An intergovernmental organisation, which few people have heard of, wants to take control over the management of the internet potentially harming freedom of speech and increasing censorship, according to a chilling warning from Google.
The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) @ITU, an organ of the United Nations which consists of world governments and telcos, will be convened on December 3 2012 in what Google is calling a “closed door meeting” to debate whether governance of internet (as distinct from the web) should be handed over to it.
The ITU contests this suggestion by Google and says that a large number of “private sector companies and civil society organizations have registered to attend [December’s conference],” according to the organisation’s Head of Communications and Partnership Promotion Division, Paul Conneally.
Calling its campaign #freeandopen, Google has set up an online petition, which it is encouraging users to sign, to protest against these changes to internet governance.
“Some of these governments are trying to use a closed-door meeting in December to regulate the Internet.
The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is bringing together regulators from around the world to re-negotiate a decades-old communications treaty.
Proposed changes to the treaty could increase censorship and threaten innovation.
Some proposals could permit governments to censor legitimate speech — or even allow them to cut off Internet access.
Other proposals would require services like YouTube, Facebook, and Skype to pay new tolls in order to reach people across borders. This could limit access to information — particularly in emerging markets.”
Google says that the independence of the web is being increasingly threatened by governments; it says 42 countries filter content and in the past two years 19 new laws have been introduced which threaten internet freedom.
Google is not the only group which is resisting the potential move – the European Parliament voted last week overwhelmingly in favour of a proposal which would see the 27 member states vote against the proposals. This is the second significant time in a year that the EU has contested changes to internet management.
Dutch MEP (Member of the European Parliament) Marietje Schaake was damming in her assessment of the potential outcomes should the ITU gain more powers over the management of the internet. She said;
“Some international telecommunications regulations reform proposals being presented by the ITU member states would negatively impact the internet, its architecture, operations, content and security, business relations, internet governance and the free flow of information online.”
Adding; “the ITU…is not the appropriate body to assert regulatory authority over the internet.” Google and the EU look to be in agreement on this point; Google warns that the ITU should not be given control over the internet due to its lack of transparency;
“The ITU is the wrong place to make decisions about the future of the Internet.
Only governments have a voice at the ITU. This includes governments that do not support a free and open Internet. Engineers, companies, and people that build and use the web have no vote.
The ITU is also secretive. The treaty conference and proposals are confidential.”
The ITU says that it has gone through a “very thorough and inclusive preparatory process” in the lead up to the conference. It added, “We regret that Google did not take the opportunity to choose to join ITU as a member, which would have enabled it to participate in its own right in the WCIT-12 preparatory process”
Each of the EU’s 27 nation states are members of the ITU (193 nations in total are members of the organisation) and, following the vote in the EU Parliament, they will vote as one bloc against the measures granting more power to the ITU.
“[The European Parliament] calls on the Council to give a clear and transparent mandate to the Commission to coordinate a single EU strategy among Member States, aimed primarily at ensuring and preserving the openness of the internet, protecting the rights and freedoms of internet users online and coordinating the negotiation of the revision of the ITRs on behalf of the European Union, on the basis of inclusively gathered input from multiple stakeholders.”
Some measures that the ITU wants to enact, according to Google and the EU, would see companies being charged for providing content into certain jurisdictions.
Currently, several organisations from ICANN, to W3C, and private companies manage the development of the internet and the web in what’s called a Multi-stakeholder model. ICANN, the organisation which manages the development of DNS, IP, and other functions, describes its activities as;
“[one that] treats the public sector, the private sector, and technical experts as peers. In the ICANN community, you’ll find registries, registrars, Internet Service Providers (ISPs), intellectual property advocates, commercial and business interests, non-commercial and non-profit interests, representation from more than 100 governments, and a global array of individual Internet users. All points of view receive consideration on their own merits. ICANN’s fundamental belief is that all users of the Internet deserve a say in how it is run”
A blog post on the ITU’s website, tweeted by the UN yesterday, says that Google is mistaken and misleading in its belief that the organisation wants to control the internet. It says that the activities of the ITU are governed by several UN articles, including the Universal Declaration on Human Rights;
“The freedom of expression and the right to communicate are already enshrined in many UN and international treaties that ITU has taken into account in the establishment of its Constitution and Convention, and also its mandate by the Plenipotentiary Conference, which is the Supreme Organ of ITU. These treaties include Article 19 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
These Articles – as well as Article 33 and 34 of the ITU Constitution – clearly establish the right to communication and the limits that governments can impose on those rights.
Since the ITU Constitution prevails over the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs), nothing in the ITRs has the power to result in a reduction of freedom to communicate.”
The ITU’s Paul Conneally added;
“We must keep the Internet open for business to sustain growth in the vast and inter-dependent global digital economy.”
The debate over the internet’s governance comes a year after Google and other technology companies began their campaigns against SOPA and PIPA.