World Summit on the Information Society

Sascha Brawer brawer at
Fri Mar 14 03:09:49 UTC 2003

Hi all

It seems that the Free Software movement has well-informed allies in
rather unexpected areas.  At least to me, it was news that traditional
development-collaboration organizations are concerned about Information
Technology, to an extent that they are discussing software patents with
the Patent Office.  So, please let me describe an experience before I ask
a few questions.

Today, a number of Swiss non-governmental organizations met in Berne to
discuss WSIS, the United Nations World Summit on the Information Society
[1] whose first part will take place in Geneva in December 2003.  Most of
the audience was rather remote from computing: Besides Alex Schröder and
myself, who were both representing Wilhelm Tux [2], probably pretty much
everyone else was from a media, development, women's, human rights, ...
organization. Correspondingly, a big part of the discussion was about
topics like the digital divide, community radios, or oppression of
journalists -- all very important, but not immediately related to Free

However, the official position paper ('platform') of the Swiss NGOs [3]
does include short statements about Free Software and Intellectual
Property rights.  The symposium brochure contains several paragraphs
about these topics.  Actually, the organizers turned out to be quite
familiar with the goals of our movement.  For example, Chantal Peyer of
'Bread for All' [4], who co-organized the symposium, has read the GNU
philosophy pages and is well aware of the discussion around software
patents.  Chantal told me that their position on the patent system
actually is one of the areas where they got into a debate with the Swiss
administration, so they had discussions with a representative from the
patent office.

I was quite surprised and delighted to hear this, of course.  In my
humble opinion, the least we as proponents of Free Software should do is
to become more visible to these supporters of our goals.  While I
personally doubt that big-scale events like WSIS can have very concrete
effects, the world summit in December might be a good opportunity for
getting publicity and more supporters. So, I'd like to ask a few things:

* Does the FSF have any plans with regards to the WSIS summit in Geneva?
I've found a few postings on the Web containing both 'WSIS' and ('GNU' or
'FSF'), but nothing too concrete. The official list of WSIS participants
does not seem to include FSF.

* Are people at FSF Europe aware of WSIS? Did the country chapters
establish any contacts to the respective preparation groups in their
area? Maybe other groups will be surprised, too, to hear about unexpected
supporters of Free Software.

* Would it make sense to have more texts catering to NGOs, for instance
explaining why Free Software is good for developing countries?

* Another area where NGOs might become our ally is encryption: Why is it
that the likes of Amnesty International, Greenpeace etc. are not loud
voices in the discussion about outlawing cryptographic technology? After
all, one would presume that these people had an interest in crypto being

* Wilhelm Tux could officially sign the Swiss NGO position paper [3].

Personally, I wouldn't mind going to some preparatory meetings,
explaining the Free Software movement to NGO people, etc., but I'm sure
there are people around who are better suited for this.

I'd be sorry if all this was old news to everyone but me. I did try to
find information about FSF's participation at WSIS on the Web, but I had
no real success.  I think it would be quite awkward if such a big-scale
event about the "Information Society," which also is a chance to meet
many potential supporters, was without the presence of one of the most
important groups.

Best regards

-- Sascha Brawer, brawer at [5]
   Berne, Switzerland

[2] Swiss Campaign for Free Software,
[3] (cf. sections II.5 and II.6)
[4] Development NGO funded by Swiss protestant churches;
    (I'm not there anymore and should have moved my page a long time ago..)

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