ITU PP14 Day 3: An overview

Quote of the day

“ITU is an old lady who serves the interests of us all.” – France

The real work begins… sort of

pp14-busan-twitterThe first meeting of the Working Group of Plenary was held on Day 3 in parallel with Plenary (more policy statements by Member States) and Committee 3 (budget control).

The Chair is Musab Abdulla from Bahrain, who I became a fan of during WCIT in 2012 (I embarrassed myself and freaked out Musab when I over-enthusiastically told him at IGF in Bali, “Oh my god, I’m such a fan of yours! I watched you on the WCIT webcast!”)

As with the any new group that is forming, the WG spent a lot of time trying to find common ground among its members. There was a particularly long discussion on the correct terminology for the groups to be spun out of the WG: were they to be informal groups, small groups, drafting groups or ad hoc groups? In the end, we had “ad hoc groups”. The group discussed Resolution 35, Telecommunication support for the protection of the environment. Some felt that a more recent resolution, Resolution 182, The role of telecommunications/information and communication technologies in regard to climate change and the protection of the environment, covered the contents of the older resolution, and the older resolution could be suppressed. Other States believed that Resolution 35 had elements that were not included in Resolution 182. In the end, the Chair suggested that any decision about suppressing Resolution 35 be deferred until proposals to amend Resolution 182 had been discussed and resolved.

Electioneering ramped up

So many receptions by Member States hoping to have their representatives elected to various ITU positions. If you were a head of delegation (many of the receptions were limited to the highest member of delegations only), you had a choice of:

  • Thailand’s morning coffee break (for all)
  • UK’s stand up cocktails over lunch (offsite)
  • Saudi Arabia’s lunch (for all)
  • Kenya’s lunch
  • France’s evening reception (offsite)
  • Canada’s evening reception (offsite)
  • India’s evening reception (offsite)
  • Mauritania’s evening reception (at the PP14 venue)
  • Nigeria’s dinner (at the PP14 venue)
  • Indonesia’s dinner (offsite, and beginning at 9 pm)

Nobody was interested in sponsoring an afternoon coffee break on Day 3.

If you think that all those evening receptions and dinners means that delegates are now carrying an extra 10 kilos or so weight this morning, think again. In an effort not to offend any hosting Member State (which could result in that Member State choosing not to vote for you), heads of delegation were flitting from event to event, often having to leave receptions before the food had begun to be served. Six evening receptions and dinners can result in an unintended fast… believe it or not.

Member States with candidates in the various elections taking place also took the opportunity to work the Plenary room before Plenary sessions formally began. Poland, with their large electioneering badges, were particularly active room workers.

More policy statements from Member States

Although these seem to be never-ending, they will come to a close shortly, I promise. We had a personal best on Day 3, with a total of 40 States presenting their policy statements:

  1. Thailand
  2. Tunisia
  3. Somalia
  4. Zimbabwe
  5. Nepal
  6. Iraq
  7. Ghana
  8. Cuba
  9. Papua New Guinea
  10. Nigeria
  11. Cameroon
  12. Malawi
  13. Rwanda
  14. Mozambique
  15. Jamaica
  16. Swaziland
  17. Chile
  18. Germany
  19. Kuwait
  20. Palestine
  21. Niger
  22. Turkey
  23. Georgia
  24. Vanuatu
  25. Italy
  26. Colombia
  27. Indonesia
  28. Burundi
  29. Djibouti
  30. Laos
  31. Paraguay
  32. Costa Rica
  33. Bangladesh
  34. South Sudan
  35. Democratic Republic of the Congo
  36. Samoa
  37. Philippines
  38. Israel
  39. France
  40. Namibia

