Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Holidays in Denver 

Susanne and I have just arrived in Denver to visit her parents for the holidays. We'll be here for the next week, hanging out with her golden retrievers and enjoying the unusually balmy weather (well, balmy for Denver in December, anyway). Meanwhile, I learned last week that Benton would close its office for the week between xmas and New Years, so suddenly I'm finding myself with a proper two-week winter holiday for the first time since college. So how will I be spending my free extra week? Haven't a clue yet. Susanne will be working much of that week, so I'll be on my own for a few days. Perhaps I'll get to work on writing that great American novel, but more likely I'll end up catching up on housekeeping, or maybe tinkering with my blog to get a better RSS feed working.

Anyway, have a happy Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa and New Year, everyone... -ac

Sunday, December 21, 2003

WSIS Photo Gallery 




Lausanne and the Alps
View of Lausanne and the Alps

Hi everyone.... Yesterday I finished working on my WSIS online photo gallery, and I'd like to invite all of you to visit:

http://www.edwebproject.org/wsis03/

The site includes several exhibits from the summit, including the opening plenary session, President Mohammed Khatami's press conference, and the UNESCO Knowledge Forum. I've also set up exhibits on Lausanne and Geneva, which just happened to be hosting the annual L'Escalade festival the weekend after the summit. (The photo on the right was taken in Lausanne, in case you're wondering.)

Hope you enjoy the photos. Happy holidays! -ac

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Back from WSIS 

It's Wednesday morning in Washington DC, and I've been back from WSIS for a few days. My brain is still on Geneva time, so I've been going to bed by 9pm and up by 5am, which has allowed me to get into work by around 7am and catch up on all of the emails that accumulated during my absence.

It's been really interesting watching all the Monday-morning quarterbacking that's been going on since the summit wrapped up. In general, most of the news stories I've seen seem to take the position that the summit was a mixed bag. I thought one headlines from the Guardian newspaper was particularly entertaining: UN Summit Fails to Bridge Digital Divide. Like there was anything that could have happened at the summit, even under the most idealized circumstances, that could have literally bridged the digital divide then and there.

Meanwhile, the BBC World radio service is running a 15-minute segment on the information society; I managed to do an interview with them, and get quoted twice in the interview, at the 3:10 and 11:20 mark. (Since it's a RealAudio file, you can click and drag the play arrow to exact points in the recording, in case you only want to listen to me and ignore what everyone else said.) I'm not sure how long the recording will be on their website, so enjoy it while you can...

Lastly, some of the folks who were heavily involved in the civil society work at the summit have compiled The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of the Summit. Rik Panganiban and Ralf Bendrath, the authors of the document, offer some keen insights on what went well and what didn't.


Friday, December 12, 2003

Friday Night at WSIS: Mopping Up in Geneva 

Well, folks, it's just before 8pm local time in Geneva, and they're beginning to break down the set at the World Summit. The bottomless espresso and ham sandwiches in the media center, not to mention the nice people who served them, have disappeared without a trace. The cybercafe ends not with a bang but a wimper, as staff shut down the computers one by one while the remaining summit attendees (including me) desperately try to wrap up their work.

So has this summit been a success? As an actual summit of policymakers, I'm skeptical. The lack of progress regarding Internet governance and how to finance bridging the digital divide in the developing world hangs heavily over the Palexpo Center. But as a gathering of activists committed to bridging the divide, I'm more hopeful. The ICT for Development Platform featured an incredible array of ICT pioneers from all corners of the globe, while the forums (well, at least some of them) featured insightful, occasionally inciteful, dialogue. Fortunately, most of the people I've met here will be accessible online once I return home, so on a personal and professional level, I'm confident the exchange of creative ideas will continue -- hopefully to the benefit of those people still on the wrong side of the digital divide. So my mild disappointment in the actual summit doesn't dampen my enthusiasm for the process. We have two years to brainstorm solutions and cajole the powers that be to get the job done by Tunis -- 700 days from now, give or take a week.

Signing off from Geneva... -ac

Desai to Civil Society: What Summit Were You at?? 




Utsumi, Couchepin and Desai
Yoshio Utsumi, Pascal Couchepin & Nitin Desai
At the closing press conference for the World Summit on the Information Society, UN Special Advisor to the Secretary-General Nitin Desai voiced pointed skepticism over civil society's lambasting of the Summit's treatment of protesters and alternative media. Civil Society representatives had released a statement criticizing the authorities for the way they've handled the protestors: "We strongly condemn these violations of the right to assemble and freedom of expression that have cast a shadow of hypocrisy over the summit."

Desai, however, shot back when asked about this by DailySummit.net's David Steven. "I think these people were attending a different conference," he said. "I'd like to see what they're talking about, who they're speaking for." Yoshio Utsumi of the ITU, meanwhile, cited how civil society had a place at the table throughout the entire preparatory process. "All stakeholders could express their views."

