A little known United Nations body, The International Telecommunications Union (ITU), is quietly making moves that would give that U.N. and its 192 member-states increased control of the Internet according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.
An internal ITU planning document leaked to the Web site WCITLeaks.org includes a proposal to make some or all ITU standards mandatory for UN member nations. At the same time, proposals from representatives of the Russian, Chinese and Iranian governments could legitimize government censorship of citizens online activities, civil liberties and Internet freedom activists warn.
Founded as the regulatory body that would oversee telegraphic communications, the ITU is now a UN agency responsible for information and communication technologies. The ITU has kept a low profile, but an upcoming World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT), scheduled for this December in Dubai, has set the stage for the body to take a more active role in international telecommunications issues with an update to the International Telecommunications Regulations (ITR), which were last revised in Melbourne in 1988. Preparations for the WCIT have been opaque, prompting George Mason researchers Eli Dourado and Jerry Brito to launch WCITLeaks.org as a forum for shedding light on the proceedings.
That gamble paid off last week when WCITLeaks received a leaked 212-page proposal for ITR modifications, titled: ‘CSG-WCIT12 Temporary Document 62.’ Some of the proposals sparked immediate concern. Among them: a proposal supported by Russia and Iran that calls for a system for measuring traffic along national boundaries and establishing a system for billing the source-country, similar to the way that international phone calls work. This, Dourado claims, would create a new stream of revenue for autocratic regimes and increase the cost of accessing international websites.
A provision, supported by Russia, Rwanda and several Arab nations would establish an international legal definition for ‘spam.’ Dourado warns that such a definition could establish a precedent through which governments could inspect personal emails.
Another proposal would grant the ITU a role in allocating Internet addresses. Other sections introduce content regulation powers to the ITU under the guise of combating spam, malware, and online crime.
There are signs in the leaked document that not all member nations are on board with the ITU proposals for expanding its powers. In a note accompanying the leaked document, the U.S. delegation wrote that the ‘text suggests that the ITU has a role in content related issues. We do not believe it does.’
“These proposals show that many ITU member states want to use international agreements to regulate the Internet by crowding out bottom-up institutions, imposing charges for international communication, and controlling the content that consumers can access online,” Dourado wrote in an article on The Technology Liberation Front.