Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Vera Franz posted:

[from http://www.newsforge.com/article.pl?sid=03/12/16/187234 ]

RMS covers WSIS

The World Summit on the Information Society is supposed to formulate
plans to end the "digital divide" and make the internet accessible to
everyone on Earth. The negotiations were completed in November, so
the big official meeting in Geneva last week was more of a trade show
and conference than a real summit meeting.

The summit procedures were designed so that non-governmental
organizations (mainly those that promote human rights and equality,
and work to reduce poverty) could attend, see the discussions, and
comment. However, the actual declaration paid little attention to
the comments and recommendations that these organizations made. In
effect, civil society was offered the chance to speak to a dead mike.

The summit's declaration includes little that is bold or new. When
it comes to the question of what people will be free to do with the
Internet, it responds to demands made by various governments to
impose restrictions on citizens of cyberspace.

Part of the digital divide comes from artificial obstacles to the
sharing of information. This includes the licenses of non-free
software, and harmfully restrictive copyright laws. The Brazilian
declaration sought measures to promote free software, but the US
delegation was firmly against it (remember that the Bush campaign got
money from Microsoft). The outcome was a sort of draw, with the
final declaration presenting free software, open source, and
proprietary software as equally legitimate. The US also insisted on
praising so-called "intellectual property rights." (That biased term
promotes simplistic over-generalization; for the sake of clear
thinking about the issues of copyright law, and about the very
different issues of patent law, that term should always be avoided.)

The declaration calls on governments to ensure unhindered access to
the public domain, but says nothing about whether any additional
works should ever enter the public domain.

Human rights were given lip service, but the proposal for a "right to
communicate" (not merely to access information) using the Internet
was shot down by many of the countries. The summit has been
criticized for situating its 2005 meeting in Tunisia, which is a
prime example of what the information society must not do. People
have been imprisoned in Tunisia for using the Internet to criticize
the government.

Suppression of criticism has been evident here at the summit too. A
counter-summit, actually a series of talks and discussions, was
planned for last Tuesday, but it was shut down by the Geneva police,
who clearly were searching for an excuse to do so. First they
claimed that the landlord did not approve use of the space, but the
tenant who has a long-term lease for the space then arrived and said
he had authorized the event. So the police cited a fire code
violation which I'm told is applicable to most buildings in Geneva --
in effect, an all-purpose excuse to shut down anything. Press
coverage of this maneuver eventually forced the city to allow the
counter-summit to proceed on Wednesday in a different location.

In a more minor act of suppression, the moderator of the official
round table in which I spoke told me "your time is up" well before
the three minutes each participant was supposed to have. She later
did the same thing to the EPIC representative. I later learned that
she works for the International Chamber of Commerce -- no wonder she
silenced us. And how telling that the summit would put a
representative of the ICC at the throttle when we spoke.

Suppression was also visible in the exclusion of certain NGOs from
the summit because their focus on human rights might embarrass the
governments that trample them. For instance, the summit refused to
accredit Human Rights In China, a group that criticizes the Chinese
government for (among other things) censorship of the internet.

Reporters Without Borders was also excluded from the summit. To
raise awareness of their exclusion, and of the censorship of the
Internet in various countries, they set up an unauthorized radio
station in nearby France and handed out mini-radios so that summit
attendees could hear what the organization had been blocked from
saying at the summit itself.

The summit may have a few useful side effects. For instance, several
people came together to plan an organization to help organizations in
Africa switch to GNU/Linux. But the summit did nothing to support
this activity beyond providing an occasion for us to meet. Nor, I
believe, was it intended to support any such thing. The overall
attitude of the summit can be seen in its having invited Microsoft to
speak alongside, and before, most of the various participating
governments -- as if to accord that criminal corporation the standing
of a state.


1. " promotes simplistic over-generalization" -

2. "imprisoned in Tunisia for using the Internet to criticize the
government" - http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/2777389.stm

3. "refused to accredit Human Rights In China" -

4. "Reporters Without Borders was also excluded" -

Copyright 2003 Richard Stallman
Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article are
permitted without royalty in any medium provided this notice is

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