Showdown looms on internet control

2012-10-29 12:00

Washington - It is expected to be the mother of all cyber diplomatic battles.

When delegates gather in Dubai in December for an obscure UN agency meeting, fighting is expected to be intense over proposals to rewrite global telecom rules to effectively give the UN control over the internet.

Russia, China and other countries back a move to place the internet under the authority of the International Telecommunications Union, a UN agency that sets technical standards for global phone calls.

US officials say placing the internet under UN control would undermine the freewheeling nature of cyberspace, which promotes open commerce and free expression, and could give a green light for some countries to crack down on dissidents.

Observers say a number of authoritarian states will back the move, and that the major Western nations will oppose it, meaning the developing world could make a difference.

Global authority

"The most likely outcome is a tie, and if that happens there won't be any dramatic changes, although that could change if the developing countries make a big push," said James Lewis, director of the Technology and Public Policy Programme at the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

"But there is a lot of discontent with how the internet is governed and the US will have to deal with that at some point."

Lewis said there was still an overwhelming perception that the US owns and manages the internet. Opponents have a "powerful argument" to create a global authority to manage the internet, Lewis said, but "we need to find some way to accommodate national laws in a way that doesn't sacrifice human rights".

Terry Kramer, the special US envoy for the talks, has expressed Washington's position opposing proposals by Russia, China and others to expand the ITU's authority to regulate the internet.

"The internet has grown precisely because it has not been micro-managed or owned by any government or multinational organisation," Kramer told a recent forum.

"There is no internet central office. Its openness and decentralisation are its strengths."

The head of the ITU, Hamadoun Toure, said his agency has "the depth of experience that comes from being the world's longest established intergovernmental organisation".

Cyber security

Toure wrote in the British newspaper The Guardian that any change in regulation should "express the common will of ITU's major stakeholders" and "find win-win solutions that will act as a positive catalyst".

But Harold Feld of the US-based non-government group Public Knowledge said any new rules could have devastating consequences.

"These proposals, from the Russian Federation and several Arab states, would for the first time explicitly embrace the concept that governments have a right to control online communications and disrupt internet access services," Feld said on a blog post.

"This would reverse the trend of the last few years increasingly finding that such actions violate fundamental human rights."

Paul Rohmeyer, who follows cyber security at the Stevens Institute of Technology, pointed to a "sense of anxiety" about the meeting in part because of a lack of transparency.

He said it was unclear why the ITU is being considered for a role in the internet.

"The ITU historically has been a standards-setting body and its roots are in the telecom industry. I'm not familiar with anything they've done that's had an impact on the internet today," said Rohmeyer.

And the analyst noted that the significance of extending "governance" of the internet to the ITU remains unclear.

Cost of communication

Some observers point out that the ITU hired a Russian security firm to investigate the Flame virus, which sparked concerns about the dangers in cyberspace and the need for better cyber security co-operation.

Rohmeyer said it was unclear whether a conspiracy was at hand, but that "the suggestion that the Internet is a dangerous place could be used to justify greater controls".

Observers are also troubled by a proposal by European telecom operators seeking to shift the cost of communication from the receiving party to the sender. This could mean huge costs for US internet giants like Facebook and Google.

"This would create a new revenue stream for corrupt, autocratic regimes and raise the cost of accessing international websites and information on the internet," said Eli Dourado of George Mason University.

Milton Mueller, a professor of information studies at Syracuse University who specialises in internet governance, said most of the concerns are being blown out of proportion.

Mueller said the ITU "already recognises the sovereign right of nations to restrict communications into and out of the country".

"What gets lost in the confusion over content regulation is that the real motive of most of the reactionary governments is to protect themselves from economic competition caused by telecom liberalisation and deregulation, of which the internet is only one part," he said.

  • goyougoodthing - 2012-10-29 12:44

    Absolute NO to this. The UN is the global police force of the elite and Tim Berners-Lee GAVE the html language away FREE so that all could use it. Who is anyone to tell the free people of this planet what they can do! Always interesting is how the bad countries are perceived to want it whilst the bankers of the 'free countries' are the real ones behind it.

      jack.blacking.56 - 2012-10-29 13:07

      How can any Government ultimately decided what the people may or may not do!!! What kind of a oppressive mentality is that?!?! These Governments will never last, and the worrying thought is that our Government would gladly support any form of censorship.

      arthur.hugh - 2012-10-29 16:11


      mikel.kiparski - 2012-10-29 18:38


      claudia.meads - 2012-10-29 21:05

      Citizens in possession of knowledge is any regime's single greatest threat...

  • goyougoodthing - 2012-10-29 12:48

    Deleting comments about the banking elite N24?

  • Ntebogeng.Malele - 2012-10-29 12:54

    UN is the backdoor for the incoming One World Order

      bob.small.7547 - 2012-10-29 15:39

      Well said @Ntebogeng.Malele...! Few people understand the threat of the One World order that is facing us all!

  • Robert Frankol - 2012-10-29 13:11

    Internet belongs to all so get lost UN.

      goyougoodthing - 2012-10-29 13:16

      Never fear, the internet will then change, the networks are there, changing the language means we can never be put down.

      goyougoodthing - 2012-10-29 13:16

      Remember, the internet is the network, the WWW is the place where they want protocols. Different things!

  • komorison - 2012-10-29 13:25

    Goodbye freedom of speech, especially with the UN involved and ultimately someone will have to pay, I mean money, and that's you and me. A small step of many toward global governance as others disguised e.g. as global warming, we're already paying carbon taxes on cars and I was advised today by a tyre retailer, green taxes on tyres soon, tariff per kg weight of the tyre. Money making racket for the elite!

  • arthur.hugh - 2012-10-29 16:12

    Sod off. WE are the internet - we'll find a way around it even if you do impose this rubbish.

  • simphiwe.tladi - 2012-10-29 19:55

    Every citizen of any major city or town go out and protest,we internet users should plan a day of going out to the streets,let's make that day a big one,let's fight against this.Let's make the world ungovernable that day,it's simple,let's set a date,pass the message to other fellow users,and implement it!

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