Delegates fail to agree on open-source ‘support’

A three-day meeting that brought together Asian governments, organizations, companies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) ended Wednesday morning with the approval of a declaration that, among other things, calls for encouraging the development of open-source software.

A draft of the declaration had called for open source to be “supported” but was changed after objections from the U.S. government delegation late Tuesday night.

The U.S. opposition was largely perceived to be support for its domestic software companies and in particular Microsoft Corp., said officials from other governments on the sidelines of the conference on Wednesday. After a short debate with a number of countries, including Pakistan, that wanted the original language to remain, all sides finally reached agreement and the declaration was changed to read: “Development and deployment of open-source software should be encouraged, as appropriate, as should open standards for ICT (information and communications technology) networking.”

The change was one of a number made during a late-night session at the end of the second day of the Asian Regional Conference. The event is one of a number of conferences being held around the world to solicit regional input for the World Summit on the Information Society, a government-leader level U.N. summit that will take place in December this year in Geneva, Switzerland, and in Tunis in 2005.

At the meeting, representatives of 48 countries, 21 international organizations, 53 private sector entities and 116 NGOs discussed a number of issues related to the information society and debated over the content of the final output of the meeting, a document called the Tokyo Declaration. The declaration will go forward to a meeting in Geneva next month and bring together participants from around the world as part of the large planning process that must precede the December summit.

The declaration touched on a wide range of issues related to the information society and included a call for greater information security, a balance between content owners and users in the area of intellectual property rights, and more work on the digital divide.

The lack of awareness of the need for information security was recognized as a weakness for the Asia-Pacific region. The declaration touched upon the need for greater awareness of cybercrime and cyberterrorism while recognizing that equal and fair access to information technology is also important.

“Special attention should be paid to the fact that ICTs can potentially be used for purposes that are inconsistent with the objectives of maintaining international stability and security, and may adversely affect the integrity of the infrastructure within states, to the detriment of their security in both civil and military fields,” it said.

In the area of copyright, the declaration recognized the “vital role” that intellectual property rights play in innovation in software, e-commerce and related areas, but also noted the need to strike a fair balance between such rights and the interests of users.

The same two areas were identified by a Japanese government official as possible areas of which participants to WSIS in December will agree require the creation of a legal and policy framework that spans international borders. Agreement on the need to create a global legal and policy framework for the information society is one of several goals already identified for the summit.

“I think the big issues that need to be tackled are intellectual property rights and information security,” said Yoshio Tsukio, vice-minister for policy coordination and Japan’s Ministry of Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications (MPHPT).

The conference heard more pledges to bridge the digital divide and several points in the declaration focused on extending the benefits of the information society to the poor and otherwise disadvantaged.

“The digital divide unfortunately is widening,” said Kim Hak Su, the executive secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for the Asia-Pacific and the U.N.’s highest ranking official in Asia.

“It is not only between the countries but within the countries and between generations and the able-bodied and disabled. The international community is trying to help to assist those countries who do not have a national strategy and a national political commitment is also essential. Also, the Government of Japan is offering a substantial ODA (overseas development aid) package to developing member countries,” he told IDG News Service.

“This digital divide will be with us for some years to come and we have to work very hard. There is no magic formula but we should work hard,” he said. Kim admitted that promises to help have been made before and the problem often comes down to paying for things. “We need the private sector to do many things. Governments cannot do everything anymore.”

“We need more money and more discussion but Tokyo has set the direction,” he said. “The direction is right and WSIS could be important because political commitment is also important.”

Speaking after the event, a number of NGOs that had taken part in the summit said they were broadly satisfied with the outcome but had hoped for greater commitment in a number of areas such as a social justice. They were satisfied with the inclusion of a reference to human rights in the declaration, despite some attempts to change it, they said.

The groups also repeated protests over the deregistration of NGOs from Taiwan on Tuesday as the result of repeated protests by the Chinese government delegation.

“There is discrimination against the principles of WSIS for a comprehensive inclusion of all stakeholders in the information society including civil society, which includes Taiwanese NGOs as well,” said Chuang Chiting, the international affairs director of the Taiwan Association for Human Rights.

“As Taiwan is a very powerful ICT country and it provides major input to the information society, we do hope our voices can be heard and be constructive towards a better future in the international community,” she said. The representatives were allowed to stay at the meeting under the affiliation of a Japanese NGO.

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