Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Next threat on the Internet Horizon: Watch the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT)

The World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT)is a global treaty conference hosted by the International Telecommunication Union where the national governments will be coming together to discuss and modify the International Telecommunications Regulations (ITRs). The Conference will be held December 3 - 14, 2012 in Dubai.

The fear is that the ITU which are calling the meeting and planning the update of the regulations are less than transparent and are in the pocket of copyright/IP lobbyists.
(see blog posts at Electronic Frontier Foundation here, and here and from Milton Mueller for the Internet Governance Project here.

According to the EFF, the ITU is inimical to the Internet's model and ethos:

the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), a bureaucratic agency made up of 193 member states and corporate “associate” members that include some of the world’s most powerful telecommunications companies. When it hashes out treaties, the ITU epitomizes many of the worst traits of Internet policymaking -- it is an exclusive, government-directed process that is hostile to the distributed decision-making model that has fostered the Internet’s growth. (snip)

One dangerously problematic provision in the ITU Constitution, [f]or example, includes a State’s "right" to stop or suspend access to telecommunications services in order to address any communication that is dangerous to state security. In other words, the ITU Constitution permits “kill switches”— it allows governments to cut off the lifeline of communications networks in times of political protest, as the world witnessed states doing during the recent event in Egypt and Libya.

In an effort to remain relevant, the ITU has already issued a number of technical standards (ITU-T) and reports relating to various aspects of Internet policy, including on cybersecurity and cybercrime. However, these have not been binding, nor have they witnessed broad adoption or been elevated to the level of international regulations.

This coming December, the ITU’s underlying core regulatory instrument, the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs), will be revised at a gathering of global governments known as the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT). This meeting is particularly significant because it’s the first time the treaty will be revised since the Internet was widely adopted. And given concerns about the problematic Internet-related provisions already in place, considerable attention has been directed at the ITU’s upcoming meeting in December, when its 193 member states intend to vote on whether to regulate certain aspects of Internet policy at an international level.

Just as with other international treaties or trade agreements, the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs) are legally binding on all the ITU’s Member States. This means that while it’s still up to lawmakers to decide whether, or to what extent, they should implement the updated ITRs into domestic law, democratic countries, including those with weak democratic institutions or a lack of robust advocacy organizations will be more likely to adopt any flawed provisions that make their way into the treaty.
This will bear watching and the folks who care about Internet growth and health being ready to lobby their legislator

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