President Couchepin of the Swiss Confederation praised the event as "a success" whose declaration and action plan will form "the constitution of the information society." Regarding the failure of the summit to successfully address Internet governance and the approval of a digital solidarity fund, Utsumi added, "We couldn't set up clear measures, but we all agreed to continue to work to the Tunisian phase" of the summit, which takes place in November 2005. Desai seconded this, saying that the UN needed to "maintain the momentum" generated in Geneva in order to work out a final plan of action for Tunis.

When asked about the lack of free expression in Tunisia, which will host the next summit, panelists demurred. "It's not up to Switzerland to judge," Couchepin said. Nitin Desai added, "The standard of access within the conference will be the same" as other UN conferences. Tell that to the dissidents standing outside the Tunisia summit's security cordon, I thought. A representative from Tunisian state television then jumped in and insisted that people should stop harping on Tunisia for its record on free expression and dissent. "I think we need to put an end to this childish debate," he declared, before being asked by the moderator if he actually had a question to ask the panel.

He did not. -ac

Senegal President Declares "World Digital Solidarity Day" 




Festus Mogae, Abdoulaye Wade and Themba Dlamini
Festus Mogae, Abdoulaye Wade & Themba Dlamini
President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal, accompanied by the president of Botswana and the prime minister of Swaziland, declared December 12, 2004 as the first annual World Digital Solidarity Day. The announcement was made to celebrate the decision by countries participating in the World Summit on the Information Society to include language supporting the principle of a "Digital Solidarity Fund" in the summit's final declaration. The details of such a fund, though, have yet to be worked out.

"We are asking all -- particularly the young of the world, to whom this day is addressed -- to take initiative," President Wade said. "Cities, civil society, associations should prepare regional meetings" to plan for the event, which will take place next year at a city in Africa, yet to be determined.

"There's a global agreement of the desirability of IT in the development of all nations," added President Festus Mogae of Botswana, lending his support to the announcement. "The next thing is how to go about it."

"We are hear to witness and give affirmation that we'd like to see ICT promoted," Prime Minister Themba Dlamini of Swaziland said, adding, "The [Digital Solidarity] Fund will go a long way in helping us in the developing world." -ac

Highway Africa: WSIS News Keeps on Comin'.... 

While I try to catch a second wind and suck down another cup of coffee, I just wanted to pause for a moment and offer muchos kudos to the Highway Africa News Agency, organized by the South Africa Broacasting Corporation and Rhodes University. Comprised of a group of university student journalists from all over Africa, HANA has been plugging away day after day offering some of the best insider coverage of the World Summit. And I'm not saying this because HANA's Megan Knight has been offering me squatting space in her corner of the media room. Seriously, check out the HANA website and enjoy the coverage while it's lasts, which ain't much longer (5pm and ticking here in Geneva).... -ac

UNDP's Malloch Brown to Microsoft: Seek Dialogue over Open Source; CTCNet Pan-American Alliance 




Jose Maria Figueres, Mark Malloch Brown and Jean Philippe Courtios take questions
Jose Maria Figueres, Mark Malloch Brown & Jean Philippe Courtios
After brief presentations by former Costa Rican president Jose Maria Figueres and Microsoft's Jean Philippe Courtios, UN Development Program Director Mark Malloch Brown, took advantage of a speaking engagement at Microsoft's Unlimited Potential forum to raise the issue of open source.

"I profoundly believe that [open source] shouldn't divide us" when it comes to bridging the digital divide in the developing world, he said. Directing his comments to Microsoft and to Bill Gates in particular, he continued, "I really count on you to be a part of the fight for freedom on the Internet. UNDP will give no quarter on this issue."

"I also think media ownership is a threat," along with corporate monopolies, he added. But to Malloch Brown, the biggest threats are governments themselves, and they cannot be allowed to quash ICT freedoms. "Every country should make their own choice to select their own software to best suit their needs," he said.

Malloch Brown then compared the need for a compromise on open source to the way a compromise was struck when it came to providing affordable prescription drugs in the developing world. Not long ago, health care costs for individuals in the South were as high as $12,000 per person, he noted. Today, the price has come down to well less than $1,000. Eventually they reached a compromise with pharmaceutical companies that allowed the cost of drugs to plummet, yet remain high enough to ensure that the companies would be able to continue pharmaceutical innovations.

He hoped a similar process could occur regarding open source; that Microsoft would offer more discounts and revise their intellectual property policies to strike a fair compromise. Both Microsoft and the open source community should work together to bridge the digital divide and not allow the situation to degenerate any further.

"UNDP will be happy to hold all the coats when they go into the room and box this all out," he added, provoking laughter from the audience.




