The ITU will hold its quadrennial Plenipotentiary Conference this November. At the conference – PP-18 – the ITU will be setting out its strategic and financial agenda for the upcoming years, which will involve the discussion of a range of Internet-related policy issues that concern the exercise of human rights online. It is therefore critical for civil society voices to be heard at PP-18.
In recent years, issues including online privacy, cybersecurity, and the gender digital divide have become significant flashpoints within the ITU work-agenda, particularly as the focus on the Internet of Things and over-the-top (OTT) services grows. Proposals put forth by ITU Members during other recent conferences, including the World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly in 2016 and the World Telecommunication Development Conference in 2017, show the growing importance of these issues and highlight the likelihood of these being put forward again during the regional preparatory meetings leading up to PP-18. Many among these proposals bear serious implications for the free and full exercise of civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights online – rights which people are entitled to online as well as offline – as well as the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda.
Significant barriers currently impede robust and meaningful civil society participation in ITU decision-making processes: most notably, the high financial costs of attendance at the regional meetings, and conferences such as PP-18. Despite the new ITU Document/Information Access Policy, access to proposals from ITU Member States continue to be an issue. Moreover, restrictions that limit participation of civil society in some study groups and working groups to only Member States continue to restrict civil society from becoming more active. As a result, civil society is often barred from protecting human rights against adverse policy and standards development.
We are a group of civil society organizations committed to participating in the discussions at PP-18, despite these barriers. In the months ahead, we urge civil society to get more involved. Specifically, interested organizations can:
- Request to join the national delegations of Member States, and observe or participate in the national or regional preparatory processes for PP-18. The most effective way to influence PP-18 outcomes is by engaging with national delegations, and working within these delegations to ensure that these viewpoints are taken into account, though this is not a substitute for ensuring an independent civil society voice at PP-18 itself;
- Participate in the ITU’s open consultation processes, including the next held by the Council Working Group on International Internet-related Public Policy Issues (CWG-Internet) in early 2019, and for the ITU’s Strategic and Financial Plans 2020-2023 (CWG-SFP);
- Encourage the ITU to establish an open platform for public views to be heard ahead of PP-18, as was offered in 2014, with sufficient time for participation, and participate in such a platform; and
- Follow what Member States say and do in other spaces and processes leading up to PP-18.
Fundamentally, civil society participation at PP-18 will only be as effective as our preparation, coordination and collaboration from now until the end of the conference. Therefore, we encourage civil society organizations that are interested to join the newly established Civil Society PP-18 mailing list to continue the discussion. We will use this list to plan future coordination meetings, share information, and work together. Click here to join the mailing list. (New members will be added to the list on a ‘no objection’ basis following a 24-hour consideration period.)
As the ITU looks to its financial and strategic future this November, we must ensure that it protects the future of a free and open Internet.
Asociación por los Derechos Civiles
Association for Progressive Communications
Global Partners Digital