We, the representatives of the peoples of the world, . . . declare our common desire and commitment to build a people-centered, inclusive and development-oriented Information Society, where everyone can create, access, utilize and share information and knowledge, enabling individuals, communities and peoples to achieve their full potential in promoting their sustainable development and improving their quality of life, premised on the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and respecting fully and upholding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
-Declaration of Principles, United Nations World Summit on the Information Society
Yesterday, May 17, was World Telecommunication and Information Society Day (WTISD), which recognizes the power of the Internet and other information and communication technologies (ICTs) to improve society by expanding access to information and knowledge. This is key to our mission in the Office of Science and Technology Policy, where we work every day to leverage technology to share information and meet the needs of the public. The global community’s dedication to building a worldwide Information Society only continues to grow, based in large part on the Declaration of Principles and Tunis Commitment from the 2003-2005 United Nations World Summit on the Information Society, both of which were negotiated and supported by the United States.
The U.S. has a proud history of supporting the growth and adoption of ICTs: a history that dates back centuries, to the establishment of the Nation itself. The Founding Fathers, when drafting the U.S. Constitution and the country’s early laws, faced significant information policy and access challenges. They had helped to establish a new democracy—with a government of the people, by the people, and for the people—in a country in which people were widely dispersed, and often undereducated. As a result, our Nation’s first leaders worked to create mechanisms for communicating and disseminating information in order to promote trade and economic development, and to help individuals obtain the information and skills necessary to participate meaningfully in their own governance. As President and “Father of the Constitution” James Madison once said, “A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it is but a prologue to a farce, or a tragedy, or both.”
Of course, access to government information is just as vital to nations with highly-developed technological and industrial capacities as it was to the colonial United States. Governments today create vast amounts of information with economic and social value, including but not limited to consumer information, statistical compilations, and information for academic and scientific uses. Recognition of these beneficial applications is one of the many reasons the Administration continues to support strong open-access policies, such as our efforts to increase access to the results of Federally-funded scientific research and to make open and machine-readable the new default for government information. It’s also why the Administration is working to expand student access to next-generation broadband and modern technology in the classroom through efforts such as the ConnectED initiative.
From the colonial era to the Internet age, the United States has a long cultural and social history of supporting and encouraging public access to information: an attitude that is closely linked with our constitutional and statutory guarantees of freedom of expression, freedom of the press, transparent governance, and democracy. We hope you will join us in celebrating WTISD and join in our efforts to expand access to information and new, innovative technologies in order to better our Nation and our world.
Nancy E. Weiss is Senior Advisor to the Chief Technology Officer at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.