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Russia backtracks on controversial proposal that would give the ITU more control over the Internet

The Americans described it as “shocking”, the European Union voted not to support it, Google launched a campaign against it and now the Russian proposals which would have seen a United Nations’ body take over some core functions of the governance of the Internet have been pulled.

The proposals were made to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) conference in Dubai, which is looking to renegotiate a 24 year old treaty covering international telecommunications.  The original treaty was signed before the emergence of the web and the resulting growth of the Internet as an international communications medium.

Some governments want the Internet to come under the remit of the ITU with this new treaty.

Russian and several other governments are expected to table a redrafted document at the UN conference in the coming days.

Russian documents at the conference proposed that core functions of the Internet’s management be removed from US-based organisations IANA (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority) and ICANN (Internet Committee for Assigned Names and Numbers) and provided to the ITU.

The proposal was backed by United Arab Emirates, China, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, and Sudan.  It is unclear if Egypt also backed the document, although the Arab Spring state’s delegation says it doesn’t.

Some believe this is an attempt to take more control over the Internet’s future, and one  that could lead to increased censorship, allow repressive governments to filter the web, and bring about charges for delivering web content across borders.

The ITU says that it is not trying to take over the Internet and that current UN charters already guarantee freedom of speech and expression online.  Other governments say that more control needs to be given to international bodies, away from US-based organisations, in order to ensure that the Internet is accessible to all.

However, several significant players in the Internet and web communities are protesting proposals at the ITU conference.  Vint Cerf, who created the modern system for routing traffic through the Internet; Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the web; Google, and Mozilla are some of the names that have spoken out against the Russian and other proposals at the conference.

Google’s #freeandopen campaign, which was set up to oppose changes to the current Internet governance system, has recorded over three million signatures alone.

The US says that it wants no mention of the Internet in the conference’s resulting treaty and that the removal of Russia’s controversial proposal is a “welcome development.”  The American delegation says that its stance has not changed and it will continue to work to maintain the Internet’s current governance structure.

The text of Russia’s redrafted document has not been released yet as it is currently being translated.

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