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Posted 11 Dec 2003 09:08:19 UTC

As world leaders gather in Geneva to debate the future of the "Information Society", activists are attempting to hold a counter-summit where they will present their visions of a truly democratic information age.

The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) is sponsored by the International Telecommunication Union, an agency of the United Nations. It is to be held in two parts: the first is currently taking place in Geneva, Switzerland, while the second will be held in November, 2005 in Tunis, the capital of Tunisia. The summit has the stated purpose of producing a plan to bring democracy and open access to the Internet while closing the "digital divide" between poorer countries and richer ones.

However, many groups not allied with governments or businesses complain that they have been excluded from the WSIS talks. To combat this, a group of activists called Geneva03 has been organizing events designed to highlight alternatives to the government-dominated talks, under the slogan "WSIS? We seize!"

As their planned events were to start, Geneva03 was barred from the space which they had rented for their events. An alternative venue was offered by the authorities, but this venue turned out to be unavailable. As of this writing, Geneva03 was still searching for a new space for their activities.

The irony here is fairly obvious: civil society is barred from talks at which governments and corporations sing the praises of unfettered access to communications, openness, and equal rights for all. Perhaps this is unsurprising given the way that many of the governments involved treat their own citizens. Indeed, Tunisia, home to the 2005 summit, is itself no fan of a free press, according to the international journalists' organization Reporters Sans Frontières.

It's not clear how much effect the summit will actually have. Certainly a great volume of text will be produced, and governments will presumably make vague promises to implement the ideas expressed therein. Some have suggested that the UN will try to wrest control of the Domain Name System from ICANN. The effects of such a move are not clear: there are arguments for moving away from the ICANN system, which has certainly not been democratic, but putting the Internet in the hands of national governments could also have disastrous implications for users' freedom.

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