Kavita Singh
Kavita Singh of CTCNet
Jean Philippe Courtios, CEO of Microsoft's Europe, Mideast and Africa operations, responded: "I'm very pleased to hear from Mark that it's all about open choice," he said. Courtios added that countries should be able to choose the software tools that are appropriate for their particular needs.

Following this roundtable, Kavita Singh of CTCNet (left) joined representatives from Brazil and India to discuss strategies to connect communities for lifelong learning. Kavita described her organization, a US-based network of more than 1,000 telecentres. Members of the network benefit through online and offline professional development, as well as through re-granting: CTCNet distributed over $1 million in grants to US community technology centers last year.

CTCNet has now signed an agreement with like-minded telecenter networks in Canada, Latin America and the Caribbean. The partnership, formalized here in Geneva, will allow the organizations to share resources and collaborate with each other, benefitting telecentres across the Americas. -ac

Friday at WSIS: A (Relatively) Quiet Morning 




Robert Mugabe
President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe speaks at WSIS

It's just before noon in Geneva, and things are moving at a much slower pace today. After yesterday's jam-packed schedule of speeches, press conferences, workshops, demonstrations (as in products, not protestors), lectures and debates, today seems to be mellower than the others. Apart from the official release of the WSIS declaration, most major announcements have already occurred. And now that President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe has had his chance to speak in the plenary (a vitriolic diatribe about Anglo-American racism), much of the major press has left as well, leaving the media room full of technology reporters, hammering away at their keyboard while inhaling free food (ham sandwiches and coffee) from their private lounge. Speaking of reporters, yesterday I was interviewed by Nick Jesdanun of the Associated Press, who wrote a story about much of the skepticism that's floating around here regarding the potential impact of the WSIS declaration. Nick quoted me talking about how the negotiations over the declaration basically passed the buck on some of the biggest issues being discussed.

This afternoon I'll swing by the Microsoft Unlimited Potential forum, and hopefully get some more time on the ICT4D expo floor. There are a lot of great exhibits set up in the expo, so I'll have to bring a big stack of business cards and make the rounds for a couple of hours... -ac

World Summit Award: Showcasing Creative Content from around the World 




Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia of Bangladesh, President Ion Iliescu of Romania and President Robert Kocharian of Armenia
Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia of Bangladesh, President Ion Iliescu of Romania & President Robert Kocharian of Armenia
This Wednesday, WSIS played host an evening gala event honoring the winners of the World Summit Award. The winners were selected from a pool of over 800 nominees presented to a grand jury (including myself) at a meeting in Dubai this October.

The occasion was a star-studded affair, with several heads of state in attendance to give out awards to the winners. The prime ministers of Bangladesh and Senegal, along with the presidents of Armenia and Romania, were among the presenters. In the tradition of the Academy Awards, the event ran past its scheduled timeslot -- though in this case it only went over by 20 minutes and not two hours. Most of the members of the grand jury also attended, making the event a nice family reunion for those of us who bonded over the course of five days in Dubai. The reunion continued back at the Ramada Encore Hotel -- regrettably a long hike from the Palexpo, probably closer to Tunis than Geneva -- for a long evening of finger food, wine and dinner. This was the last official gathering of our group, so Alexander Felsenberg of Germany proposed that we work to find a way to have a reunion on an annual basis. I hope we're able to work it out; the awards process was a great experience and it'd be wonderful to continue the friendships generated in Dubai.... -ac


Thursday, December 11, 2003

Khatami's Press Conference: Blogs and al Qaeda 

President KhatamiIranian President Mohammed Khatami spent 45 minutes with reporters this evening to talk about the summit and a range of international issues. Because I managed to finagle a media pool pass, I was able to take part in the press conference. UN security set up a metal detector outside the conference room, and we slowly queued through as they searched every possession we had. A bomb sniffing dog made a brief circuit around the room as journalists joked about getting caught hiding sausages in inappropriate places.

When I made my way through the metal detector, the Iranian press director saw my civil society badge. Initially it looked like he was going to give me the boot, but when he saw my media pool pass, he merely asked me to wait until a few more "real" journalists went inside, so I wouldn't ruffle any feathers, being the civil society bloke that I am. I probably would have waited until almost everyone got inside, but another civil society person with a giant cast on his left foot was asked to wait by the security detail. When the Iranian press director saw his predicament, he told security to let him in, and begrudgingly aquiesced to allow me to follow him.

Once inside, the press conference started very quickly. President Khatami arrived, sporting the traditional garb of an Iranian mullah. He smiled graciously to the group and waved to a few journalists he recognized in the crowd. As the questions started, though, I realized my wireless translator was malfunctioning; I tried to get another one but a security guy motioned me to stay seated. So for more than half the conference, I sat there listening to Khatami spouting political wisdom in Farsi, having not a clue whether he was talking about the Summit, computers, George Bush, Israel, or his favorite pilaf recipe. I used the time as best I could, snapping dozens of pictures with my digital camera, fiddling with the light metering to compensate for the security detail's no-flash rule.

