The World Conference on International Telecommunications kicked off Monday behind closed doors in Dubai to a chorus of opposition from corporations, governments and civil-liberties groups worldwide.
The conference, organized by the International Telecommunication Union, a United Nations body, will review the International Telecommunication Regulations, which were drawn up in 1988.
ITU Secretary-General Hamadoun Toure disputed critics’ charges that the conference will clamp down on Internet freedoms.
However, “only governments have a vote at the ITU, and some of them are trying to use a closed-door meeting in Dubai to increase regulation online,” Google spokesperson Christine Chen told TechNewsWorld. “Although the ITU has helped the world manage radio spectrum and telephone networks, it is the wrong place to make decisions about the future of the Internet.”
The ITU’s Stated Position
The ITU’s members requested that WCIT-12 discuss affordability — reducing the cost of international mobile roaming; fraud prevention; misuse of the telephone numbering system; consumer empowerment; and bringing Internet connectivity to the two-thirds of the global population that’s still offline, Toure said.
Proposals will only be accepted if they’re agreed to by consensus.
The conference is not about taking control of the Internet, especially in terms of managing critical Internet resources such as names and addresses, or about restricting freedom of expression or speech, Toure contended. Instead, it’s about laying down the principles to ensure global connectivity.
“With governments and politicians, you have to separate what they say from their intentions,” “Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, remarked. “For instance, an effort to promote harmony might in fact be the government-sponsored assassination of opposition parties.”
The ITU’s members don’t want heavy-handed regulation, but agree that there should be coordination and consolidation between agencies at both the national and international levels, Toure asserted.
The ITU did not respond to our request for further details.
What Opponents Fear
The conference is a closed-door meeting of the world’s governments and regulation of the Internet is on the agenda, said Internet pioneer Vint Cerf. More than 1,000 organizations from more than 160 countries have also voiced their concerns, he pointed out.
Opposition to WCIT-12 is posted on an interactive map at the Free and Open website, established by Google. Cerf urged supporters of the concept of a free and open Internet to sign a petition.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation in May joined a coalition denouncing the WCIT planning process. The EFF and other advocacy organizations oppose the secrecy of the talks, which don’t have adequate input from organizations representing the public interest. The EFF also is concerned that revisions to the ITR might have an impact on online civil liberties and lead to greater governmental control over the Internet.
Some proposals to be put forward at WCIT-12 might let governments justify the censorship of legitimate speech or cut off Internet access in their countries, Cerf contended.
The European Commission’s view is that the Internet works, and, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” EC vice president Neelie Kroes stated. The EC wants the Internet to stay open and global.
The EC will pay “especially close attention” to any suggestion where cybersecurity could be used as a euphemism for controlling freedom of expression, and to suggestions on routing and traffic management, which may pose a threat to the open Internet.”
This could include the United States, which is seeking to monitor all Internet traffic worldwide and to reportedly route all such traffic through NSA servers on the grounds that it’s fighting terrorism.
Let the Sun Shine In
The meeting “isn’t a public debate, and things that go on behind closed doors are generally distrusted, often for good reason,” Enderle told TechNewsWorld.
The ITU has 193 member states and 700 sector members, including organizations in the private sector and academic institutions, all of whom have access to ITU documents, Toure said. Member states make these documents available to their citizens at their own discretion.
While closed-door meetings of governments provide grounds for concern, “it’s difficult enough to get governments to agree,” Jim McGregor, founder and principal analyst at Tirias Research, stated. “I doubt that the meeting is, or will be used, to limit the freedom of speech that many are worried about.”
However, “the implementation of certain technologies or protocols could potentially allow for such actions in the future,” McGregor told TechNewsWorld. “I fear this is inevitable … because of the desire by certain government entities.”