UN control of the Net: Freedom wins … for now

  • Proposal to bring the Net under UN control nixed after failure to reach consensus
  • We candidly cannot support an ITU treaty that is inconsistent with the multi-stakeholder model of Internet governance: US delegation

UN control of the Net: Freedom wins … for nowA FEW months ago, in the wake of the US Government’s intention to enact such legislation as the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA), I wrote that “governments the world over have never been comfortable with the virtual world, or anything they can’t have a direct influence over. Technology has wrought great changes in society, and governments … have had a hard time keeping up.”
 
While fighting hard to bring the Internet to heel with SOPA and PIPA, the US Government was however against the idea of the Internet being governed by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the United Nations agency that manages global telecommunications issues.
 
The World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT), which began at the start of December, saw 193 nations discussing the internet’s future with the objective of updating the 1988 International Telecommunications Regulations (ITRs) treaty that governs how telephone calls and other communications traffic are exchanged internationally.
 
Also on the docket was a proposal to bring the Internet under the thumb of the ITU – a proposal which was supported by regimes not recognized as bastions of democracy, such as many Arab nations, China and Russia, among others.
 
The WCIT talks collapsed because no consensus could be reached, with many Western nations, including the United States, against the proposal, WIRED reported, noting that all nations would have had to agree for the pact to take force globally.
 
The US delegation at WCIT, in rejecting the treaty, said that “The Internet has given the world unimaginable economic and social benefit during these past 24 years, all without UN regulation. We candidly cannot support an ITU treaty that is inconsistent with the multi-stakeholder model of Internet governance.”

Others which rejected the treaty include Britain, Canada, Costa Rica, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Sweden, Qatar, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Poland and Egypt.
 
Still, there was nothing much to celebrate about, because the proposed treaty was supported by 89 countries, while only 55 did not vote, including about 20 Western nations and the United States, according to the WIRED report. Other nations did not have representatives with enough rank to cast a vote.
 
There were other discussed – including initiatives to cut down spam and another to review cross-border charges – but it was the main proposal to let the ITU take over Internet governance that was the most contentious. While there are real concerns about the need for more responsibility and equity on the Net, it is worth noting that some of the noteworthy Internet personalities were against the very idea of governmental control.
 
UN control of the Net: Freedom wins … for nowVinton Cerf, known as the “father of the Internet” and currently chief Internet evangelist at search giant Google, wrote in CNN.com that “accustomed to media control, these governments fear losing it to the open Internet. They worry about the spread of unwanted ideas.”
 
“Several authoritarian regimes reportedly propose to ban anonymity from the Web, making it easier to find and arrest dissidents,” he added, without naming these governments but which would make Malaysians shake their head over our own Government’s amendment of the Evidence Act with the infamous Section 114A.
 
The inventor of the World Wide Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee (pic), said that “a  lot of concerns I've heard from people have been that, in fact, countries that want to be able to block the internet and give people within their country a 'secure' view of what's out there would use a treaty at the ITU as a mechanism to do that, and force other countries to fall into line with the blockages that they wanted to put in place.”
 
Again, picture a lot of Malaysians shaking their heads.
 
It is unlikely that this lack of consensus at the WCIT meeting would see no further attempts by governments to regulate or downright control the Internet. A battle was won, but the war goes on.
 
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