The International Telecommunications Union(ITU)
is an agency of the United Nations responsible for international information and communication technologies regulations. The ITU has 193 member countries. They are meeting in Dubai to revise the International Telecommunications Regulations treaty for the first time in decades. The treaty regulates how telephone and other telecommunications traffic is exchanged internationally.
Some analysts claim that much is at state in the negotiations. Some countries
are introducing proposals that could threaten Internet freedom and encourage Internet censorship. Other proposals would give the United Nations more authority to control the Internet.
The United States will have a large group of 95 people at the conference. These include Obama officials, representatives from Google, Verizon, Microsoft, and even Facebook. There are also representatives of advocacy groups and trade organizations. The delegation is led by Ambassador Terry Kramer, who is a former Vodafone executive.
Kramer has said that the U.S. is committed to maintaining free speech, and human rights, as well a liberalized markets in the telecom industry. Some countries want to expand the scope of the treaty to regulating the exchange of information on the Internet. The U.S. wants to confine the treaty to telecommunications networks.
Kramer claims that countries such as China and Iran will propose language that could lead to online censorship and government monitoring of Web traffic. I thought that this was already happening in many countries including the United States. The countries making the proposals argue that their proposals are simply designed to prevent threats such as cyberattacks, and spam, as well as crack down on child pornography. However, the methods involved could be used for other purposes. Critics say the reasons given for the proposals are simply a means to be able to monitor Web traffic.
Harold Feld, of the consumer interest group,
Public Knowledge, said:
"Taking this one step higher to an international fora where we're imposing a set of duties that will be implemented on the ground by many different countries--each with their own different interpretation about how to balance these security concerns against free speech and due process-- that's asking to create accusations of censorship,"
Others have argued that issues of cybersecurity should not even be discussed at the conference. The chair of the Federal Communications Commission, Julius Genachowski, has argued that cybersecurity rules should not be addressed in an international treaty at all.
Google warned that some proposed changes to the treaty could increase censorship and threaten innovation. Google also claims that some countries are making proposals that would require people using services such as Skype, YouTube, and Facebook, to pay toll fees to reach people in other countries.
The proposals Google references could force content providers such as You Tube, Netfllix, Facebook and others to pay fees for the delivery outside the country of origin. The proposals are referred to as "sending party network pays". Google also complains that negotiations are taking place out of the public eye behind closed doors.
Russia wants to remove some or all of the powers of the present Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers(ICANN) and argues that the ITU should assume these powers. The U.S. is opposed to this suggestion.
The ITU argues that critics who claim a new treaty will threaten free speech and promote censorship have are unfounded. Sarah Parkes, a spokesperson for the ITU said the "protection of people and their right to communicate online is already enshrined in treaties that take precedence over anything that we will discuss in Dubai." She noted that a treaty proposal needed massive support from member countries to make it into the final treaty version. Even a small amount of dissension would cause a proposal to be dropped.
Parkes also argued that the treaty would not change the way the Internet was governed.
"There's nothing that's coming up in this conference that touches on Internet governance or proposes changing the current mandate of the organizations that run the Internet."
Nevertheless it is wise to remain vigilant. More criticisms of some conference proposals can be found here.