WSIS - 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).

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