Internet freedom tops Dubai summit agenda

Government regulators set to debate how to govern the internet at UN agency-hosted conference amid divisions – Published on Al Jazeera, Dec. 3, 2012.

An unprecedented debate over how the global internet is governed is set to dominate a meeting of officials in Dubai, with many countries pushing to give a UN body broad regulatory powers even as the US and others contend such a move could mean the end of the “open internet”.  

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU), an agency of the UN responsible for international information and communication technologies regulations, will host the 12-day conference that begins on Monday.

Government regulators from 193 countries will meet to revise a wide-ranging communications treaty for the first time since 1988. The treaty regulates how telephone and other telecommunications traffic is exchanged internationally … //

… Light-touch regulation:

Fundamentally, most of the 193 countries in the ITU seem eager to enshrine the idea that the UN agency, rather than today’s selection of private companies and non-profit groups, should govern the internet.

They say that a new regime is needed to deal with the surge in cybercrime and more recent military attacks.

The ITU meeting will also tackle other topics such as extending wireless coverage into rural areas.

If a majority of the ITU countries approve UN dominion over the internet along with difficult rules, a backlash could lead to battles in Western countries over whether to ratify the treaty, with tech companies rallying ordinary internet users against it and some telecom carriers supporting it.

In fact, dozens of countries including China, Russia and some Arab states, already restrict internet access within their own borders. Those governments would have greater leverage over internet content and service providers if the changes were backed up by international agreement.

EU member states, however, are preparing to fight as a bloc alongside the US to prevent a move by Russia and countries in Africa to impose a levy on internet traffic and make it easier to track users’ activities.

The ITU’s senior official, Secretary-General Hamadoun Touré, sought to downplay the concerns, stressing to the Reuters news agency that even though updates to the treaty could be approved by a simple majority, in practice nothing will be adopted without near-unanimity.

“Voting means winners and losers. We can’t afford that in the ITU,” said Touré, a former satellite engineer from Mali who was educated in Russia.

Touré predicted that only “light-touch” regulation on cyber-security will emerge by “consensus”, using a deliberately vague term that implies something between a majority and unanimity.
(full text and 2 videos, 2.30 and 3.05 min).


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