December 3, 2003
U.S. Outlines Priorities for World Summit on the Information
Commitment to private sector, rule of law critical
for infrastructure development
By Charlene Porter
Washington File Staff Writer
Washington -- The U. S. delegation to the World Summit on the
Information Society (WSIS) is advocating a strong private sector
and rule of law as the critical foundations for development of
national information and communication technologies (ICT). Ambassador
David Gross, the U.S. coordinator for international communications
and information policy, outlined what he called "the three pillars" of
the U.S. position in a briefing to reporters December 3.
Gross will head the U.S. delegation to the December 10-12 event
in Geneva, Switzerland. Presidential Science Advisor Dr. John Marburger
will deliver a speech on behalf of the president. The U.N. General
Assembly-sanctioned event is set to conclude with multinational
agreement on a declaration of principles and a plan of action,
documents that participating nations have been negotiating for
almost two years.
As nations attempt to build a sustainable ICT sector, commitment
to the private sector and rule of law must be emphasized, Gross
said, "so that countries can attract the necessary private investment
to create the infrastructure."
A second important pillar of the U.S. position is the need for
content creation and intellectual property rights protection in
order to inspire ongoing content development.
Insuring security on the Internet, in electronic communications
and in electronic commerce is the third major priority for the
United States. "All of this works and is exciting for people as
long as people feel that the networks are secure from cyber attacks,
secure in terms of their privacy," Gross said.
The U.N. General Assembly endorsed the proposal for a global
summit on ICT issues in January 2002. The International Telecommunications
Union took the lead in organizing the event in which more than
50 heads of state will participate.
"The modern world is undergoing a fundamental transformation
as the industrial society that marked the 20th century rapidly
gives way to the information society of the 21st century," according
to background documents compiled by the WSIS Secretariat (http://www.itu.int/wsis/basic/about.html
). "We are indeed in the midst of a revolution, perhaps the greatest
that humanity has ever experienced. To benefit the world community,
the successful and continued growth of this new dynamic requires
WSIS is set to unfold in two stages. After this December 2003
meeting, a second phase of the summit is set for November 2005
when nations will gather again to assess how effectively governments
have worked to implement the plan of action.
As the Geneva phase of the meeting draws closer, one proposal
that is gaining attention would create an international fund to
provide increased financial resources to help lesser-developed
nations expand their ICT sectors. The "voluntary digital solidarity
fund" is a proposal put forth by the president of Senegal, but
it is not one that the United States can currently endorse, Gross
"The goal is undoubtedly, extraordinarily important. What we're
in active discussion about is the best method to get there," Gross
said. He added that the United States is already engaged in "very
active support" programs for countries that are creating solid
legal and regulatory environments to nurture ICT development. Introduced
earlier this year, President Bush's Digital Freedom Initiative
now assists three nations in building greater ICT infrastructure,
and will expand to include as many as 12 nations. A program launched
by the U.S. Agency for International Development in the mid-1990s
has helped bring Internet access to an estimated 2 million Africans.
As the negotiations have unfolded, Gross has seen a broad agreement
among nations that the WSIS Declaration should speak clearly on
freedom of expression. "I'm very optimistic that we will have a
strong statement in the document that will affirm the importance
of freedom of expression," Gross said. He said the United States
has many allies in that position among other nations and among
Gross said the United States is also achieving broad consensus
on the principle that a "culture of cybersecurity" must develop
in national ICT policies to continue growth and expansion in this
area. He said the last few years have been marked by considerable
progress as nations update their laws to address the galloping
criminal threats in cyberspace. "There's capacity-building for
countries to be able to criminalize those activities that occur
within their borders ... and similarly to work internationally
to communicate between administrations of law enforcement to track
down people who are acting in ways that are unlawful," Gross said.
As negotiators meet in the days ahead to resolve these remaining
outstanding issues, the U.S. ICT coordinator urges a focus on the
larger issues and recognition of the "remarkable change" in world
thinking that this summit represents. Even just a few years ago,
the Internet and sophisticated information and communication technologies
were considered the domain of the elites and academics. Now, Gross
said, almost every government recognizes that these technologies
are very important to their national development.
"It is an extraordinarily powerful and positive development," Gross
said. "That's why the summit is so important."