The inside story of the attempt to take over the Internet

December 23rd, 2012 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Eli Dourado is a co-founder of WCIT Leaks and was part of the US delegation to WCIT where various repressive countries tried to grab control of the Internet from the private sector.

He blogs on what actually happened at WCIT. It’s a fascinating read for those interested. He makes a key point:

Though the world had been assured that WCIT would not attempt to mount a “UN takeover of the Internet,” that was in many ways what happened.

The months of weasel words were exposed as lies. We knew that it was always about control of the Internet.

After last night’s performance, the ITU could never again deny that it had designs on the Internet, it could never again imply that those who were concerned about the possibility of a takeover of some aspects of Internet governance by nation-states were misinformed conspiracy theorists. The battle lines were now drawn, and this clarity comforted me. But would we stand alone?

This was always the worry. Not would the US resist, but would the EU surrender monkeys agree to a bad compromise?

The United States took the floor. Ambassador Kramer announced that the US would not be signing the new treaty. He was followed by the United Kingdom. Sweden said that it would need to consult with its capital (code in UN-speak for “not signing”). Canada, Poland, the Netherlands, Denmark, Kenya, New Zealand, Costa Rica, and the Czech Republic all made similar statements before the Chairman cut the meeting short.

At a later meeting that night, additional countries expressed their reservations. The EU issued a directive that the new human rights language was unacceptable, and therefore no EU country would be allowed to sign. An intensive overnight lobbying effort was launched. Once senior-level ministers got an earful from private sector representatives back in their own countries, they sent instructions to their delegations in Dubai not to sign the new treaty.

All told, 89 countries signed while 55 did not.

Very pleased that NZ was one of those consistently opposed.

NZ refuses to sign up to greater govt control of the Internet

December 15th, 2012 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

An attempt by national governments to establish a worldwide policy for oversight of the internet collapsed after many Western countries – including New Zealand – said a compromise plan gave too much power to United Nations and other officials.

As I said, compromise is only good when both sides basically want the same thing. It is bad when one set of Governments want to control the Internet.

Delegates from the United States, UK, Australia and other countries took the floor on the next to last day of a UN conference in Dubai to reject revisions to a treaty governing international phone calls and data traffic.

“It’s with a heavy heart and a sense of missed opportunities that the US must communicate that it’s not able to sign the agreement in the current form,” said Terry Kramer, the US ambassador to the gathering of the UN’s International Telecommunication Union.

Communications Minister Amy Adams tweeted that New Zealand “do not agree with Internet Governance coming under the ITRs.”

While other countries will sign the treaty on Friday, the absence of so many of the largest economies means that the document, already watered down to suit much of the West, will have little practical force.

Hopefully this has been a valuable lesson to some of the more authoritarian countries. By trying to sneak in a resolution on greater ITU involvement, they ended up with all the major countries (in telecommunications terms) refusing to sign up to the revised treaty at all. This means that the 1988 regulations continue for countries like New Zealand.

“Maybe in the future we could come to a fragmented internet,” delegate Andrey Mukhanov, a top international official at Russia’s Ministry of Telecom and Mass Communications, told Reuters. “That would be negative for all, and I hope our American, European colleagues come to a constructive position.”

Ha, they can bluster but a fragmented Internet will have far greater disadvantages for the authoritarian states than the free ones. They’re welcome to go set up their own private Internet of China, Russia and the Middle East and see how many people use it.

Tariq al-Awadhi of the United Arab Emirates, head of the Arab States’ delegation, said his group had been “double-crossed” by the US bloc after it had agreed to a compromise deal that moved internet issues out of the main treaty and into a nonbinding resolution that said the ITU should be part of the multi-stakeholder model.

There was no compromise. 30 countries voted against the resolution and under UN rules the resolution should not have been accepted as it did not have consensus.

89 countries will sign the revised treaty, but 55 countries will not. Those 55 would I’d say represent 90% of the Internet infrastructure at least. The countries are shown here. Basically Africa (bar Malawi and Gambia) all signed, Asia, (except Japan), all signed. Europe pretty much all against including Belarus and Georgia. US and Canada against and Central and Latin America split. Australia and NZ not signing also of course.

I wish this was the end of the battle, but there are other conferences coming up, where the same countries will try again.

