globe and by experts and activists from across the global multistakeholder community.

The deliberation that led to consensus was often intense and passionate, but never disrespectful. I believe the measure of a successful negotiation is not just whether or not you are able to meet your negotiating objectives, but whether or not you are also able to strengthen your relationships with the stakeholders you represent and your negotiating partners through the process. I hope and think that we achieved both ends.

We prioritized listening to our stakeholders, hearing out other nations, and doing what we could to help everyone achieve their goals while staying true to our principles and mandate. We recognized and agreed with the developing world’s call for renewed efforts to focus the multistakeholder community on ICTs for development. We also recognized and agreed that with the benefits of ICTs and the Internet come challenges we have to tackle.

Establishment of that common ground and mutual respect created the space for us to come to agreement in recognizing and valuing the work that the multistakeholder community has done to build and deploy the modern global system of ICTs as well as the importance of the protection of the exercise of human rights in this effort. This resolution improves upon the Tunis outcome by explicitly using the word “multistakeholder” to discuss the bottom-up, consensus-based processes that are foundational to the Internet. It also more adequately focuses on the value of ICTs for the exercise of human rights, from enabling freedom of expression to the independence of the media.

It is now up to us all to give life to these words and commitments and continue our efforts to together, grow a global information society that is focused on empowering people to fulfill their potential and pursue happiness.

By Daniel A. Sepulveda, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State

Daniel Sepulveda serves as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and U.S. Coordinator for International Communications and Information Policy in the State Department’s Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs (EB).

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