Global Forum: Policy Frameworks for the Digital Economy

The New Policy Agenda: The Way Forward - Conclusions and Follow-up

The Public Voice Priorities: Report from the Public Voice Forum on 14 January

Marc Rotenberg, EPIC Executive Director

Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development

Honolulu, Hawaii

15-16 January 2003

Mr. Chairman, delegates to the OECD, thank you for the opportunity to present the report from the Public Voice forum held earlier this week.

The Public Voice was established to bring the voice of the noncommercial community to policy decisions affecting the future of the Internet. Over the last six years, Public Voice conferences have been held all around the world on topics ranging from cryptography policy and privacy protection to emerging market economies and electronic commerce. Many of the Public Voice conference have been held in conjunction with meetings of the OECD to provide the opportunity for civil society organizations to participate in discussion that might otherwise be limited to business and government. I invite you to visit our web site at

This week representatives from the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), Consumers International, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), the National Consumers League, and the Trade Union Advisory Council (TUAC), experts in Internet law and policy in Asia, technical and security experts, as well as representative from the Federal Trade Commission, the OECD, and office of consumer protection here in Hawaii, participated in our meeting. We explored two topics that were also under consideration by the OECD: Security and Trust in Ecommerce and Inclusion and Participation in the Information Society.

Consumer Voice is Critical in Digital Economy

Federal Trade Commissioner Mozelle Thompson opened our conference with the observation that the "digital economy has created a demand driven economy." In the United States, consumer spending accounts for 80% of economic demand. In France it is 50% and in Great Britain it is 60%. Commissioner Thompson pointed out that consumer confidence is therefore critical to the success of the digital economy. He further observed that the online economy is transforming the offline economy. As a result, consumers are becoming more knowledgeable about business practices. Commissioner Thompson made clear that the "consumer voice is critical" to the future of the digital economy.

OECD Work on Privacy, Consumer Protection and Security Provides Framework to Promote Trust in Digital Economy

Anne Carblanc described the recent work of the OECD in promoting consumer trust and confidence. She made clear at the outset that the OECD viewed trust as a key issue. She reviewed the implementation of the OECD Privacy Guidelines, the OECD Consumer Guidelines, and the OECD Security Guidelines.

Ms. Carblanc recommended efforts to extend the consensus of OECD policies to the non-OECD countries. She further recommended efforts to: (1) extend risk assessment to privacy and consumer protection; (2) develop cross-border enforcement means for privacy and security; (3) encourage markets for Privacy Enhancing Technology; (4) continue education.

Consider Impact of Advice and Information Web Sites

Anna Fielder, director of the Office for Developed and Transition Economies of Consumers International, an international organization representing 285 consumer organizations in 110 countries, said that with the adoption of the Consumer Guidelines, the focus should now be on implementation.

Ms. Fielder also indicated that there is an emerging concern among consumer organizations about web-based service offering in such areas as finance and medical information. As she pointed out, a consumer who pays 10 dollars for a CD that is never delivered has lost only $10. But a consumer who enters into bad loan for $10,000 or obtains medical information from an untrustworthy site could face much more serious problems

Ms. Fielder recommended that the OECD update the Consumer Guidelines to cover advice and information web sites. She also recommended that APEC implement privacy and consumer protection safeguards and involved civil society organizations in the decision making process. She urged more consistency in cross-border consumer protection, and she suggested that jurisdiction issues would continue to pose a challenge in the evolution of the digital marketplace.

Need to Apply Privacy Guidelines to Government Practices

Joichi Ito, an expert in Japanese Internet policy, spoke about emerging privacy challenges, Mr. Ito suggested that the OECD Guidelines should be updated to recognize the growth of the Internet. He also urged the application of Privacy Guidelines to the databases and record systems established by government. He recommended the continued involvement of technical experts in the work of the OECD. Finally, he suggested that after September 11, it has been said too often that the protection of privacy is a national security risk. In fact, Mr. Ito, proposed that given the vulnerability of citizens and the continued weakness of many security systems, "lack of privacy is quickly becoming the real national security risk."

Old Consumer Problems Arise on the Internet

Mr. Stephen Levins, the director the Office of Consumer Protection in Hawaii, described the work of his office. He noted that many of the new challenges on the Internet -- fraud, pyramid schemes, forgery, unsolicited mail -- have been taking place for many years before the Internet. Mr. Levins said that the Internet has enabled these type of activities on a broader scale and across national borders. He noted that consumer protection offices, such as his, are working with other consumer agencies to protect consumers in the online marketplace. He also noted that many of the penalties have been increased for Internet based fraud.

Need to Develop Effective Solutions for Spam

Susan Grant, Vice President of the National Consumer League, spoke to the issue of spam, which she said has become a critical issue for consumer. She said that the European Union has taken the right approach in that it has established clear legislation to limited unsolicited email. She acknowledged that there may be no simple solution to spam, but she also said that "consumer are becoming impatient with technical solutions. The logical solution is to stop the delivery of unsolicited mail."

