Rivals square up over internet governance at WCIT

The future of internet governance is to be decided this week as rival groups hammer out a new international telecoms treaty.

The future of internet governance is to be decided this week as rival groups hammer out a new international telecoms treaty.

Regulators from 193 countries are negotiating new International Telecommunications Regulations (ITRs) at the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) in Dubai.

As the conference enters its second week, Russia and its allies have proposed that the new treaty should give all countries "equal rights to manage the internet", including its technical specifications, according to a leaked draft document published by the Wcitleaks website at the weekend.

Ahead of the meeting, the US and European MPs expressed concerns that any move to include the internet in the ITRs would lead to centralised control of the internet by the UN’s International Telecommunication Union (ITU), which is hosting the WCIT.

The US delegation to the WCIT said control of the internet by the ITU could lead to censorship, adding that its view is backed by many countries in Europe, Latin America and Asia-Pacific.

In August, Terry Kramer, the head of the US delegation to the WCIT, said: “We will not support any effort to broaden the scope of the ITRs to facilitate any censorship of content or blocking the free flow of information and ideas.

The 22-page leaked document confirms support for Russia by the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Algeria and Sudan.

Egypt was also included, but on Sunday the country issued a statement saying it did not support the proposals, according to BBC reports.

The document says governance should be the shared responsibility of "governments, the private sector and civil society” and that ITU member states should have equal right to manage "internet numbering, naming, addressing and identification resources".

Treaty proposals could threaten health of internet

The proposal, if enacted, would mean a shift from the current multi-stakeholder system in which the internet is governed by mainly US-based groups such as Icann, which regulates the web address system.

The US maintains that the internet's health would be threatened if development of its technical foundations were passed on to civil servants, the ITU or some other body.

The US is also fighting proposals to extend the scope of the ITRs beyond big telecoms companies to "any operating agency" because of concerns that this could enable government interference into the operations of smaller internet service providers (ISPs) and cloud-based operations such as Google.

"It creates an open door for review of content and potential censorship. It will create a chilling environment for the internet," said Terry Kramer in a video uploaded by the ITU on Sunday.

The US wants the phrase "recognised operating agencies" to be used instead, but other countries are concerned this could restrict their ability to coordinate responses to spam and cyber attacks.

The ITU has pledged not to put disputed issues to a majority vote, but this gives it just four working days to study the latest proposals and find a common text all sides can agree on.

Failure to do so could see some ITRs remain the same as they have been since the last review in 1988.

Image: iStockphoto/Thinkstock


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