KhatamiSuddenly, my translation receiver came back to life, just in time for me to hear Khatami explain that it is the job of the Iranian executive branch to serve as the protector of freedom of expression. Other branches of the Iranian government may have other "attitudes" when it comes to the issue, but he felt it was the job of his office to strive to protect it. Of course this made me wonder how he had responded to previous questions about online censorship in Iran -- I guess I'd have to wait until the made-for-TV movie. Khatami added, however, that no journalists should be held prisoner for what they write, though some journalists have been held for other "criminal acts."

The topic soon switched to al Qaeda, which he described as "a source of great nuisance for us." Ditto, I thought. "We have a hostile relationship with al Qaeda," he added.

Cara Swift from DailySummit.net got to ask a question about Khatami's personal use of blogs and other online tools. "Some of our deputies have their own websites," he replied. "I don't use weblogs but I don't use many good things..."

"My daughters are very active using the Internet," he continued. "Our youth and adolescents are using blogs very extensively, the Internet, the Web.... And there's a lot of access to the Net in our universities. This collective communications is very satisfactory."

As the press conference ended, a group of Farsi- and Arabic- speaking journalists surged towards the dais. Khatami stayed for five minutes to take more questions. I crammed my way into the group and got some good photos, gleefully snapping away at this most avuncular of mullahs.... -ac

What? The Digital Divide? (Shh! Who said that?) 

Cara Swift of DailySummit.net covers the plenary speech by US delegate John Marburger, who serves as Bush's science and technology advisor. Cara notes that the speech was rather light on specifics, saying that he didn't even use the term "digital divide." This, of course, shouldn't come as a huge surprise for US digital divide activists, given the Bush administration's historic reticence when it comes to using "that phrase." In recent months the unofficial ban on using the term has begun to thaw, thanks to US Education Secretary Rod Paige's comments this autumn about his personal concern regarding the school-home digital divide. Paige's remarks were welcomed by the digital divide activist community, especially those who've worked to ensure that the digital divide debate tackle issues such as literacy, ICT skills and teacher training -- not to mention those who, like me, feel rather strongly that bridging the digital divide in the US will require the universal availability affordable broadband access to every home.

I imagine that international activists and journalists are surprised by the lack of digital divide rhetoric coming out of the US government, given the fact that the term is not particularly politically charged in international circles -- at least not in terms of liberals versus conservatives, or as a raging debate over whether the digital divide is a bunch of hooey. But given the fact that some Washington suits associate "that term" with the likes of Clinton and Gore, "digital divide" has effectively become lingua non grata within the Beltway. It's almost as if politicos had taken a cue from superstitious thespians who refuse to mention "Macbeth" by name and refer to it as "the Scottish play"; for Washington, generally, "the digital divide" might as well be referred to as "Gore's gap" or "Clinton's cavern." Just as long as you don't suggest that there is a widening gap within the US, and between the North and South, when it comes to peoples' access to ICTs, knowledge, and the abilities to utilize and create it. Heavens, no -- don't say that...

So let's give Rod Paige a round of applause for his growing interest in tackling the digital divide -- and for recognizing that uttering a phrase that just so happened to be used by the last polical administration won't cause the stage to collapse from under you... -ac

Civil Society Releases Declaration at WSIS 

civil society press conference
At a press conference at the World Summit on the Information Society this afternoon, representatives from civil society released their own information society declaration, entitled Shaping Information Societies for Human Needs. The document, a collaborative work of civil society groups from around the world, is an attempt to interject human rights into the conversation regarding the building of a global information society. Speakers at the press conference noted that WSIS included the first UN summit planning process in which civil society groups were invited to participate from the start. According to Sally Burch, who spoke during the press conference, about 60 percent of the ideas contained in the official WSIS declaration - to be released tomorrow - originated within civil society, though readers might "need a microscope" to identify them. The civil society groups therefore felt it necessary to release their own document, not as a binary counter-proposal to the WSIS declaration, but as a document that would more accurately represent civil society interests.

"We aspire to build information and communication societies where development is framed by fundamental human rights and oriented to achieving a more equitable distribution of resources, leading to the elimination of poverty in a way that is non-exploitative and environmentally sustainable," the document says in its introduction. "To this end we believe technologies can be engaged as fundamental means, rather than becoming ends in themselves, thus recognising that bridging the Digital Divide is only one step on the road to achieving development for all. We recognise the tremendous potential of information and communications technologies (ICTs) in overcoming the devastation of famine, natural catastrophes, new pandemics such as HIV/AIDS, as well as the proliferation of arms."

