UNESCO to address risks of internet fragmentation and freedom of expression in cyberspace at Internet Governance ForumHow to avoid fragmenting the internet; how to ensure the free flow of information in cyberspace; and how to respect the basic human right of freedom of expression on the web are among the crucial issues to be addressed at the first meeting of the Internet Governance Forum in Athens (31 October – 2 November 2006).*
“The internet revolution which is enabling so many people from all walks of life to communicate, exchange information and ideas unhindered by geographical, social and cultural divides, offers an unprecedented potential for the development of individuals and communities,” the Director-General of UNESCO, Koïchiro Matsuura, observed.
But, he cautioned: “This potential, which has already improved the lives of so many people around the world, depends on openness and respect for human rights. The internet will no longer serve its purpose if political issues and technical problems, such as the naming of internet sites, are used to erect insurmountable barriers across cyberspace, preventing people from exercising their freedom of expression and their free choice in choosing the information they want to share.”
UNESCO is organizing three workshops on these issues at the Internet Governance Forum:
On 31 October, UNESCO’s workshop, Towards a multilingual global Internet: Avoiding the risk of fragmentation (co-organized with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, ICANN, and the National Telecommunication Regulatory Authority of Egypt), will focus on efforts to ensure that the internet remains open and global, while allowing for the use of different scripts, notably in the creation of domain names in non-Latin languages. The issue is becoming ever more crucial with the increasing quantity of content in non-Latin scripts on the internet. The consequent need to use non-Latin scripts in naming websites must be reconciled with the need to maintain seamless communication across all parts of cyberspace to avoid breaking up cyberspace into disparate, incompatible script-based networks.
Also on 31 October, UNESCO and the Internet Governance Project (IGP), an interdisciplinary consortium of academics with expertise in international governance, internet policy, and information and communication technology (ICT), will organize the workshop on Content Filtering and Freedom of Expression. The event will bring together representatives of freedom of expression advocacy groups, academics and stakeholders such as internet service and equipment providers from different parts of the world. They will examine governmental content regulations, both through legislation and technical barriers such as filters. Participants will also explore ways for countries with different legal understandings of acceptable content to reconcile their differences while maximizing freedom.
On 1 November, the workshop on Openness in Cyberspace: The Challenges of Freedom of Expression will seek to define ways to ensure the free flow of information in an open and transparent internet. Issues to be examined will include: how to develop inclusive, participatory and open models in cyberspace; regulatory mechanisms on the national and international levels; reinforcing reliability of the internet; protecting privacy and individual rights; and promoting the openness that is indispensable for the creation of inclusive knowledge societies.
Since its creation 60 years ago, UNESCO has been concerned with the promotion of the free flow of ideas by word and image. At the end of the World Summit on the Information Society (Tunis, 2005), the Tunis Commitment and the Tunis Agenda for the Information Society recognized that freedom of expression and the free flow of information, ideas and knowledge are essential for the information society and development, alongside access to information, respect for cultural and linguistic diversity and for the role of the media. WSIS also invited UNESCO to contribute to the development of: access to information and knowledge; capacity building; e-learning; e-science; cultural and linguistic diversity and open content; media; ethical dimensions of the information society; international and regional cooperation.
* The creation of the Forum was decided at the World Summit on the Information Society (Geneva 2003, Tunis 2005) and its role is to examine a wide range of issues related to Internet Governance, and, where appropriate, to make recommendations to the international community. See: http://www.igfgreece2006.gr/
See also: http://www.unesco.org/webworld/internet_governance