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Is Internet Freedom in Danger?

Ray Le Maistre

The ITU on the Record
We spoke with the ITU about the proposals and the potential for any sort of impact on the Internet.

First we asked about the proposals, which can't be accessed by Joe Public. ITU spokesman Toby Johnson points out that it is the decision of the ITU's member states to have those documents password-protected and that Dr. Touré has encouraged members to make the proposal documents open access. The ITU has to abide by the decisions of its members, says Johnson, so it can't take a unilateral decision to make them public. The ITU does not make proposals and it can't enforce any decisions taken by members -- it is a facilitator, acting as a coordinator on behalf of its members.

But for anyone that wants to read the Russian proposal, it's right here on WCITleaks.org, along with a few others in this list.

On the issue of "light-touch" regulation, Johnson notes that the International Telecommunications Regulations, while being "legal instruments," are recommendations that can then be implemented by member states within their own jurisdictions. They are not applicable on a regional or global basis.

The "consensus" issue is still a grey area, though: Johnson says he will have to delve deeper to find the ITU's specification on what "consensus" means in terms of WCIT discussions.

So will the WCIT-12 conference usher in a new era of Internet regulation and suppression? Not on a global basis. Any International Telecommunications Regulations that are agreed by member states cannot override certain ITU principles regarding freedom of speech and anything that is agreed by any "consensus" during the Dubai conference can only be imposed by individual governments within their own jurisdictions -- and there are already plenty of cases where this is happening, to the detriment of the open Internet access and usage (for example, China and Iran).

But that's not to say that what happens in Dubai is not relevant to the Internet community. Each member state will represent their citizens' rights in the way they see fit and that means there will be many differing views and approaches. Any resulting amendments to existing International Telecommunications Regulations and any new statutes will need to be examined closely because they could affect laws in the country where you live.

The major concern is that ETNO's proposals, which weren't adopted by any European member states but were taken up by some Middle Eastern and African members, might influence some International Telecommunications Regulations, heralding the potential for charges to be levied at Internet traffic exchanges.

— Ray Le Maistre, International Managing Editor, Light Reading

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User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:17:02 PM
re: Is Internet Freedom in Danger?

This is a delicate situation and the ITU is required to behave in a certain way, so I do wonder if it is going to be dumped on whatever happens. 

The thing is, its track record and reputation as a very political, machiavellian organization (I'm thinking back to the 1990s and early 2000s) won't be helping...

User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:16:51 PM
re: Is Internet Freedom in Danger?

The title suggests that there is some kind of universal freedom on the Internet, which is suddenly threatened by ITU. This is highly questionable.

Practically all countries use the net to spy on their citizens. Most countries also block web sites, not due to national security but relatively small crimes such as copyright issues.

At the same time, corporations are assembling massive amounts of personal information about us. This information is shared with authorities, and will most probably eventually leak out. When will Google have their first Bradley Manning?

The question here is: What is the biggest threat to internet freedom - ITU regulation changes, or Google?

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