November 29, 2012
Google has joined the fight against the projected update to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) treaty that would grant governments added authority to hamper the flow of information on the Internet.
The ITU, a United Nations organization that oversees international communication policy, is to meet in Dubai Dec. 3 for the World Conference on International Telecommunications. One item on the agenda is the review of proposals to update the International Telecommunications Regulations treaty, which hasn’t been updated since 1988.
Some of the possible modifications would lend the ITU the muscle to control the flow of information which, in turn, would hand the organization the power to censor speech or obstruct the release of public information.
Google has launched a campaign imploring its users to “support a free and open Internet.” Users can sign a petition here.
“A free and open world depends on a free and open Internet,” Google says. “Governments alone, working behind closed doors, should not direct its future. The billions of people around the globe who use the Internet should have a voice.”
According to Google, if the ITU approved the proposed changes to the treaty, it could mean governments could not only censor speech, but cut off Internet access completely to specific users.
“Other proposals would require services like YouTube, Facebook, and Skype to pay new tolls in order to reach people across borders,” Google says. “This could limit access to information — particularly in emerging markets.”
“Only governments have a voice at the ITU,” Google adds. “This includes governments that do not support a free and open Internet. Engineers, companies, and people that build and use the Web have no vote. The ITU is also secretive. The treaty conference and proposals are confidential.”
The ITU is not taking kindly to claims it is trying to censure the Internet with the proposed treaty changes.
Paul Conneally, ITU’s head of communications and partnership promotion division, targets Google in a recent blog post.
“Google has erroneously claimed that WCIT-12, which will take place in Dubai from Dec. 3-14, will be used as a forum to increase censorship and regulate the Internet,” he writes. “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.
“ITU’s mandate in the Internet is laid down by the Plenipotentiary Conference Resolutions which were agreed to by consensus in 2010. Nothing can be agreed at WCIT-12 to change this mandate.”
The Plenipotentiary Conference, which is the supreme organ of the ITU meets every four years.
The blog post continues:
“Google has also incorrectly stated, on its official website, that governments alone, working behind closed doors, should not direct the Internet’s future.
The so-called closed-door meeting is however inclusive of 193 national delegations which are participating in WCIT-12. In addition, ITU is pleased to note that private sector companies and civil society organizations have registered to attend WCIT-12 in large numbers.
The United States, where Google itself is headquartered, has confirmed more than 125 people in its delegation to WCIT-12, with a large majority of these delegates representing the private sector and civil society.
It is interesting to note that Google representatives are part of the United States delegation.
We regret that Google did not take the opportunity to choose to join ITU as a member, which would have enabled it to participate in its own right in the WCIT-12 preparatory process.
The very thorough and inclusive preparatory process leading up to the WCIT-12 has been completely transparent.”
Despite the ITU’s assertions “that a revised treaty can help harness the power of ICTs to deliver social and economic benefits in every nation on earth,” Google is not the only entity expressing concern.
The Center for Democracy and Technology is also calling on organizations and citizens alike to oppose an extension of ITU authority.
The CDT has an online petition it is asking people to sign.
“Internet governance decisions should be made in a transparent manner with genuine multi-stakeholder participation from civil society, governments, and the private sector,” the petition reads. “We call on the ITU and its member states to embrace transparency and reject any proposals that might expand ITU authority to areas of Internet governance that threaten the exercise of human rights online.”
So far, 31,430 individuals and 926 organizations have signed the petition, with 161 countries represented.
The European Parliament also passed a resolution Nov. 22 urging member states to prevent ITU activity at WCIT-12 which would “negatively impact the Internet, its architecture, operations, content and security, business relations, internet governance and the free flow of information online.”
The resolution declared the ITU is not the suitable organization to have “regulatory authority” of the Internet.