OECD: Mobilizing Civil Society for the Internet Ministerial

A series of meetings in Ottawa, Canada this week started setting the foundation for civil society participation in the Seoul Ministerial on The Future of the Internet Economy. IGP is involved in this initiative, along with APC and EPIC's Public Voice, as part of the reference group coordinating civil society participation. Preparatory meeting were joined to a “Technology Foresight Forum” on “The Participative Web” (a.k.a. Web 2.0).

There were 3 meetings of interest. First, there was an initial exploratory gathering of civil society Forum participants on Wednesday October 3rd. Second, there were official OECD intergovernmental meetings on Thursday October 4th, which two civil society representatives were allowed to attend. Finally there was a liaison betwen nonstate actors and the South Korean government officials responsible for organizing the logistical aspects of the Seoul meeting.

The first meeting was attended by about a dozen civil society participants in the Forum, including myself and YJ Park from Syracuse University, Marc Rotenberg and Allison Knight of EPIC, Pippa Lawson of the Canadian Public Interest Law Clinic, Bill Huzar of the Consumer Council of Canada, Katherine Harris from the Sunlight Foundation, Manon Ress of KEI, Eddan Katz of Yale Information Society Project, two other Canadian consumer activists whose names I failed to record, and two trade unionists. This meeting, ably chaired by Rotenberg, discussed what issues interested the people there and their goals for participation. No single theme emerged; issues such as access to knowledge, opposition to censorship, privacy, consumer protection and broadband access all emerged.

It became clear during these discussions that a joint civil society background document, either responding to the draft governmental declaration or developing one of their own, should be ready by the Paris meeting in 6-7 March. There will need to be intense efforts to develop, discuss and exchange ideas, including but not limited to the monthly Public Voice teleconferences.

The official OECD meeting on Oct. 4th was a closed meeting, limited only to two civil society representatives, Marc Rotenberg and Karen Banks of APC. Hopefully we will get more detailed reports for them, respecting whatever constraints they may be under regarding disclosure. We do know, however, that the assembled governments officially recognized the “Civil society reference group” (along with ICANN, the Internet Governance Forum, and the Global Alliance) as one of the entities to invite to the Ministerial.

The liaison with the South Korean government organizers from the Ministry of Information and Communication, which was attended by business and Internet society representatives as well as civil society, achieved progress in reaching common expectations about each other's roles and activities. On June 16, 2008, civil society will receive a section of the grand ballroom to hold a “stakeholder day” wherein civil society can finalize their statement for presentation to the Ministers. The capacity of this room will be about 300 people. There will also be a separate forum for business, run by OECD's already-established Business and Industry Advisory Council (BIAC), and one for the “Internet Technical Community,” also known as the Internet Society. The Civil society forum will also somehow encompass the trade union element, which is recognized by OECD as the Trade Union Advisory Council (TUAC). There is some talk of having a separate statement for Civil Society and TUAC, even if the meetings are joined. There is also talk of working with local groups to hold a pre-Ministerial meeting of some sort.

The South Korean government will allocate some money for supporting the travel and lodging for civil society speakers, and will rely on civil society's reference group to select the ones that get support. The amount will be set by their Parliament in November.

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