WCIT outcomes

December 14th, 2012 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Most countries at a conference on telecommunications oversight have agreed that a United Nations agency should play an “active” but not dominant role in internet governance as they struggled to reach a worldwide compromise.

As a marathon session at the UN’s World Conference on International Telecommunications concluded at about 1.30am local time in Dubai (10.30 am NZT), the chairman asked for a “feel of the room” and then noted that the nonbinding resolution had majority support, while denying it was a vote.

This may seem innocuous, but it will be used by many Governments to maintain their campaign to extend Government control of the global Internet.

I think WCIT has shown why the ITU should have absolutely no role in Internet Governance. Its culture of secrecy and backroom deals is a cultural abyss from the way most Internet bodies work.

But ITU Secretary-General Hamadoun Tour pleaded that the document was part of a balance that gave Western countries most of what they wanted in the more critical binding ITU treaty.

“If we were to eliminate this, that was a compromise that will come (back) on the table,” Tour warned the gathering ahead of the show of support. ITU officials are striving to forge consensus and avoid formal votes, and delegates were unsure after the proceeding whether the resolution had been adopted.

Compromise is good if both sides have valid points. But compromise is bad when what one side wants is, well, bad. This is what the totalitarian Governments do. They put up such outrageous proposals, so they will then get a compromise that moves them towards their goals. I say you do not compromise when it comes to Internet freedom.

The battle for the Internet continues

December 10th, 2012 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Joseph Menn of Reuters reports at Stuff:

A landmark attempt to set global rules for overseeing the Internet threatened to fall apart on Friday as a rift pitting the United States and some Western countries against the rest of the world widened, participants in the talks said.

A 12-day conference of the International Telecommunications Union, taking place in Dubai, is supposed to result in the adoption of a new international treaty governing trans-border communications.

But in a critical session at the midpoint of the conference on Friday, delegates refused to adopt a US-Canadian proposal to limit the treaty’s scope to traditional communications carriers and exclude Internet companies such as Google, the ITU said on its website.

Further complicating the negotiations was what a US official at the talks called the “surprise” announcement of an accord among some Arab states, Russia and other countries to pursue treaty amendments that are expected to include Internet provisions unacceptable to the United States

A still-secret draft of the coalition’s proposals is to be introduced soon by the United Arab Emirates, the official said.

I have a simple test on Internet issues that rarely fails me. If the proposal comes from Russia, China or an Arab state, then it will be really really bad.

The emergence of the new coalition, whose members are generally seeking greater Internet censorship and surveillance, is likely to harden battle lines separating those countries from the United States and some allies in Western Europe.

And New Zealand!

The United States and others objected to the introduction of complex new material midway through the conference.

This is the danger. That something get slipped into a working group under the radar. They have no rules requiring proposals to be made in advance, let alone in public.

That would potentially isolate America and its allies from much of the world, and technology leaders fear that the rest of the globe would agree on actions such as identifying political dissidents who use the Internet and perhaps trying to alter the Net’s architecture to permit more control.

Identifying political dissidents who use the Internet? Sounds like the Labour party caucus!

The 147-year-old ITU, which is now under the auspices of the United Nations, historically has set technology standards and established payment customs for international phone calls. But under Secretary-General Hamadoun Touré, it has inched toward cyber-security and electronic content issues, arguing that Internet traffic goes over phone lines and is therefore within its purview.

Which is nonsense. The proportion of the Internet that goes over copper phone lines is diminishing anyway. The future is over fibre, plus mobile, satellite and wireless.

At the ITU meeting, the American delegation had counted on support from at least Japan, Australia and other affluent democracies.

But its effort to stave off wholesale changes has been hindered by complications in Western Europe, where some countries were supporting a change to the economic model that would have Google, Facebook and others pay for at least some of the costs of Internet transmission.

Equally repugnant. They already pay for website hosting and for connections to their local ISPs. What the telcos want is termination charges like you have for toll calls, so countries and telcos can collect revenue on not just their customers, but on people who send data to their customers. It would cripple the Internet model.

A video on why the ITU should not be part of Internet Governance

December 2nd, 2012 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The video is done by the What is the ITU site. Just four minutes long but covers the basics well.

Deception from the ITU

November 28th, 2012 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

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.

Adams said:

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.

