In a groundbreaking decision on UNESCO’s role in the digital age, on Tuesday, 17 November 2015 the Organization’s 195 Member States endorsed options for action on Internet-related issues, including embracing the concept of Internet Universality.
The General Conference resolution endorsed the options proposed in the study Keystones to foster inclusive Knowledge Societies – Access to information and knowledge, Freedom of Expression, Privacy and Ethics on a Global Internet.
The Keystones study emerged from Resolution 52 of the 37th Session of UNESCO’s General Conference in November 2013, which called for the preparation of “a comprehensive study on Internet-related issues, within the mandate of UNESCO, including access to information and knowledge, freedom of expression, privacy, and ethical dimensions of the information society.”
To this end, UNESCO engaged in a multistakeholder consultative process that included discussions at seven international conferences and a questionnaire that received more than 200 responses from United Nations bodies, governments, academia, civil society and the private sector. The study culminated with the CONNECTing the Dots conference, a multistakeholder event held at UNESCO Headquarters in March 2015 that convened more than 400 participants.
The Keystones study was officially launched at the 10th Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Brazil on 13 November 2015.
The General Conference resolution adopted the 38 options for action laid out in the Keystones study, which arose from the Outcome Document of the CONNECTing the dots conference.
Notably, the resolution endorses Internet Universality as a concept that summarizes UNESCO’s positions towards the Internet.
Internet Universality points to four fundamental principles that can be summarized in the acronym R.O.A.M.: that the Internet should be (i) human Rights-based (ii) Open, (iii) Accessible to all, and (iv) nurtured by Multi-stakeholder participation.
Other options include reinforcing UNESCO’s leadership in continued implementation of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) outcomes and the Internet Governance Forum; affirming that fundamental human rights and access to information and knowledge across society support sustainable development; and strengthening the cross-cutting role of the Internet in all of UNESCO programmatic activities, including Priority Africa, Priority Gender Equality, support to Small Islands Developing States and Least Developed Countries, as well as in UNESCO’s leadership of the International Decade for the Rapprochement of Cultures.
In addition to UNESCO’s continued work in promoting universal access to information and knowledge, fostering freedom of expression online and off-line, and building ethical principles for knowledge societies, the Organization now has a strong mandate to work on issues related to privacy. This includes supporting research and best practices on the impacts on privacy of digital interception, collection, storage and use of data, as well as the role of anonymity and encryption in enabling privacy protection and freedom of expression.
Cross-cutting issues were also highlighted, such as Media and Information Literacy, protection of journalistic sources, harmonization of national laws with international human rights law, and network neutrality.