The civil society declaration, 21 pages in length, covers a wide variety of issues: poverty eradication, global citizenship and gender justice; freedom of expression, privacy rights, workers' rights and disability rights; culture, knowledge and the public domain, including the promotion of the free software movement; democratic and accountable governance, expanding infrastructure and access, the role of basic literacy and the global governance of ICTs.

According to the declaration, "an independent commission should be established to review national and international ICT regulations and practices and their compliance with international human rights standards. This commission should also address the potential applications of ICTs to the realization of human rights, such as the right to development, the right to education and the right to a standard of living adequate for the mental and physical health and well-being of the individual and his or her family, including food, housing and medical care. The full realisation of a just information society requires the full participation of civil society in its conception, implementation, and operation."

"To this end, we call on all governments involved in the preparatory processes of WSIS to work in good faith with non-governmental and civil society organisations and fully honour the recommendations of Resolution 56/183 of the United Nations General Assembly," the civil society authors conclude. "In particular, participating governments must honour civil society's right to participate fully in the remaining intergovernmental preparatory processes leading to the second phase of WSIS."

-ac

Richard Stallman: Combatting "Terror Tactics" 

Richard Stallman, founding father of the free software movement, gave a stimulating, blunt and occasionally eccentric speech this afternoon at the Ynternet.org forum in Geneva. Stallman, who quit his job years ago at MIT to be free to create the free operating system known as GNU, talked about the importance of freedom in the world of software. According to Stallman, there are four principles that must all be adopted. People must be free to control the software they possess on their computers; free to share it with friends; free to change the software and republish it; and free to share with the community. Unlike the open software movement, which focuses on the right to work collaboratively on software, he said, the free software movement focuses fundamentally on individual freedoms. If software isn't free to redistribute, people are put in a bind; either they must break the license when they share the software with friends, or they must be un-neighborly and not share the software. This is an unfair choice put upon people by "mega-corporations," so the solution is to avoid proprietary software altogether.

Stallman took several Thelonious Monk-like breaks in his presentation. He would occasionally exercise his left arm by raising it up and down like he was lifting dumbells. He would yawn and stretch his torso, then arms and hands, reminscent of Kipling's description of Father Wolf stretching his paws "one after the other to get rid of the sleepy feeling in their tips." At one point in the middle of his remarks he paused, announced to the audience, "I'm cold," and walked away to find his jacket, leaving the moderator at a bit of a loss. The audience took it all in stride, with many people grinning and enjoying Richard's unusual style.

Stallman continued by discussing his contribution to copyright policy, which he calls copyleft. People should use the law so that anyone may share or change the software they create, as long as the original license remains intact. That way the spirit of the original creator is preserved in the license.

Stallman went on to note how the free software movement has suffered because of public misperceptions about it and the history of linux. Linux, named for programmer Linus Thorvalds, is really the GNU operating system, he noted. After more than a decade of work, it was almost ready to go, but was missing one crucial piece. Linus created that final piece in 1991, making the free operating system functional. But thereafter the OS became known as Linux, rather than GNU-Linux. Few users of Linux realize how the whole thing started as an attempt to inject individual freedom into computing, not a campaign solely for the sake of encouraging collaborative programming. "Collaboration itself doesn't excuse mistreating people," he said.

Because of current US law, Stallman said, ideas that are used in programming may be patented. Not just the code itself, the idea behind it. Since complex programs may require hundreds of ideas, some of which may be owned by corporations, only corporations with the muscle to cross-license their patents are in a position to create complex software. Being a programmer, Stallman says, "can be dangerous."

He also lamented the term "content," saying that content is merely stuff you use to fill a box, and doesn't convey creativity. Instead, he splits the idea into three concepts: functional works, works that convey a point of view, and works of art. Functional works let you do a particular job. These should be totally free to be modified and shared, he said. Works that convey a point of view should be shared for noncommercial purposes, though perhaps not modified without permission, since that could change the idea the author wished to convey and misrepresent them. Lastly, works of art should be modifiable, but he hasn't made up his mind regarding sharing. Perhaps, he said, works of art could have a brief copyright period so an artist may make a living, but after that the art should be shared.

Near the conclusion of his remarks, Stallman complained how big companies and governments are using unethical tactics to make people afraid of sharing works. One German TV ad, he said, scares viewers by saying if you copy movies and distribute them, you'll go to prison and perhaps be raped. Stallman said the people behind this campaign are "vicious monsters" using "police state terror tactics."

"Anything that prevents you from being friendly, a good neighbor, is a terror tactic," he added.

