Nations Struggle To Control What Was Designed To Be Uncontrollable
Doug Bernard | Washington DC
UPDATE December 14, 17 hours UTC: Negotiations to create a consensus for new standards for Internet oversight and privacy collapsed in Dubai Friday when several nations, lead by the United States, refused to sign on to any agreement.
The World Conference on International Telecommunications, or WCIT, had been organized to build international concensus on updating the International Telecommunications Regulations – a binding global agreement that sets out the rules of the road for regulating electronic communications. UN officials had said that the ITR haven’t been updated since 1988, long before the explosion of the wireless mobile and the Internet, and were sorely in need of an update.
Some nations, such as Russia and several Arab monarchies, had floated proposals that opponents said would have made it much easier to censor the web and reduce the privacy of mobile data users. While those proposals were all defeated, the final ITR document did include a proposal to reduce unwanted emails, or spam. However, some negotiators said that the language was too vague, and would have opened the door to allow greater censoring of content on the web such as political or religious views.
When it became clear that the spam language would stay, the U.S. representative, Amb. Terry Kramer, announced “It’s with a heavy heart and a sense of missed opportunities that the U.S. must communicate that it’s not able to sign the agreement in the current form,” and walked out. The US was joined by nearly 80 other nations, including Japan, Canada, Greece, Italy, Poland, Kenya, Egypt and Great Britain.
The general secretary of the two-week conference, Hamadoun Toure, expressed disappointment at the last-minute break down, but emphasized in a statement that he believes the WCIT had achieved something important. “It has succeeded in bringing unprecedented public attention to the different and important perspectives that govern global communications,” said Toure.
While the new document will be signed by those nations that didn’t walk out of the talks, it is not a binding treaty. More to the point, the fact that more than a third of eligible signatories have refused to sign makes the document largely meaningless.
December 13, 2012
For months, advocates for Internet free speech and open architecture have been warning of this moment: a power-grab by the United Nations that would make the Internet a little less free, and a lot less open.
The cause is this week’s World Conference on International Telecommunications, an international gathering organized by the United Nations’ International Telecommunications Union to update global laws regulating the web, among other things. The last time the Internet was the subject of such a meeting was 1988 – long before smart phones, the explosion of wireless, and portable computing.
In the lead-up to this year’s meetings in Dubai, several nations, among them Russia, China and others, have been floating proposals to give individual states more control over the web’s architecture and freedom. Some of those proposed regulations would let individual nations block sites or monitor traffic at their choosing, and charge web-companies and service providers for data usage. The U.S., E.U. and many large Internet firms such as Google and Facebook have vigorously opposed any such changes.
Organizers of the WCIT had previously promised that new regulations to change the open structure of the Internet would not be on the agenda. However on Wednesday of this week, little more than a day before the conference close, the conference chair may have turned an informal tally into an on-the-record vote to include new Internet regulations in the WCIT’s final report.
“What was first termed as getting a ‘temperature of the room’ by the Chairman of the conference turned into an apparent ‘vote’ to include an Internet Resolution in the ITRs,” said Lynn St. Amour, President of the Internet Society:
“The Internet Society came to this meeting in the hopes that revisions to the treaty would focus on competition, liberalization, free flow of information and independent regulation – things that have clearly worked in the field of telecommunications. Instead, these concepts seem to have been largely struck from the treaty text. Additionally, and contrary to assurances that this treaty is not about the Internet, the conference appears to have adopted, by majority, a resolution on the Internet. Amendments were apparently made to the text but were not published prior to agreement.“This is clearly a disappointing development and we hope that tomorrow brings an opportunity for reconsideration of this approach.”