Info ethics ’98

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Second UNESCO International Congress on the
Ethical, Legal and Societal Challenges of Cyberspace



The Congress INFOethics’98, held in Monaco from 1 to 3 October 1998, was opened by the Representative of the Director-General of UNESCO, Mr Henrikas Yushkiavitshus, Assistant Director-General for Communication, Information and Informatics and by the Representative of the Minister of State of the Principality of Monaco, Mr Jean Pastorelli. It was attended by 160 participants from 66 countries including lawyers, government officials, technicians, academics and the media. Twelve international intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations were represented at the Congress. The debates proceeded as planned in six sessions each illustrated by short video clips prepared by the Institut National de l’Audiovisuel (INA), France. A report on the results of a UNESCO Virtual Forum on Information Ethics that took place from October 1997 to April 1998 was presented by its co-ordinator, Mr Rainer Kuhlen, University of Constance (Germany). The closing speech was delivered by Ms Vigdis Finnbogadóttir, Chairperson of the World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology and former President of the Republic of Iceland.

The Congress was chaired by the President of the German Commission for UNESCO, Mr Peter Canisius. A total of 28 speakers from 23 countries participated in the six discussion panels. The discussions were moderated by representatives from six international organizations. The six moderators prepared a report and conclusions on the discussions in their respective sessions and presented them to the plenary at the closing session of the Congress. On the initiative of the Chairman, a drafting group prepared a statement proposing possible lines of action that the Organization could consider to follow up on the issues discussed during the Congress.
The organization of this event benefited from financial support from the Government of Monaco, the Agence pour la Francophonie (ACCT) and some National Commissions for UNESCO. The Direction de Tourisme et des Congrès de Monaco provided the physical facilities for the organization of the Congress.

There was general agreement that it is useful that UNESCO continues to follow up on the different ethical and societal aspects of the applications of new information technologies particularly when it concerns the challenges of open access to the contents disseminated through the electronic information media.
The themes and topics selected for the Congress were considered pertinent and concrete. Participants appreciated that enough time was allocated under each theme for discussion. Most of the presentations were very substantive and of high quality and were followed by animated debates with the participants from the floor.
The conclusions of these debates, as well as the final statement issued by the Congress, can serve as a basis for future UNESCO action in the field of INFOethics in its domain of competence. These reports are summarised below.

Roundtable 1: Information in Public Domain
To further develop information in public domain through activities that:
1.1 improve access to public information itself;
1.2 provide freedom of access to means of accessing and processing information - to computer software;
It was noted that attempts by commercial software producers to control the distribution, adaptation and use of software through the application of copyright laws are being countered by free software groups which develop new software through collective efforts and share the results freely with users.
1.3 Increase the role of the public sector in making electronic networks (principally the Internet) accessible to all on equal terms.
The free software movement represents an attempt to counter the influence of commercial

interests in what should also be the public domain.

1.4 Raise awareness of the state responsibility to formulate and implement new kinds of policies to deal with information in cyberspace.
The rapid growth of the Internet has given rise to a number of problems for the solution of which some have proposed more state intervention, while others pointed to the need of establishing principles of freedom in cyberspace similar to those of freedom of the sea established in a much earlier era.
1.5 Provide guaranteed access to the benefits of the Information Society for all humankind.
Discussion of the respective roles of the private and public sectors in the development of the Internet tends to focus on such problems as inequality of access to information and the abuse of the new media for criminal or antisocial purposes.

Roundtable 2: Multilingualism

The national authorities, UNESCO and other international organizations are encouraged to watch that the world balance be maintained in matters concerning access and production of information on the Internet by:

2.1 developing multilingualism on the Internet;
2.2 developing intelligent linguistic systems (recognition of languages, automated translation, TAO, etc.), together with the adoption of techniques for the drafting of original articles so that they are correctly translated by machines;
2.3 participating in the implementation of a world policy for character coding and for information input-output procedures;
2.4 encouraging the diffusion of cultural heritage;
2.5 promoting less used languages, either because they are in 5characters different from Latin, or are spoken by fewer people, or are not representing the language used in public administration (i.e. indigenous).
It was considered that, if the present trend in the Information Society is maintained, English will definitely become the international and business language; some European languages will be used regionally and for specialized communication all other languages will be exclusively used for local communications. Some predict that from 5 to 6 thousand of currently used languages only about one hundred will survive, which will lead to serious social, cultural and scientific consequences. There will be no real cultural and social exchanges as long as English is the only communication language on the Internet. This situation creates citizens of a “ second zone ”, discriminated populations. The overabundance of information on the Internet makes it also difficult to find the information that is accurate and of quality.