-ac

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

UNESCO Symposium on the Knowledge Society 

Obasanjo speaks at UNESCO conferenceToday's UNESCO symposium featured a panel of eminent politicians and technology leaders. After a brief introduction by Stephen Cole of the BBC, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo spoke of Africa's role in the knowledge society. "When you talk about knowledge, you want to talk about what you know, and seek knowledge on that which you do not know -- and I will talk about what I know, which is Africa," he began. Africa, he said, is the "original home of knowledge - the awareness of your surroundings and the indigenous capacity to explore, create, transmit ideas and opportunities." But over time, new civilizations would appear, and Africa fell further behind. "What happened to the genesis of knowledge in Africa?" he asked. Through centuries of colonization and social strife, Africa's capacity to create knowledge was eroded.

"We are now in a world village, but is it a village where we cannot communicate? What kind of village would that be?" he asked. "Even in small villages there are not communicating, because the poor are not communicating with the rich. Poor countries are not communicating with rich countries."

"People talk about having too much information," he added, "but what about making information accessible to all? Now we have this thing called ICT. What does it mean in an African village? Can it be of benefit to improve ordinary peoples' knowledge? I've seen the impact of it." Obasanjo went on to describe how Nigerian farmers can use weather data to know when to plant their crops, waiting until late-season storms pass, thanks to the information they have collected through ICTs. "Rural farmers do not have the education that we have, but they are not morons," he said emphatically. They only need greater access to knowledge and education.

"Shouldn't we have a way of democratizing knowledge? I can see this will be an uphill task. We are only paying lip service to democratization in general, let alone to democratization of knowledge.... You can't talk about freedom without free access to knowledge."

"I believe we cannot be talking seriously about freedom of expression without talking about the democratization of knowledge, because there must be a free flow of ideas, where everyone can go online."

"Can we not have a dialogue?" he concluded. "Is it not possible? ... Our work and decisions we reach here will determine the world we live in tomorrow. Will it be a harmonious village or a divided one?"

John Gage of Sun spoke following Obasanjo, focusing directly on the Nigerian president's comment that people do not have freedom unless they they have free access to knowledge. John painted an image of young people in Nigeria at a cybercafe - not only are they being exposed to information from around the world, he said, but they are the first generation to be creators of content, masters of a medium in which they can be producers. His presentation couldn't have been more than five minutes, essentially, it was a personalized response for Obasanjo. Obasanjo listened intently, nodding his head and taking notes. You could feel the gears of his mind running at full speed.

Lawrence Lessig of Stanford then spoke about the state of copyright, describing it as an essential feature of a creative society, but one that needs to be kept in tune with the technological times. Today, he said, copyright law is wildly out of date -- it presumes too easily that all content must require permission before use, creating transaction costs that often make content inaccessible to anyone but rich people with lawyers. (In the background, a slide displayed the phrase costs=death.) Technology enables creativy, he said, but the law disables it.

Lessig said you could tackle the problem two ways - either a top-down approach or a bottom-up one. If you start from the top, you could update the Berne Convention and update the legal formalities regarding copyright registration, renewal and content marking. But this requires lawyers, which means only the rich will have access. But if you take a bottom-up approach, he said, a world of possibilities opens up. He described the creative commons approach -- creating a voluntary online system that allows copyright owners to publish information clarifying how their content can be used, in a way that is easily identifiable. By filling out an online form, a copyright owner generates a human-readable deed that explains to anyone how their content may be used; a lawyerly license that covers it from a legal perspective; and a machine-readable license that allows search engines and other online tools to detect automatically how your content can be used.

Lessig gave an example of a young man writing a song and recording himself playing it on his guitar. He creates a license for it and makes it available online. Since the license allows anyone to download it and manipulate it, a girl finds it on the Net and downloads it. She plays violin, so she adds a violin track to the piece and republishes it on the Net. Creative content made by two people who have never met, without any lawyers getting in the way. So far over a million websites have used Creative Commons, and it's spreading internationally to address the copyright laws of different countries around the world. Soon, he said, they will add a developing countries clause to the licenses, so content may be tagged as being freely available for people in the developing world, while those in the developing world would have to make other licensing arrangements. -ac




Wednesday at WSIS: Morning at Palexpo 

It's 9am in the Geneva Palexpo, and they've finally opened the wsis cybercafe. About a third of the machines appear to be frozen, but fortunately I got here early enough to jump on one of the working models.

I got here just after 9am, riding in from town with Subbiah Arunachalam from India... He and I had been corresponding via email for several years, so it was good to finally meet him in person. I actually recognized him from the picture included in the interview he recently did for OneWorld South Asia, so it was quite fortunate I'd looked at it -- otherwise I would have never recognized him.

Security at wsis was much smoother this morning, probably because I arrived so early. There were only a couple of people in line waiting to go through the xray machines, which was a major relief. As we passed by the coat check desk, Arun noted that the coat check cost a dollar - not much by western standards, but an added burden for visitors from the developing world. I noted how the small water bottles available in the summit were going for an astounding three dollars a bottle - more expensive then what you would pay at a sporting venue, given the small size of the bottle. These little costs add up, and it seemed rather insensitive for a UN conference to expect civil society delegates from the south to pay for this type of price gouging.

