Recently Amy Adams announced the NZ Govt would not support any changes to the International Telecommunications Regulations at WCIT, which would give the Government dominated ITU a role in Internet governance.
The ITR’s has existed since the time of the telegraph, and have largely been superseded by commercial arrangements. They haven’t been reviewed for 20 years, and there are naturally some areas where the language needs to be updated to ensure the regulations continue to support an efficient and innovative telecommunications environment.
The key debate though will focus around two sets of proposals for including the Internet in the treaty – proposals that focus on the management of the network through matters such as IP allocation, routing, and address registries; and proposals that focus on control of content, spam, and security.
It is my view that these changes would be unhelpful, are unwarranted and could represent a significant threat to innovation and free and open debate.
The NZ Government is not alone in this view. The International Trade Union Confederation and Greenpeace International have written to the UN Secretary-General to oppose changes to the ITRs. They said:
We are writing to you to express our deep concern about a potentially very damaging change to the governance of the Internet.
You will recall that at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Tunis in 2005, Heads of State and Government decided that a multi-stakeholder approach remained the most appropriate form of governance for the Internet – our most technically innovative and truly global communication medium.
It is becoming increasingly clear, however, that certain countries are preparing to undermine this inclusive governance model. Their chosen vehicle appears to be the forthcoming World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT-12), being organised by the ITU to be held in Dubai in December 2012. The task of the WCIT is to review the International Telecommunication Regulations
(ITRs), which were established in 1988.
We are becoming increasingly concerned at the lack of transparency inherent in the approach of the ITU in its preparations for this conference. The ITU Governing Council recently declined to accept the entirely appropriate proposal of the ITU Secretary-General, Dr Hamadoun Toure, that all stakeholders should be given free access to all the preparatory documentation for the conference. This decision on the part of governments alone undermines any suggestion that ITU might itself constitute a multi-stakeholder organisation.
This is quite contrary to Internet bodies that tend to automatically place all documents in the public domain, and allow pretty much anyone to attend their meetings.
Google has also been prominent in campaigning against that would impact a free and open Internet. You can sign their global petition here.
What, for me, shows why we should fear the ITU is the deceptive language they use in trying to rebut these concerns. Rather than deal with the issues in good faith, they try to tell people there is nothing to worry about. In their blog on the Google campaign they say:
Google has erroneously claimed that WCIT-12, which will take place in Dubai from 3-14 December, will be used as a forum to increase censorship and regulate the Internet.
The freedom of expression and the right to communicate are already enshrined in many UN and international treaties that ITU has taken into account in the establishment of its Constitution and Convention, and also its mandate by the Plenipotentiary Conference, which is the Supreme Organ of ITU. These treaties include Article 19 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
These Articles – as well as Article 33 and 34 of the ITU Constitution – clearly establish the right to communication and the limits that governments can impose on those rights.
Since the ITU Constitution prevails over the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs), nothing in the ITRs has the power to result in a reduction of freedom to communicate.
This is just UN style nonsense. The assertion that the UDHR means that no changes to the ITRs cam impact on our free speech on the Internet is farcical and insulting.
Let me give you an example. The UDHR also states:
Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.
So the UDHR proclaims no distinction of rights on the basis of sex. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights which gives the UDHR force has been signed by over 160 countries. Yet despite this women in many countries are little more than chattels or slaves.
So arguing that there is nothing to worry about with Internet freedom, because we have the UDHR is just duplicitous.
The ITU is little better in responding to the ITUC letter:
The counterfactual letter published by Greenpeace and the International Trade Union Confederation inaccurately claim that ITU Council rejected a proposal to make all documents available to all stakeholders. This is simply not true. In fact, membership unanimously accepted the proposal of Dr. Touré, ITU Secretary-General, to make public the main proposals document – a fact that could have easily been verified with ITU. This document is available on ITU’s WCIT-12 website.
Now this is simple deception, hoping we are too stupid to notice. There is a big difference between releasing all documents and releasing the main proposals document. It is a fact that the ITU Secretary-General proposed making all documents publicly available and was unable to get his Council to agree. Of course they then agreed to release some documents, but again that is vastly different.
So when I see the ITU resorting to such transparent deception, that just reinforces to me that they are an institution that has no role in Internet governance. Their structure is flawed, they are controlled by Governments, they operate in a default mode of secrecy, they are desperate for relevance and as you can see they have an unhealthy culture.