Fears That New ITU Treaty Will Erode Web Freedoms Are Exaggerated

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2012-12-04 Print this article Print

A number of ITU member nations have sent up proposed versions of the treaty, some of which would give the ITU regulatory powers over the Internet. This, and the fact that the treaty negotiations are taking place in secret with only government representatives allowed to participate has brought about a lot of hysteria about the UN planning to take over the Internet.

This isn’t going to happen, as the IEEE’s Steven Cherry reports in a podcast released on the WCIT’s opening day. But as Cherry points out, there are some important issues that do need to be worked out, including cyber-security and the domain name system. Unfortunately, the WCIT meeting is also being used by a number of nations to find a way to perform a power grab over the Internet.

Because of the secretive nature of these meetings, and the fact that the free flow of information is both critical to the success of the Internet and at the same time dangerous to repressive regimes, there’s a lot of concern. Vint Cerf, one of the inventors of the Internet, expressed his concerns in the Google Public Policy Blog.

“Our protocols were designed to make the networks of the Internet non-proprietary and interoperable. They avoided “lock-in,” and allowed for contributions from many sources. This openness is why the Internet creates so much value today. Because it is borderless and belongs to everyone, it has brought unprecedented freedoms to billions of people worldwide: the freedom to create and innovate, to organize and influence, to speak and be heard.”

“But starting in a few hours, a closed-door meeting of the world’s governments is taking place in Dubai, and regulation of the Internet is on the agenda. The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is convening a conference from December 3-14 to revise a decades-old treaty, in which only governments have a vote. Some proposals could allow governments to justify the censorship of legitimate speech, or even cut off Internet access in their countries.”

While there will surely be a concerted effort to erode Internet freedom to meet the goals of totalitarian governments, the chances of this actually happening are slim. For one thing, it appears that the majority of the member nations are much more interested in making sure the Internet stays open as a way to help their economies. For another, even if such language were to become part of the proposed treaty, it’s very unlikely that the U.S. and the rest of the Western world would adopt the treaty, which would make it meaningless.

So you don’t really have to worry about the UN taking over the Internet. What’s a lot more important is creating a means by which international cyber-crime can be effectively fought, or that the technical operation of the Internet can continue to function and advance. One hopes that the WCIT will agree to this instead of wasting two weeks to cut special exceptions for totalitarian regimes or catching some rays in the Dubai sun.


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