Kanti Kumar and I were then interviewed by the Bangkok Post regarding our forum yesterday. The interview went well but Kanti is losing his voice due to a sore throat. Later today I am supposed to be interviewed by BBC World, though we still need to finalize on the time... ac

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Tuesday at WSIS: Controlled Chaos 

Kanti Kumar speaks at WSISIt's 8:30pm in geneva and i am finally getting a chance to go online for the first time today, logging in at a smoky cybercafe with a swiss keyboard with the letters y and z swapped so I keep making typing mistakes - for example, my name keeps coming out as andz. ugh.... Unfortunately the big, beautiful cybercafe at wsis is locked down until wednesday for no good reason, despite the fact that hundreds, if not thousands of people are already participating in activities here.

This morning Kanti Kumar and I hosted a meeting of the digital divide network and the digital opportunity channel. after a 45 minute delay due to very slow security lines, we got to chat with a group of around 30 people, along with a few via a live webcast. All in all it went well but I wished there had been more people. But the chaos of the palexpo didn't make it very easy, with poor signage sending people in wrong directions.

At the opening of the world electronic media forum, kofi annan gave a brief keynote about the role of broadcasters in the information society, and noted troubling trends in the area of media ownership. I will have to track down a transcript to see exactly what he said, because my seat way back in the nosebleed section didnt give me the best audio line of sight for his remarks. the forum, though, was very well produced, to no surprise, with a swirl of multimedia images in the background, along with live video chats with broadcasters in Algeria and Russia. The Algerians talked about how their local print press has become very open, but tv is still govt controlled. meanwhile, in Russia, a liberal russian journalist lamented this week's election, noting how state control of media prevented a fair discussion of the issues. He was joined, ironically, by a young college student who said she wasnt too concerned about russia's media woes, saying people can merely follow what they see on tv and make up their own minds. That's a nice idea, assuming you can go to your tv media sources and actually expect a diversity of viewpoints -- try that today in russia and you get bupkus, nada, nichevo....

Next door in the UNESCO forum, Nitin Desai and Adama Sassekou gave good presentations on the knowledge society. Mr. Sassekou was very passionate, so much so it even came through the french-to-english translation. He talked about the importance of knowledge versus information, and how the wsis declaration attempts to address the needs of real people rather than just lofty diplomatic goals. In tomorrow's unesco session, President Obasanjo of Nigeria will speak - hopefully I'll be able to attend.

I wrapped up the evening at the press conference for the world summit awards. It felt like a dubai family reunion since so many fellow jurors were in attendance. Afterwards several of us tried to find a convenient place to grab a beer but gave up after being thoroughly confused by the free shuttle service. So eventually I returned to my hotel, had a plate of shwarma for dinner, then came to this godforsaken cybercafe to pen - stroke? - these words.

I'll wrap it up with that. The keyboard here is just awful and my fingers are killing me. better luck tomorrow at the summit. stay tuned.... -ac

Monday, December 08, 2003

Monday at WSIS: Setting the Stage 

View of the ICT4D ExpoIt's Monday in Geneva, and hundreds of people are scampering around the Palexpo getting ready for the world summit on the information society and the civil society side event known as the ict4d platform. The expo hall that's serving as home to the ict4d platform is an enormous space, thoroughly cluttered with displays and booths for NGOs and companies from around the world. Everyone is working with their jackets on, as the expo's giant warehouse doors are constantly open to allow trucks to bring inside other displays and expo equipment. Shaddy, Kanti and the team from OW south asia were busy testing the flash video they put together on Open Source software, while the Egyptian government kept busy setting up what could only be described as a Cairo teahouse in minature.

The big news of the day is that summit negotiators from participating countries have managed to reach a compromise agreement on most of the major outstanding issues that had been getting in the way of a final summit declaration. The Chinese and Iranian governments were unable to get language in the declaration that could have served as a potential threat to guaranteeing online freedom of expression-- language that even would have run counter to the UN declaration on human rights. The latest version incorporates new language that acknowledges the primacy of the human rights declaration:
We, the representatives of the peoples of the world, assembled in Geneva from 10-12 December 2003 for the first phase of the World Summit on the Information Society, declare our common desire and commitment to build a people-centred, inclusive and development oriented Information Society, where everyone can create, access, utilize and share information and knowledge, enabling individuals, communities and peoples to achieve their full potential in promoting their sustainable development and improving their quality of life, premised on the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and respecting fully and upholding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.



