14/15 March: Charter-Workshop in Berlin
  Towards a "Charter of Civil Rights for Sustainable Knowledge Societies"
 
 
  Charter-Workshop in Berlin: Lively Debate on the Issues of the WSIS

NGO representatives, academics, and many more interested people met at the Heinrich Boell Foundation in Berlin on 14 and 15 March to discuss the main themes and topics of the WSIS and the information society. In a series of working groups, participants discussed and further developed the "Charter of Civil Rights for Sustainable Knowledge Societies", which had been initiated by the foundation, and which is now to be debated and amended by German civil society.


 
 
   
  Johann Bizer illustrates the challenges of the information age on privacy.
 
 
  One of the central themes of the charter - freedom of knowledge vs intellectual property rights - represented a common thread of many of the working groups and presentations: Who controls knowledge and information, and what can be done against the prevalent commodification of knowledge, which is based on exploitation and artificial shortage of this generally free good? Stefan Merten from the organisation Oekonux set the tone at the very beginning by calling for the abolition of intellectual property rights for creative acts and referring to Copyleft as an alternative. Merten was not alone with his view that free software can be seen as an example and an important tool for a different vision of the knowledge and information society. The working group on infrastructures, for example, called for open technical standards as a crucial aspect of a democratic information society, and the working group dealing with the digital divide referred to open source as an important tool for the Global South.

However, the obstacles towards access were not seen as limited to the North-South divide. Discrimination stemming from education, disabilities or gender were also highlighted. In addition to universal access and information freedoms, informational self-determination represented one of the crucial demand by the Charta working groups. According to Rena Tangens, surveillance and intrusion into privacy are not just the problems of individuals but may lead to a society of control through the back-door, as people are likely to adapt their behaviour to such dangers and thus to self-limit their rights to freedom of expression or freedom to meet.

Diversity as a main contrast to control was emphasised particularly by the working group on cultural and media diversity. Hans J. Kleinsteuber called for the preservation of local cultural features, but also for the development of hybrid cultural forms as well as the dialogue of cultures, and Barbara Thomaß pleaded passionately for public service media.

While there was strong agreement on the central issues of the Charter, this was less so concerning some of the terminology. Illustrating one general line of conflict, the two scholars Rainer Kuhlen and Konrad Ott argued in their opening dialogue on whether the expression "sustainability" can be applied to the issue of knowledge and the Charter, particularly. Others were not happy about the term knowledge society and favoured the term information- or communication society. Such issues will have to be resolved in further discussion.

The outcomes of the lively debate during two days of workshops will result in a new draft of the Charter and will be further discussed in meetings as well as on the web. In late May, the Charter will be submitted as a contribution for the WSIS process.

 
 Konrad Ott and Rainer Kuhlen discussed sustainability and knowledge ecology.
 
 Jeannette Hofmann introduced and moderated the working group on "knowledge as a public good".


 
 
 
 
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