An overall trend in many of the policy statements

Over the three days of policy statements to date, a very large number of developing countries have made requests for ITU to continue its capacity building work. For many developing States, ICT-related capacity within the government is still at such limited levels, the government cannot even begin to think about developing their own policy positions on issues such as child online protection, cybersecurity and Internet governance. Often, for developing or very small countries, the department or ministry handling ICT issues also handles a broad range of other issues completely unrelated to ICTs. Such governments, therefore, often rely heavily on the ITU to provide them with assistance and advice on how to advance ICT within their borders. Those States often also rely heavily on the leading G77 States to set the policy direction for developing countries and will support general G77 positions on ICT issues. These developing countries, therefore, tend not to include policy positions in their policy statements, but emphasize, more pragmatically, the need for ITU to continue its capacity building activities. This doesn’t mean that their statements are any less important. What it does mean, however, is that not all Member States are engaging, or interested in engaging, in many of the policy debates that will be happening over the next two weeks here. However, if it ever comes down to a vote, these States with less capacity will tend to align themselves with G77 positions on the issues. While developed western States tend to be exasperated by this, it reflects the reality that when you don’t have the capacity to develop your own views on an issue, you tend to align yourself with those most like you: in this case, the better developed, but still developing, leaders of the G77.

Highlights from the policy statements

  • Cuba stated that they believed many of the goals of WSIS remain unfulfilled and that PP14 was appropriate forum to address these outstanding issues. It also took the opportunity to talk about the USA’s trade blockade against Cuba, noting that despite 55 years of USA’s blockade, Cuba had still managed to make many advances in its ICT sector. It also highlighted attempts by others (that is, the USA) to use of ICTs to undermine Cuba’s political and socioeconomic framework. At the ITU Council 2014 meeting that took place mid-year, Cuba explicitly mentioned the “Cuban twitter”, Zunzuneo, but it did not name that particular program by the USA here in PP14.
  • France supported efforts by outgoing Secretary General, Dr Toure, to turn the ITU into a multi-actor, multistakeholder organization. It acknowledged that ITU is working in more open way, with free access to online texts and more transparent processes. Amusingly, the live English translation of France’s statement included the following delightful statement: “ITU is an old lady who serves the interests of us all.” Grande dame. France meant “grande dame”. It should not have been translated into English.
  • Germany stated thatITU should not be politicized, as this would overburden the institution. Germany was strongly in support of multistakeholder Internet governance, stating, “governance of the Internet cannot be legitimately discussed in the restricted circles of government representatives in a technical organization. For further developing Internet governance, Germany will therefore stick to the multi-stakeholder model of internet governance.” Germany also expressed strong support for applying human rights to the online environment.
  • Ghana highlighted the role big data could potentially play in combatting the current Ebola outbreak. Given three Member States (Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia) were specifically requested by South Korea not to attend PP14 due to the government’s concerns about Ebola entering the country, it seems unfortunate that these three most affected countries will not be able to participate in the Secretary General’s Ebola Consultative and Brain storming session happening on Monday 27 October at 3:30 pm. Ghana also expressed support for multistakeholder governance, noting that the composition of their delegation was evidence of their commitment to multistakeholderism.
  • Iran called for the creation of an international coalition of ICT sector actors with the aim of preventing terrorists from using ICTs to further their goals.
  • Israel chose not to respond to Palestine’s policy statement, saying that PP14 was not the appropriate venue to discuss its differences with Palestine. But it’s unlikely that this will be the last time that the Palestine/Israel conflict is raised at PP14.
  • Nigeria highlighted how they had used social media (a combination of an Android app, Facebook and Twitter) to combat Ebola.
  • Palestine, which is not yet formally recognized as a Member State,objected to Israel’sblocking of Palestine’s access to ICT equipment, in contravention with ITU resolutions.
  • Samoa stated that they believed that the development of ICTs in their country had been a contributing factor from their move from “Least Developing Country” to “Developing Country” on the UN scale of development. With the role ICTs can play largely missing from the discussion of post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals, this was a timely reminder of how ICTs really do enable substantial economic development, even for small island states like Samoa.
  • Somalia spoke about their enthusiasm for using ICT in innovative ways, including national identity cards that would be partially based on IPv6 numbers. I suspect Somalia may not be aware of the privacy debates in the early days of IPv6 about the potential to track users by binding a user’s (theoretically unique) MAC address to create their IPv6 address.

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