Meanwhile, the negotiators struck a deal regarding the future of Internet governance. Many countries in the developing world had been pushing for a UN-backed agency to manage the Net, while the US and others wanted to continue the role of the private sector in the process. The end result was to pass the buck: now they will set up a "working group" to sort out the issue between now and the next summit in late 2005. In other words, it's kinda like the Israelis and Palestinians saying they'd settled on a peace agreement, but as part of that agreement had created a committee to solve the final status of Jerusalem. An agreement, but it ain't exactly "final." So what we have is a placeholder that will allow the summit to proceed without governments walking out in frustration.

The one major issue that's still being hammered out today is that of the Senegal proposal to create a worldwide fund for investing in bridging the digital divide in the developing world. Many countries in the south are strongly supporting it, while governments like the US would rather have existing entities continue their work instead of creating a new agency to tackle it.

Lastly, representatives from the civil society caucus have been meeting today finalizing their own declaration of principles that they plan to release in response to the official wsis declaration. Even though this is the first summit to invite civil society to participate in the negotiations, civil society reps have felt their ideas haven't been taken as seriously as they would have liked, so they've decided to release their own shadow document. the new document should go public this Wednesday.... -ac


In Geneva for the Summit 

Hi everyone... Yesterday I arrived in Geneva after a long, sleepless night from Washington. It was a gray, dreary day, colder than I expected, but at least the chill helped keep me awake until the evening - not to mention copious amounts of coffee.

I paid my first visit to the Palexpo center, home to the summit. I managed to bump into part of the OneWorld entourage during registration, including Kanti Kumar from OW South Asia and OW director Peter Armstrong. Later that day, after a brief visit to Geneva Old Town, I met up with Kanti at his hotel to discuss our meeting on December 9. I had hoped to join him and the OW crew for dinner but by the time 7pm rolled around, I was struggling to complete coherent sentences. So I stopped at a cornershop, grabbed a container of yogurt for dinner, and went to sleep by 8pm. I hoped the long night sleep would help me be more productive the next day... ac

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

WSIS Bound This Weekend 

WSIS logoThis Saturday night, I'll be off to Geneva to attend the World Summit on the Information Society. It'll be an exciting week, with activists and political leaders from all over the globe converging to discuss strategies to bridge the digital divide. I'll be co-hosting a forum of the Digital Divide Network and the Digital Opportunity Channel, and will also participate in forums convened by UN Volunteers, the World Summit Awards and the Swiss NGO Ynternet.org. You can read my full itinerary by visiting my page on the WSIS Wiki Board set up by volunteers of the Digital Divide Network.

There will also be more than a hint of protest in the air, as media rights organizations challenge the event organizers for kowtowing to certain countries where freedom of expression is not guaranteed; these countries effectively blocked media rights groups like Reporters Without Borders from participating in the summit, which is a major mistake given the goal of the summit to build a more equitable information society. I mean, how equitable can it be if all people don't have equal access to information, including information that may be critical of one's government? Fortunately, groups like Reporters Without Borders will make their presence known in Geneva, even if it's not during the official WSIS events.

So between the summit activities, the dozens of sidebar events, and the inevitable political squabbling, it's going to make for an interesting week. Stay tuned to this blog for daily updates from Geneva, starting Monday, December 8.... -ac

Happy Birthday, WWWEDU! 

Nine years ago today, I created an online community called WWWEDU -- an email discussion list for discussing the role of the Web in education. Nearly 3300 days later, WWWEDU is still going strong, with around 1400 members from dozens of countries around the world. WWWEDU is the longest-running discussion for teachers interested in the role of the Web in education. If you're interested in learning more, you can visit the WWWEDU homepage at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/wwwedu. And to all of you who are members of the group, happy birthday, everyone! -ac

Monday, December 01, 2003

Thanksgiving Luau and Hawai'ian Wedding Bells 

Hi everyone... I hope you all had a good Thanksgiving last week (at least for those of you who celebrate Thanksgiving, which is a decidedly American holiday). Susanne and I spent the week in Hawaii to participate in the wedding of two of our friends. Susanne served as one of the bridesmaids, while I became the defacto wedding planner, coordinating the wedding rehearsal and serving as liaison with the staff of the reception site. It's the first wedding we've attended since our own wedding last May, and it was a lot of fun. And it certainly didn't hurt that we had to go to Hawai'i for the wedding. The trip flew by very quickly, faster than you can say "aloha" (or "Israel Kamakawiwo'ole" if you prefer a bigger mouthful). We spent a week in Oahu, dividing our time between my aunt and uncle's condo in Waikiki to a group beach house we shared with friends of the bride and groom in Lanikai -- perhaps the prettiest beach on the island. Susanne and I also managed to take a whirlwind tour of the North Shore, where we got to see all the pro surfers practicing for the Triple Crown of Surfing. All in all it was a marvelous trip; we'll certainly have to go back at some point in the next few years... -ac

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