Internet Governance Forum

July 21st, 2012 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

I’ve been in Tokyo to attend the Asia-Pacific Internet Governance Forum. I’ll blog more on the whole conference, but just thought I would blog the comments I made on a panel discussing international Internet governance issues. This is a big issue, that I’ll be blogging more on.

I only decided to attend this forum on Monday evening. To be able to attend, all I had to do was go to the APIGF website and fill in the form. That was it. No one had to approve my attendance. No one asked what were my credentials to have a voice here. No Government approved my attendance. I simply said I want to have a say, and I was allowed to turn up and participate.

The same applies to many other meetings of Internet governance bodies such as the IETF and ICANN.

I think it is one of the strengths of our current governance arrangements for the Internet that there are no barriers for an individual like myself to be involved. I do not gain my income directly from the Internet, so have no direct commercial interest in it. I simply appreciate the fact that it has given me a voice.

As a comparison I thought I would try and register to attend the World Conference on International Telecommunications. So I went to the ITU website. Sadly there is no online registration to attend WCIT. It seems you have to be invited to attend!

I wondered if I could get invited to attend. There were two categories – member states and other organisations. I did consider declaring myself an independent country – the Republic of David, but was worried this may invalidate my New Zealand passport. So I clicked on the link for “other organisations”.  It came up with an invitation letter in six languages. I clicked on the English one and it asked me for my TIEs login and password.  I don’t even know what TIES stands for, so I guess I’m not going to be able to get an invite.

Even the link listing information for participants is password protected. I then tried to get the agenda – again you need a password.

I then tried to join the ITU, but there were two barriers to this. The first is individuals can not join, the second is that to even be an observer would cost me 11,000 US dollars.

I could carry on, but I think you get my point – the ITU operates in almost a polar opposite fashion to our traditional Internet governance bodies, including forums such as this. 

Now things are improving slightly with the ITU. They recently had a Council meeting. The list of participants is secret, as was the agenda, and the minutes. However they did resolve that an agenda for the WCIT would be placed on their website, and they would allow online comments on it.

Now this initiative is an improvement, and I welcome it. But it seems to be akin to a communication from an alien planet. For on Planet Internet we don’t need to have a meeting to decide whether or not an agenda can be made public. Our agendas are public, our participants are public, our proceedings are public. In fact they are generally webcast live over the Internet so anyone in the world can observe and sometimes participate.

So I see the potential involvement of the ITU in Internet governance as a threat to a free Internet in four ways. 

Firstly, as I have already stated individuals are locked out and not seen as stake-holders.

Secondly as we heard yesterday from Robert Pepper, some of the proposed changes to the ITRs threaten a free Internet by seeking to impose a telco charging model on Internet traffic. It costs me $3 a minute to call back home, and I would rather not also have to pay $3 an e-mail also.   Last week in New Zealand a telco executive complained that his revenues were declining and that the inability to extract payment from over the top players was ‘a global problem’.  For the next half hour the audience wanted to know why he thought the telco should be paid twice and that if he was unhappy with the market working as it should, why he wasn’t focused on innovation?

Thirdly many participants at the ITU appears to support new barriers to new forms of trade.  The free flow of data between nations lifts prosperity for everyone – call centres in New Zealand, and presumably in other countries need access to data from overseas to provide good customer service; manufacturers needs swift orders and suppliers; families spread across different countries want to be able communicate over video and share information cheaply, quickly and easily. Extra tarriffs and barriers on data are bad for the economy as a whole, not just consumers.

Fourth and finally, and for me most importantly, some of the ITR proposals threaten free speech on the Internet. I think it is entirely appropriate that each country governs what their citizens can say or do on the Internet, within the bounds of international law on freedom of expression but I do not think it is appropriate that one country can vote on what citizens in another country can say on the Internet. As much as I would like to be able to pass a law so no Australians can continue to claim they invented the pavlova, I would not welcome Australia passing a law forbidding New Zealanders from mentioning the great race horse Phar Lap was born in New Zealand.

So as a great fan of the Internet, I hope other fans of the Internet will talk to their Governments and ask them to vote against the proposals at WCIT which would damage the Internet. The decentralised open and transparent governance model for the Internet is not a bug that needs fixing, but is a critical part of why the Internet has been the success story it is. 

Robert Pepper is a vice-president of Cisco, and I am getting off him some of the details about proposed changes to the ITRs, or International Telecommunications Regulations. Some of them are hugely significant.