Censorship © olly Shutterstock 2012

Euro MPs Reject UN Control Of The Internet

The United Nations should not be given control of the Internet, European MPs have warned

On by Tom Jowitt 0

The highly sensitive subject of who controls the Internet has reared its head again, after European MPs rejected an apparent bid for control of the Internet by United Nation agency, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).

Earlier this week, search engine giant Google raised its concerns over a closed-door meeting that will re-negotiate a communications treaty, which effectively could determine how the Internet works going forward. The talks are scheduled for early December and will be held the ITU during its World Conference on International Telecommunications in Dubai.

Internet Control

At the moment, many observers accept that control of large parts of the Internet rests with US-based groups such as ICANN, which regulates and controls web addresses. But some countries are known to be keen for control to be handed over to the UN.

The ITU talks in December are apparently to ensure “the free flow of information” across the world so the Internet and the economies around it can innovate and grow. The original International Telecommunication Regulations (ITR) agreement was signed in 1988 and needed updating, the ITU has previously said.

Censorship, freedom of speech © Melinda Fawver Shutterstock 2012“There is broad consensus that the text now needs to be updated to reflect the dramatically different information and communication technology (ICT) landscape of the 21st century,” the ITU has said.

Google however made clear its concern over the fact that governments will have an overwhelming advantage in being able to voice their opinions during the ITU discussion, whereas users and the engineers who make the Internet work are not involved at all.

The ITU for its part says 1,800 representatives would contribute to the December meeting, including members of private industry, R&D institutions, academia and the public.

Yet Google remains very concerned that governments with a history of Internet censorship will have too much of a say in how the Internet is governed.

European Objections

It seems that European MPs also share this concern, after the European Parliament backed a resolution which urged member states to reject negative changes to the ITR.

The European Parliament resolution stresses that “some ITR 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.”

It also said that it is “concerned that these ITU reform proposals include the establishment of specific interconnection charging mechanisms, which could seriously threaten the open and competitive nature of the internet by driving up prices and hampering innovation.”

Russian Move

Meanwhile it seems that the issue is gathering pace, after academics created a website called Wcitleaks, which aims to expose the individual proposals to the new ITR treaty from various countries.

“The forthcoming World Conference on International Telecommunications is marred by a lack of transparency,” says the website.

“Access to preparatory reports, as well as proposed modifications to the ITRs, is limited to ITU member states and a few other privileged parties. This leaves civil society groups, and the public in general, in the dark,” it said. “To foster greater transparency, we are offering a way for those in possession of such documents to make them publicly available. They can be anonymously submitted to us, and we will publish them here.”

The website has published the ITR proposals from a number of countries, including that of Russia, which in its document, made very clear its wish for the United States to have less control of the Internet.

“The additions to the ITRs proposed below are aimed at formulating an approach that views the Internet as a new global telecommunication infrastructure, and also as a part of the national telecommunication infrastructure of each Member State, and, accordingly, at ensuring that Internet numbering, naming, addressing and identification resources are considered an international resource,” said the proposal from the Russian Federation.

“Member States shall have equal rights to manage the Internet, including in regard to the allotment, assignment and reclamation of Internet numbering, naming, addressing and identification resources and to support for the operation and development of basic Internet infrastructure,” said the Russian proposal.

In September, US advocacy group Freedom House warned that governments around the world are increasingly turning to censorship to silence their opponents online.

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Tom Jowitt

Author: Tom Jowitt

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