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Ethics and human rights in information society

13-14 September 2007, Strasbourg
Ethics and human rights in information society

European regional meeting on the « ethical dimensions of the information society» Organized by the French Commission for UNESCO in cooperation with UNESCO and the Council of Europe
This European meeting is the third(1) of a cycle of regional conferences by UNESCO on the ethical dimensions of the information society. This initiative is a contribution to the implementation of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) on the ethical dimension of the information society(2) as well as to the Internet Governance Forum.

The meeting also complements the on-going work being carried out by the Council of Europe and the French Commission for UNESCO during the preparatory and post-implementation phases of the WSIS process regarding several topics closely linked with the ethical dimension of the information society such as freedom of expression and information and intellectual property rights, the right to private life and to secrecy of correspondence online, the cultural and linguistic diversity of Internet content, and media education.

The purpose of this European(3) meeting, like the other regional UNESCO conferences, will be to discuss and identify the issues considered to be priorities for the European region and to raise stakeholders’ awareness of the ethical issues of information and communication technologies and usages. It will also aim at making a contribution to the UNESCO code of ethics project that was elaborated and discussed during the two previous regional conferences and also in reaching conclusions and operational recommendations intended for all stakeholders.

This European meeting will favour the presentation of the work and approaches of key stakeholders (researchers, private sector, NGOs, governments, international organisations, generational groups, etc.) and their interaction. This process of exchange and reflection will thereby help to promote the development of both regional and inter-regional networks and cooperation.

The European meeting will be based around four thematic round tables which are structured around three main pillars: (i) analysis of the opportunities offered by Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs); (ii) side-effects, negative impacts and possible conflicts of interest, and (iii) recommendations with the aim of contributing to Internet governance founded on the involvement of all stakeholders and the sharing of responsibilities.

Indeed, in the information society technical tools are potentially at the disposal of every user offering each an opportunity, without precedent, to exercise and benefit from their rights and freedoms. This allows the possibility for many people to participate in the collective development of society and the universalisation of rights and freedoms. However, the pernicious or negative effects and conflicts of interests should also be borne in mind which could compromise the realization of these new opportunities which are all the more uncertain as technologies rapidly evolve(4).

In response, the meeting will present and discuss concrete experiences, usages and existing regulation in order to highlight, analyse and better understand the positive and negative effects of ICT use and the tensions between rights, freedoms and values.

With the purpose of optimising the opportunities resulting both from better access to information, knowledge and culture and by enabling users to be actors in the global information society (as a result of greater freedom of expression and the capacity to produce content and to create social networks) while, at the same time, protecting individual users against the effects of the misuse of ICTs, the meeting will consider the issue of security and the question of the governance of the Internet.

As regards the latter, key questions which could be asked are: is there a need to set up a new mechanism which elaborates and implements common rules for the Internet thereby necessitating the development of a new legal, economic and societal order/model with the participation and contribution of all stakeholders? If so, what are the bases on which this should be constructed: to know, to understand, to consent and to construct – with resort to a range of tools – regulation, techniques and education? Indeed, is it possible to make conscious collective choices and to consider the issue of governance based on shared responsibilities, knowledge, understanding and thus appropriation of the issues by individual users and stakeholders?

For more information on the scientific preparation of the conference, the speakers and other works on the same topic(5) , you can refer to the following website : www.unesco.org/webworld/fr/ethics-humanrights-informationsociety

Contacts :
Catherine Souyri, French Commission for UNESCO
Tél : / e-mail : catherine.souyri@diplomatie.gouv.fr
Lee Hibbard, Council of Europe
Tél : / e-mail :lee.hibbard@coe.int

(1) The UNESCO Latino-American meeting took place in Santo Domingo, 6-9 December, 2006, and the UNESCO African one was organized in Pretoria, 5-7 February, 2007.

(2) Action Line C10 of the Geneva Action Plan of the World Summit on the Information Society.

(3) The UNESCO European regional grouping includes Western, Central and Eastern Europe as well as North America, Turkey and Israel.

(4) For example, the Internet of things or the convergence of NBIC i.e. nano-science, biotechnology, information technology and cognitive science.

(5) And particularly the recommendations of the researchers seminar organized in the framework of the new UNESCO Chair in communication at the Robert Schuman University in Strasbourg, on June 13-14, 2007.