Ms. Grant also spoke to the limitation in contractual solutions which often create problems for consumer who cannot go through all of the fine print in a disclaimer or obtain redress when problems arise. And she noted that systems for Digital Rights Management are likely to raise a new set of issues for consumers.

She recommended Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) schemes that preserve legal rights as a way to assist dispute resolution in the electronic marketplace. She said that efforts by government and business to promote consumer confidence will be rewarded in the marketplace.

Involve Technical Experts in Policymaking

Dr. Barbara Simons, the past president of the Association of Computing Machinery, said that there is often a "communications gap" between policy makers and the technical community on many of the new issues involving technology. She said it was important to bridge the gap and to bring technical expertise to the decision making process.

Dr. Simons reviewed recent developments concerning copyright protection, electronic voting, and the proposal for "Total Information Awareness." She said that many of these initiatives lack adequate input from the technical community. For example, efforts to extend copyright controls in such laws as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and the EU Copyright Directive are directed less to criminal acts and more to the use of technology. Anti-circumvention provisions, for example, make it more difficult for technical experts to assess and correct security flaws. In this respect, Dr. Simons noted, such proposals are anti-technology and counterproductive to the goal of creating a secure information infrastructure.

Dr. Simons also recommended greater adoption of open source software in the development of such information systems as secure voting systems. She said that this will be important as the problems of electronic voting are compounded on the Internet. She warned that national elections held on the Internet could easily be subverted by the combination of Internet security problems together with the known risks of computerized voting.

Preserve Opportunities for New Communications Technologies

Mihir Kshirsagar, the coordinator for the Public Voice, described the importance of new wireless technology, "Wi-FI," to enable the use of the Internet in new and innovative ways that support education and community participation. Mr. Kshirsagar said that to promote inclusion and participation in the information society, it was important to provide more than access. "Actual participation in the use and development of the Internet is central to a more democratic information society," he said.

Mr. Kshirsagar described two challenge for Wi-Fi networks. First, he warned that the shrinking public domain the adoption of new techniques for Digital Rights Management could limit the value of public access. Second, he said that concerns about spectrum allocation may lead broadband and 3G providers to discourage adoption of Wi-Fi.

He concluded that enabling access to the Internet through wireless networks will allow more people to participate in the Information Society and more voices to be heard. He encouraged the OECD to ensure that these opportunities are preserved.

Protect Workers in the Electronic Workplace

Mr. Roland Schneider, senior policy advisor for the Trade Union Advisory Council (TUAC) spoke to the need to focus more broadly on the social and economic impact of the digital economy. He also observed that there is often too much technological determinism in the policy work of the OECD. "Technology is a social process," explained Mr. Schneider. "It changes social needs just as it is changed by those needs." There is also the need to address the challenge of skill and knowledge acquisition.

Mr. Schneider described a new model for workers rights in "Electronic Enterprise Facilities." The aim is to protect the rights of workers in the electronic workplace by ensuring the right to use electronic enterprise facilities for organizing and non-business purposes, and also to be assured that such activities will not be subject to monitoring and surveillance.

Pekka Lindroos from the OECD Secretariat gave final remarks to the Public Voice conference.


Mr. Chairman, we are grateful for the opportunity to participate in the work of the OECD this week, and we extend our appreciation to the OECD for its support of the Public Voice undertaking.

First, it should be evident that the work of the OECD has benefited from the expertise and perspectives offered by the organizations and experts associated with the Public Voice coalition. From the development of a forward-looking cryptography policy to a security framework that seeks to incorporate principles of transparency, access, and democratic governance, civil society plays an important role in the development of more robust, more thoughtful policy instruments that reflect a wider range of policy considerations than might otherwise be considered.

Second, the dialogue between the OECD and the Public Voice organizations also ensures that civil society will have a better understanding of the challenges facing both business and government. Particularly in the area of electronic commerce, there is broad agreement that it is in the interest of consumers and business to promote trust and confidence in the electronic marketplace. There is also broad agreement about the need to develop appropriate global policy frameworks that enable more economic opportunities.

Third, the incorporation of civil society in the work of the OECD is a matter of both means and ends. Civil society participation on an ongoing basis brings public understanding and legitimacy to the work of the OECD. Civil society participation also ensures that the policies and work of international organizations, such as the OECD, reflect the full range of public interests in the Information Society.

As we consider new opportunities for the participation of civil society in the context of the WSIS, these points will continue to provide guidance.


The Public Voice

Association for Computing Machinery

Consumers International

Electronic Privacy Information Center

National Consumers League

Trans Atlantic Consumer Dialogue

Trans Union Advisory Council