Talks over global internet regulation collapse

RTÉ News
December 14, 2012

 

Members of the U.S. delegation/FILE PHOTO: ITU

Members of the U.S. delegation
FILE PHOTO: ITU

An attempt to establish global oversight of the internet has collapsed after many Western countries said a compromise plan gave too much power to United Nations and other officials. Delegates from the US, Britain and other countries took to the floor at a UN conference in Dubai to reject a treaty governing international phone calls and data traffic.While other countries will sign the treaty, 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.

“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 representative at the UN’s International Telecommunication Union.

Though technologists who had raised alarms about the proceedings preferred no deal to one that would have legitimised more government censorship and surveillance, the failure to reach an accord could increase the chance that the internet will work very differently in different regions.

“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, said.

“That would be negative for all, and I hope our American, European colleagues come to a constructive position.”

Delegates from the US and other holdout countries said they would continue to press at other international gatherings in support of what they call a “multi-stakeholder model,” in which private industry groups set standards and play a large role in the development of the medium.

Countries that had been seeking an expansion of the ITU role reacted with some bitterness to the failure to reach a consensus.

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TOR note: At last, some good news. CNet News featured a great piece about this summit, including this encouraging bit:

“In a sharply partisan U.S. election year, skepticism about the U.N. process had emerged as a rare point of bipartisan accord: the House of Representatives unanimously approved a resolution last week aimed at sending a strong message to the ITU. It said, in part, that “the consistent and unequivocal policy of the United States [is] to promote a global Internet free from government control.”"