Roundtable 3: Privacy and Confidentiality Rights
Because the new communication technologies bring considerable challenges and opportunities to protect privacy, there is a need to increase trust and reliability in information networks, especially by:
3.1 applying Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the basic starting point to build an international campaign to boost privacy issues into the international agenda and make it more prominent. Prominence of the matter will make parties involved more accountable for the way in which they treat personal privacy.
3.2 working with organizations at the regional level to reach regional agreements on key privacy issues that can later be worked into a global consensus;
3.3 identifying companies, organizations and institutions that comply with Article 12 to promote the incorporation of privacy safeguards into institutions’ daily practices;
3.4 encouraging international organizations, like UNESCO, to raise awareness of this matter through international meetings so that civil society and government officials can grasp the full implications of privacy related challenges;
3.5 promoting work that is addressed to build agreed upon standards of what is acceptable and what is not from a citizen’s personal privacy point of view.

Roundtable 4: Proprietary and Security Rights
It was suggested that UNESCO pursue the following follow-up actions:
4.1 the strengthening of the role of libraries in support of users seeking orientation in the growing complexity of the information world including support via cyberspace (the Internet);
4.2 the definition and promotion of “fair use” of information technologies and their essential components;
4.3 the protection with respect to Intellectual Property Rights of human heritage from excesses of “privatisation”;
4.4 the identification of important issues overseen so far, such as Collective Property Rights of Indigenous People, and implementing such rights;
4.5 the refusal to accept that definitions and practices concerning “property” be continuously extended to reduce public access and free flow of information for the benefit of a few individuals or organizations at the public’s expense and, especially, institutions concerned with education, science and culture.
Some additional remarks were made concerning other possible actions:
4.6 to study the process of how developments of the flow of information influence moral aspects, intellectual property, privacy and responsibility (i.e. ISO 9000 “quality” measures/processes may provide means for this analysis);

4.7 to add UNESCO’s contribution to the Russian resolution presented to the UN concerning “Breakthroughs in the field of informatisation and telecommunication in the framework of international security”;
4.8 to protect basic rights of indigenous people (e.g. “InkaniNet”);
4.9 to collect and publicize existing codes of professional conduct and codes of ethics related to information technologies.

Roundtable 5: Cognitive Education

The participants suggested that:

5.1 there is a need to take specific action in order to ensure that the Information Society is for the benefit of all and our educational systems are meeting the challenges posed. This is particularly true because:

  • commercial interests are primarily generating developments and not social considerations;

  • technological tools are being used for the existing educational system rather than adjusting the educational system to take into consideration the availability of the new tools;

  • existing educational systems have not evolved quickly enough to take the technological developments into consideration;

  • one of the priority sectors of the population should be the children;

  • although distance learning is an important tool for the future, the tools and methodologies have not fully matured yet. Further work is still needed.

5.2 Specific actions should be taken in order to address the necessary changes in the educational system. The following actions are proposed:

  • promote the continuation of the dialogue initiated by this Conference on the issue of education in the cyberworld;

  • launch a series of studies on:

  1. how to ensure that teachers – particularly in the primary and secondary education system – be given the necessary skills to teach children in the 21st century;

  1. how can the current shortage of ICT skilled personnel best be handled and how to increase the level of graduates;

  1. what are the implications on developing countries of the current phenomenon of the migration of the skilled work force in information and communication technologies towards the developed world;

  1. what are the alternative mechanisms for evaluating student capabilities in the new context (e.g. increased importance of group working, capacity of memorizing facts or to analyze large volumes of data, etc.);

  1. how to promote citizenship in the global context. How should this be reflected in school curricula;

  1. how to forecast early enough the necessary skills that the future workforce will need in order to adjust the education system to address these needs.

5.3 There is a need for a series of mechanisms and actions to be put in place.
These include:

  • continue to develop an observatory of best practice examples in this field so experiences can be shared;

  • continue the dialogue process which has been initiated by this Conference and complementing it by setting up various fora (physical and virtual) bringing together representatives of the developing and developed world, minority groups, indigenous people, private sector, educational experts, technology experts, international and regional organizations etc..

