To ITU Member States: No More Secrecy, Release the Treaty
The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) will hold the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT-12) in December in Dubai, an all-important treaty-writing event where ITU Member States will discuss the proposed revisions to the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITR). The ITU is a United Nations agency responsible for international telecom regulation, a bureaucratic, slow-moving, closed regulatory organization that issues treaty-level provisions for international telecommunication networks and services. The ITR, a legally binding international treaty signed by 178 countries, defines the boundaries of ITU’s regulatory authority and provides "general principles" on international telecommunications. However, media reports indicate that some proposed amendments to the ITR—a negotiation that is already well underway—could potentially expand the ITU’s mandate to encompass the Internet.
In similar fashion to the secrecy surrounding ACTA and TPP, the ITR proposals are being negotiated in secret, with high barriers preventing access to any negotiating document. While aspiring to be a venue for Internet policy-making, the ITU Member States do not appear to be very open to the idea of allowing all stakeholders (including civil society) to participate.Indeed, the ITU’s current vision of Internet policy-making is less one of distributed decision-making, and more one of ‘taking control.’ For example, in an interview conducted last June with ITU Secretary General Hamadoun Touré, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin raised the suggestion that the union might take control of the Internet: “We are thankful to you for the ideas that you have proposed for discussion,” Putin told Touré in that conversation. “One of them is establishing international control over the Internet using the monitoring and supervisory capabilities of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).”
Perhaps of greater concern are views espoused by the ITU regarding the nature of the Internet. Yesterday, at the World Summit of Information Society Forum, Mr. Alexander Ntoko, head of the Corporate Strategy Division of the ITU, explained the proposals made during the preparatory process for the WCIT, outlining a broad set of topics that can seriously impact people's rights. The categories include "security," "interoperability" and "quality of services," and the possibility that ITU recommendations and regulations will be not only binding on the world’s nations, but enforced.What are your opinions?The ITU proposal will establish an ongoing source of international policy that does not have the interests and rights of Internet users in mind. Further, unlike other venues which recognize the importance of ongoing flexibility in Internet policy-making, the ITRs are a treaty, legally binding on its signatories. While the ITU’s refusal to commit to a multi-stakeholder model may act to safeguard strong democracies such as the United States, European countries and Canada from its more harmful policy outputs, democratic countries with weaker internal checks and balances will find it more difficult to provide such insulation. Even countries with well-entrenched safeguards for human rights may be tempted to adopt laws that conflict with human rights where these align with powerful domestic interests, as was demonstrated by recent attempts to pass SOPA/PIPA and CISPA in the United States.
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