The World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) ended in disarray on 14 December after two weeks of often chaotic negotiations.
On 13 December, less than half of the members of the International Telecommunication Union – the UN agency that organized the conference – (89 of 193) signed a new treaty revising the ITU’s International Telecommunications Regulations.
But a coalition of 55 member states including the United States and France refused to sign on the grounds that one of the conference’s resolutions, referred to as the Internet Resolution or PLEN/3 (see below), would allow the Internet to be placed under government control.
The ITU tried to assuage these fears by insisting that a resolution does not have the force of a treaty.
“Resolutions do not have treaty status… [The) Internet Resolution only invites Member States to foster greater growth of Internet,” the ITU said in a Tweet on 13 December, after the resolution’s controversial adoption.
#WCIT12 Resolutions do not have treaty status. Present #Internet Resolution only invites Member States to foster greater growth of Internet
3:12 AM - 13 Dec 12 · Details
The new treaty does not concern the Internet, the ITU’s secretary-general insisted on 14 December.
Reporters Without Borders reiterates its appeal to ITU member countries to preserve the Internet as a place of freedom, as a place for the free exchange of views and information.
Concern also focused on article 5B of the treaty concerning spam, which says:
“Member States should endeavour to take necessary measures to prevent the propagation of unsolicited bulk electronic communications and minimize its impact on international telecommunication services. Member States are encouraged to cooperate in that sense.”
The problem stems from the fact that, to block this kind of content, governments will first have to identify it and will therefore have to use Internet control tools. Some governments do this already, but such action has never been recognized in a UN treaty.
So this article sets a precedent which governments that have little interest in freedom of information would be able to use to justify the deployment of filtering and blocking mechanisms.
13.12.2012 - Resolution “adopted” amid general confusion
During last night’s session of the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT), which ended very late, conference chair Mohammed Nasser Al Ghanim proposed a “Resolution to foster an enabling environment for the greater growth of the Internet” that would reinforce the International Telecommunication Union’s role in Internet governance.
Ghanim proposed the resolution with the stated aim of obtaining a “sense of the room” and then declared that it had been “adopted” although no vote was taken. In theory, the ITU reaches decisions by consensus and holds a vote only when a consensus is impossible.
The resolution reversed Ghanim’s previous position that the ITU should not meddle in Internet governance.
The Centre for Democracy and Technology (CDT), an American NGO, said the way the resolution was adopted was unprecedented. Government representatives who would probably have opposed it were caught on the hop and were unable to take a position before the session’s hasty closure.
Reporters Without Borders reiterates its appeal for more transparency and, like the CDT, calls for the resolution to be put to a formal vote. Indicating that the ITU intends to stick with its existing model of decision-making, the resolution in practice rules out any participation by civil society and non-governmental entities, whose expertise is nonetheless crucial.
A transcript of the session is available here: http://linguasynaptica.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/internet-resoluton-transcript.txt
10.12.2012 - Internet’s future at stake at ITU-run Dubai conference
Reporters Without Borders is concerned about an offensive by countries with a tradition of Internet control at a two-week World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) that the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a UN agency, is holding in Dubai. It is due to end on 14 December.
The main aim of the talks, which are taking place behind closed doors, is to revise the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs) and, in particular, to extend the ITU’s regulatory authority to the Internet. The rules were last revised in 1988.
Reporters Without Borders is worried that a concerted offensive by authoritarian countries participating in the conference will harm the free flow of information online and encourage the spread of surveillance practices that leaves Internet users even more vulnerable.
Civil society’s exclusion from the talks is heightening the concern. Many NGOs have criticized the lack of transparency at the conference.
Reporters Without Borders calls on ITU member countries taking part in the conference to defend the Internet as a space for free speech and free content exchange and to reject all proposals that would restrict freedom of expression and information and provide grounds for the use of censorship techniques.
On 7 December, the United Arab Emirates submitted a particularly disturbing proposal (available on the WCITLeaks website) that is supported by Russia, China, Saudi Arabia and Sudan.
Its goal is a radical extension of the ITU’s authority over the Internet, not only over the activities of major telecommunications corporations, as the US authorities recommend, but also over a range of social networks and platforms.
One of its provisions challenges the ICANN’s role and the way that the private sector currently handles a great deal of Internet address management, stipulating that: “member states have the right to manage all naming, numbering, addressing and identification resources used for international telecommunications/ICT services within their territories.”
A newly-added cyber-security provision says that governments should “undertake appropriate measures” for protecting the “physical and operational security of networks, countering unsolicited electronic communication (e.g. spam); and protection of information and personal data (e.g. phishing).” Some government could use this provision as grounds for the deployment of blocking and filtering mechanisms.
Reporters Without Borders is also worried by the revelation on 4 December that recommendation on an international standard for the use of Deep Packet Inspection (DPI), proposed by the ITU’s Telecommunication Standardization Sector (ITU-T), has been approved.
By using DPI, governments can access the content of emails, instant messaging exchanges and VoIP conversations. Use of DPI constitutes a serious violation of both Net neutrality and the confidentiality of online communications.
The standardization of DPI for “new generation networks” would allow governments to claim that monitoring and obtaining information about Internet users, dissidents and journalists is permitted under international law. Adoption of DPI standardization without a regulatory framework strictly limiting its use to network maintenance is unacceptable.
Reporters Without Borders points out that DPI was used in Libya to intercept the communications of government opponents. The French-owned private sector company Amesys, the creator of an application that uses DPI, is the target of a lawsuit accusing it of complicity in acts of torture in Libya.
Civil society criticized the lack of transparency surrounding the WCIT process well in advance of the Dubai summit. More than 1,400 NGOs including Reporters Without Borders signed a joint call for the protection of Internet freedom and, on the initiative of the Centre for Democracy and Technology, a letter was sent to member countries and government delegations on 6 September opposing the idea that the ITU should become an Internet regulatory authority.
Examples of civil society campaigning on this issue:
- The Internet Defence League campaign
- The Mozilla “activism toolbox”
- A video by AccessNow and Fight For the Future about what is at stake: https://www.whatistheitu.org/
Watch webstreamed sessions: http://www.itu.int/en/wcit-12/Pages/webcast.aspx
Photo : Main conference room on Day 8, at WCIT 2012, Dubai, UAE ©ITU