Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Tunisia Hosts Controversial Summit on the Information Society

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Tunisia Hosts Controversial Summit on the Information Society

Article excerpt

Tunisia was host for the second stage of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), a gathering aimed at spreading information technology around the world. Two years after the first stage, held in Geneva in 2003, more than 23,000 participants, including 50 heads of state and 1,200 journalists, flocked to Tunis from Nov. 16 to 18, 2005, for the second WSIS.

This worldwide discussion was held under the aegis of the United Nations and the International Telecommunications Union. Speaking at the opening ceremonies were Tunisia's President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi A. Annan, and Yoshio Utsumi, secretary-general of the International Telecommunications Union.

Young people, women, media representatives, physically challenged individuals, academics, researchers, philanthropists, health care specialists, and even inventors from 175 countries wandered through the enormous exhibit hall. More than 300 seminars on the impact of the Internet and telecommunications addressed such topics as using the Internet to Alleviate Rural Poverty; E-Tourism; Open Access to Science Information; and Media for Peace. Participants discussed cybercrime, spam, freedom of expression and domain-name address questions, and described the challenges, possibilities and the dangers of the Internet.

For American attendees, this conference was an eye-opener. The Internet grew from U.S. government and academic research started in the 1960s. Today much of its governance is managed by the California-based ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. Now that the Internet has become a vital commercial and communications tool, however, the world wants equal, universal and democratic access.

After seeing how the United States is conducting its war on terror at home and abroad, no one trusts one company in one nation to govern the Internet. The image of the U.S. has been so thoroughly tarnished that it no longer is described as a bastion of hope, the preserver of liberty or the voice of youth and change. Instead, it is perceived as an international bully.

Poorer, vulnerable nations fear that a vindictive American administration could pull the Internet plug on those who disagree with U.S. policy. In one imperial gesture, the reasoning goes, developing nations could be denied the future.

After much sound and fury, at the end of the conference it was agreed that a decision could wait until 2015 and that, at least for now, ICANN will continue its functions. …

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