|December 3, 2012
The International Telecommunications Union (ITU), an imprint of the UN, is holding its World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) from December 3-14, 2012. The stated purpose of the WCIT is to update the UN's "global treaty" on telecommunications to deal more directly and comprehensively with the internet. Knowing who controls the UN, it is not hard to see that a primary aim of the updated "treaty" will be to give credence to the regulation and monitoring of online activity in ways that are desirable to the (authoritarian) majority of member states.
Here is a portion of the ITU's official explanation of the need for a new regulatory regime, in its Resolution 146:
[T]he International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs) were last amended in Melbourne in 1988.
[T]he international telecommunications environment has significantly evolved, both from the technical and policy perspectives, and... it continues to evolve rapidly.
[A]dvances in technology have resulted in an increased use of IP-enabled infrastructure and relevant applications presenting both opportunities and challenges for ITU Member States and Sector Members.
[I]n order for ITU to maintain its pre-eminent role in global telecommunications, it must continue to demonstrate its capacity to respond adequately to the rapidly changing telecommunication environment.
[I]t is important to ensure that the ITRs [International Telecommunications Regulations] are reviewed and, if deemed appropriate, revised and updated in a timely manner in order to facilitate cooperation and coordination among Member States and to reflect accurately the relations between Member States, Sector Members, administrations and recognized operating agencies.
In case you missed a few classes of Regulatory Bureaucracy Speak 101, please allow me to translate:
Since we last updated our global telecommunications regulations, the internet, operating in a relatively unregulated environment, has grown by leaps and bounds, as human productive endeavors when left unregulated have an annoying tendency to do. Therefore, in order to keep this wildly successful communications network from getting any farther ahead of our regulatory apparatus, it is time to develop a strong, binding framework to limit internet growth, use, and activity in ways deemed necessary by those UN member states, such as China, Russia, and Iran, that are opposed on principle to unrestricted international communication, on the grounds that it tends to foster an informed and rebellious population.
In sum, authoritarian regimes with a vested interest in limiting public access to the outside world, or monitoring and censoring communications for "sensitive" content, are beginning to question whether the ITU is a sufficient guarantor of their control over their inmates with regard to global communication. If we do not act now to "demonstrate our capacity to respond adequately," our "pre-eminent role in global telecommunications" -- i.e., our role as facilitator of the statist status quo -- will be challenged. In other words, if Vladimir thinks we are not serving his interests anymore, he will get angry, and no one wants to see Vladimir angry.
Is this translation of mine all just a lot of conservative fear-mongering about an innocent UN agency going about its daily business of fostering "supportive, transparent, pro-competitive, and predictable policies," as Resolution 146 says?
Well, one easy way to check on that would be to read through the WCIT meeting's official agenda. Unfortunately, that agenda, though linked on the ITU website, is password-protected to restrict access to members of the global bureaucracy. Specifically, the agenda may officially be read only by those government administrators, relevant apparatchiks, and contributing academics who are members of the Telecommunication Information Exchange Service. Yes, that is TIES -- you could not invent a more suitable acronym for the "information service" of a global regulatory agency.
Internet users and providers, including even some, such as Google, that have a spotty history of resisting government encroachments into their industry, are expressing grave concerns about the ITU's intentions. However, the ITU's secretary-general, Hamadoun I. Touré, seeks to reassure us that this meeting of the UN's telecommunications regulatory agency has nothing to do with regulating communication. Asked on Al-Jazeera why, given the extraordinary success of the internet as an unregulated domain, the ITU is choosing to write regulations now, he said:
The ITRs that is going to take place in Dubai is not about that. The ITRs is not about internet regulation. I'm very much surprised that all the debate is about this. The ITRs is revising the 1988 treaty that set the stage for the information society we are in today. But at the time, in 1988, it was only telephone communications, mainly, and back then, the settlement between operators was based on time, distance, and location. Today, we have a very significant growth of voice, video, and data, and therefore there is a need to fine tune the business model so that there is more investment in the infrastructure, to cope with the exponential growth in voice, video, and data traffic.... It's not about internet freedom. Nobody today would dare to go against the freedom of the internet.