THE World Summit on Information Technology ended in Tunis yesterday with a certain degree of acrimony, caused more by the heavy–handed tactics of the host government towards some individuals and the media than by disagreement on the issues being debated. What had seemed likely to be a major area of disagreement, the control which the United States exercises on the operations of the Internet, was dealt with quite sensibly by the decision to create an Internet Governance Forum in which issues of concern to all nations, such as cybercrime, junk mail, viruses, pornography and censorship, can be discussed openly while the US continues with its existing light-touch management. The Forum will initially have a five-year life but before that is over the basic question of America's “ownership” of the Internet is certain to return. The problem is that many nations do not accept that the US is neutral or objective in international affairs; the other problem is that the US and many other countries suspect that if the Internet were put in the hands of the UN it would be subjected to political pressures from countries with a restrictive view of what freedom of information means. The Summit was called mainly to discuss how the benefits of information technology can be made more widely available to Third World countries. It may be a cliche that “information is power” but it happens to be true and the great majority of developing countries are handicapped by their people's limited access to IT in its widest applications, whether for big and small businessses, agriculture, education and health. Unfortunately, no prospect of funding specifically for IT development emerged from the Summit although investment in this area would bring quick dividends for many countries. There was, however, encouraging evidence at the Summit that IT manufacturers are beginning to think about the needs of poor countries as well as about what they can sell on the prosperous High Streets. One of the most interesting devices shown was a US$100 clockwork computer under development by Massachusetts Institute of Technology; a similar project is being developed at Cambridge University.


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