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ITU denies ‘internet control’ accusations

Jennifer Scott

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has denied claims it is trying to control the internet through its upcoming revision of telecoms rules.

The UN agency is updating its International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs) at the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) in Dubai in December, but some member states fear it will lead to centralised control of the internet by the UN.

The US government has even gone as far as to pass a resolution in the House of Representatives preventing the UN – which includes countries like Russia and China – from gaining “unprecedented power over web content and infrastructure.”

However, the ITU today called a press conference aiming to “dispel the myths” that it wants to take control.

“The purpose of the WCIT is to review the only truly global treaty on international telecommunications,” said Malcolm Johnson, director of the ITU. “By advocating market liberalisation, this treaty laid the foundations for the growth of the internet and mobile telephony. But, since the treaty is 24 years old, it clearly needs to be updated to address a number of concerns that did not exist in 1988.

“Although there are many important issues that the conference will need to address, unfortunately they are not receiving the attention they deserve due to this paranoia over claims that ITU wants to take over the internet.”

Richard Hill, counsellor at the ITU, said the WCIT was where proposals from all member states would be brought together and, with the rule of one country one vote, consensus would be reached on what proposals the ITU takes forward.

“The governments choose to do something or to not to do something,” he said. “No-one is saying the ITU should go out and do that, just that member states should agree on some treaty-level agreements.”

He said it was down to member states to do public consultations, bring proposals that represent their citizens and vote how they see fit. It is then their decision whether they implement what has been voted on at a national level.

“We facilitate the conference and provide space for the debate, but we don’t have our own agenda,” said a spokeswoman from ITU. 

On the specific point of controlling when to “switch off” the internet, Hill said it was nothing new for governments to invoke this without any ITU regulation driving them to do it.

“Member states already have the right to turn off connections, under state law, if it appears dangerous to the security of the state,” he said. “All countries enforce some sort of traffic control, images of children, gambling etc. We actually have a specific proposal that goes in the other direction – ensuring individual rights. I’m surprised it is never mentioned,” he said.

Hill concluded that it would not be for the ITU’s to decidethe new ITRs, but down to the member states to represent their citizens at the table in Dubai and put forward what they want.

“It is the member states that do the work [and] it is the member states who must make the proposals that represent their citizens,” he said.


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