As the International Telecommunication Union was preparing to start 11 days of meetings on Dec. 3 in Dubai, Vint Cerf, Google's chief Internet evangelist and one of the fathers of today's Internet, sent out a heartfelt message to remind conference participants that the whole world is watching their actions.
His fear, wrote Cerf in a Dec. 2 post on the Google Official Blog, is that some of the world's leaders want to "justify the censorship of legitimate speech, or even cut off Internet access in their countries."
That, wrote Cerf, must be fought by every Internet user and prevented from happening by contacting government officials and making their voices heard in support of an open and free Internet.
The problem, he wrote, is that some of the governments from around the world, which are meeting at the World Conference on International Telecommunications conference in Dubai, oppose such freedoms. The meetings are being held Dec. 3-14 to "revise a decades-old treaty, in which only governments have a vote," wrote Cerf. "Some proposals could allow governments to justify the censorship of legitimate speech, or even cut off Internet access in their countries."
The threats are real, according to Cerf. "You can read more about my concerns on CNN.com, but I am not alone. So far, more than 1,000 organizations from more than 160 countries have spoken up too, and they're joined by hundreds of thousands of Internet users who are standing up for a free and open Internet. On an interactive map at freeandopenweb.com, you can see that people from all corners of the world have signed our petition, used the #freeandopen hashtag on social media, or created and uploaded videos to say how important these issues are."
By 5 p.m. Eastern time on Dec. 3, it had garnered more than 1.8 million online signatures. "Please make your voice heard and spread the word," Cerf wrote.
The ITU treaty talks have the potential to turn away from the concept of openness that was the fundamental principle behind the Internet’s original design, Cerf wrote. “Starting in 1973, when my colleagues and I proposed the technology behind the Internet, we advocated for an open standard to connect computer networks together," wrote Cerf. "This wasn't merely philosophical; it was also practical."
The idea was to use protocols that were "designed to make the networks of the Internet non-proprietary and interoperable," he wrote. "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."
Google began publicizing the ITU meetings in late November to try to build public attention for the meetings. The meetings, which are held behind closed doors, will discuss how the Internet should be regulated in the years to come.
For Google, the consequences of any tightening of Internet use or increases in regulations could have a direct and marked effect on the search giant's operations, revenue and independence, so it's apparently taking no chances of being blind-sided.