Roundtable 6: Social, Economic and Multicultural responsibilities

A number of issues provoked discussion during the session:

6.1 The first one is the question of global governance. Its vision is predominately optimistic. The challenge is to prepare worldwide regulation for the era of individualization. There will have to be a re-examination of existing political structures to ensure a worldwide framework which is transparent and effective. At its heart, this issue calls for innovation and creativity from political leaders to bring about change which will respect fundamental individual and collective rights.
6.2 Systems for filtering and self-regulation is another important question. Aware of the opportunities for a decentralized approach and of the possibilities for those who use the technology themselves to determine the rules by which it is used, participants considered that the systems of filtering should be non-intrusive and flexible.
6.3 Existing standards of self-regulation through industry codes are low and most self-regulators have failed to deliver the standards they had set themselves. It is noted that key issues related to information technology – cultural and democratic pluralism, matters of cultural diversity and social justice – are absent from the codes of many of these agencies. Above all, the question of effective enforcement that can maintain public confidence remains unanswered. This is one area where the participants believe that there is a need for serious work on the part of UNESCO to review the quality of existing self-regulatory structures and to press for more effective and inclusive codes of practice.
6.4 Above all, participants are concerned about social exclusion and it is strongly felt that actions that combat exclusion should be given priority by UNESCO and other international agencies. This is an issue which is a problem in all countries as well as being traditionally a problem between countries which are rich in technical and economic resources and those in the process of development.
Social exclusion can be minimized by:

  • provision of affordable access to new information technology to all groups in society from all areas of the world;

  • expansion of the base of access through decentralized systems of administration, the provision of public information access points available to all groups in society and the availability of cheap, simple and robust technologies;

  • expansion of the linguistic and cultural base of information technology resources to challenge the existing dominance of the English language and North American cultural products and values. (Special emphasis here is placed on the need of indigenous people.)

6.5 Finally, the participants are united in the belief that the debate about the future in this critical field is much too narrow. It needs to be expanded to ensure that the key players – community leaders, information professionals, industry representatives as well as political leaders and regulators – are all brought to the same table. Without this level of inclusive debate serious progress towards addressing the societal challenges will not be made. UNESCO’s role in facilitating the expansion of the debate is of critical importance.

At the end of its work, the Congress issued the following statement prepared by a drafting group on the Chairperson’s request:

Statement of the 2nd UNESCO INFOethics Congress ´98

(October 3rd 1998)

UNESCO, since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights fifty years ago, has emphasized constantly that:

  1. “everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression, this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas to any media and regardless of frontiers” (Article 19), and

  1. “no one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family house or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of law against such interference or attacks” (Article 12) 1.

While the new communication media provide new opportunities they also produce new threats to these principles.
We, the participants of the INFOethics´98 Congress, consider the promotion of the role of information in the public domain, of multilingualism, the protection of privacy, confidentiality and security are vital issues.
In the light of the conclusions of the Conference,

  1. we recognize that the new information and communication environment will influence our societal structure and value systems;

  1. we believe, however, that it is the people who shall shape the future;

  1. we recognize that the improvement of the new environment is within the mandate of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO);

  1. we believe that the new electronic world should reflect and reinforce the world’s cultural and linguistic diversity and encourage international co-operation;

  1. we consider knowledge a public good that needs to be made publicly available in accordance with the principles of the free flow of information and of fair use.

We consider that among the most urgent problems in this context are those of freedom of access and personal privacy.
Access to the resources of the Internet should reinforce democratic participation and is a contemporary realization of the universal principle of the freedom of expression. Privacy is one of the most threatened values and needs special protection in the electronic world.

We recommend that UNESCO, in co-operation with UN and other international organizations, should:

1. promote and defend freedom of expression and privacy protection in cyberspace as well as in traditional media;

2. support all measures to overcome barriers between the information rich and the information poor;

3. promote and extend access to the public domain of information and communication;

4. promote education and training to achieve media competence for everyone;

5. contribute to a worldwide electronic forum on information ethics designed to support UNESCO´s work in that field;

6. promote interdisciplinary debate on all ethical implications of new communication technologies;

7. support actions to prevent the criminal abuse of the Internet;
8. support cultural diversity and multilingualism in cyberspace and take measures which allow every individual, every culture and every language to contribute to and benefit from the new store of world knowledge.
Paris, 02.11.1998

1 Cf. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Art. 19; cf. Art 12; United General Assembly Resolution 59 (I) of Dec. 14, 1946; General Assemby Resolution 45/76 A from Dec. 11 1990; General Conference of the UNESCO, 25th session 1989, Resolution 104

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