December 10, 2012
If authorized, a proposal — signed by Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates — would take control of allotting Internet addresses from the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a U.S.-based agency.
It would also give governments the power not only to block web addresses, but also allow for pacts between countries so access to websites could be eradicated at each others’ request.
The proposal is a confirmation of the fears many Western countries, privacy groups and Internet service providers had before the International Telecommunication Union Internet treaty talks began in Dubai Dec. 3.
Government regulators from 193 countries are taking part in the World Conference on International Telecommunications (Wcit) hosted by the ITU, a United Nations organization that oversees international communication policy.
Russia and its cohorts are seeking the changes as part of an overhaul of the International Telecommunications Regulations treaty — a document that hasn’t been updated since 1988.
The United States, Canada, Central and South America, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and some Asian countries such as Japan are adamant the treaty should apply only to traditional telecommunications such as international wireline and wireless calls.
Countries can decide to opt out of sections of the revised treaty or decline to sign the document in its entirety.
The Russia-led coalition is gunning for the revised treaty to incorporate procedures to contend with spam e-mail. Its classification of spam, however, is so wide-ranging, practically any e-mailed message could be targeted allowing administrations to repress any person or group seen as a challenger to the regime or its ideals.
The U.S. along with Canada has issued a counter-proposal that would keep the treaty from being applied to Google and other search engines or government and business networks.
The U.S. and Canada said the changes Russia is pushing for would allow countries to suppress free speech, diminish anonymity online and allow for censorship of any and all Internet content.
U.S. ambassador to Wcit Terry Kramer late last week described a number of proposals for the treaty as “alarming.”
“There have been active recommendations that there be an invasive approach of governments in managing the Internet, in managing the content that goes via the Internet, what people are looking at, what they’re saying, et cetera,” he said during an on-the-record briefing.
“These fundamentally violate everything that we believe in in terms of democracy and opportunities for individuals, and we’re going to vigorously oppose any proposals of that nature.”
Kramer said a number of the proposed changes would force Internet providers to pay to have traffic delivered abroad.
“If you can think about the implications of this, today much of what we get via the Internet is free,” he said. “In these models, there would now be a paid model. And many of the organizations that send content are non-profit organizations, they’re universities that provide free online courses, they’re organizations like the Khan Academy that provide YouTube clips for free online education for young people.”
Kramer said better cyber security is necessary to protect users from malware and hackers and while many of the proposed treaty changes touch on that, they also “open the door for content censorship, for routing of traffic, and the ability of governments to control what’s happening on those networks.”
Google has expressed similar concerns.
“Only governments have a voice at the ITU,” Google said. “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 search engine has launched a campaign imploring its users to “support a free and open Internet.”
The summit wraps up on Dec. 14.