Opponents say ITU treaty threatens Internet freedom


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The United States joined 20 other counties in refusing to sign a treaty that the objectors say will harm Internet freedom. The proposal was hammered out at an international communications conference that ended Friday in Dubai.

A major hangup of the treaty produced by the 193-nation International Telecommunications Union (ITU) was its endorsement of greater control over the Internet by governments.

Rejecting the treaty was a no-brainer for the U.S. delegation, according to its helmsman, Ambassador Terry Kramer. "The decision to do a no-sign, there wasn't a lot of consternation on it," he told ReadWrite. "There were too many issues here that were problematic for us."

Concern about government oversight

One issue irking the United States is language extending the treaty to Internet Service Providers and private network operators, as well as governments, which would invite greater government control of the Internet.

The treaty also attempts to control spam. That, though, is a two-edged sword. Those controls, to the mind of the U.S. delegates, could be used to censor content by governments in the name of attacking spam.

The same is true of provisions in the treaty to fight cybercrime. Broad powers designed to increase network security could too easily be abused, according to the U.S. delegation.

Government operation of the Internet is also endorsed by the treaty—also opposed by the United States, which prefers the status quo of an Internet governed by non-governmental agencies, like ICANN, IFTF, and WC3.

The chair of the World Conference on International Communications, Mohamed Nasser Al-Ghanim, disagreed with the dissenting countries, according to TechCrunch. He said their concerns are addressed.

“We have put special provisions [into the treaty] to say that content is excluded, " he said. "The Internet will continue as it has."

“We are clearly stating that nothing should impact [freedom of speech]," he added. “It was clear to anyone who was reading the document. Read the treaty before making comments. There is a lot that is not in there, but what is in there is good."

If the Dubai conference showed anything, it's that a major schism exists between the United States and much of the ITU over Internet issues. That could result in a second, more strictly regulated  Internet emerging, although Kramer acknowledged  that would be a difficult task to pull off.

More discussions scheduled

Much could happen between now and the scheduled effective date for the treaty in January 2015. For example, two major conferences are scheduled to take place in 2013—the WTPF policy forum in May and the IGF forum in the fall—where the treaty could be altered.

For months before the ITU conference began on December 3, opposition against a treaty had been building in the United States.

In May, a parade of high-tech leaders appeared before Congress airing their concerns over a potential treaty that would endorse greater control over the Internet by governments.

Later in the year, the U.S. House of Representatives in one of its few bipartisan showings to date, voted 414-0 to tell the ITU that it is the "consistent and unequivocal policy of the United States to promote a global Internet free from government control."

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