ITU Boss Explains Why He Wants The UN To Start Regulating The Internet

from the not-good dept

We’ve written a few times about why we should be worried about the ITU (a part of the UN) and its attempts to regulate the internet, to which some have responded by arguing that the ITU/UN doesn’t really want to regulate the internet. However, the Secretary-General of the ITU, Hamadoun Toure has now taken to the pages of Wired, to explicitly state why he believes the UN needs to regulate the internet. And it appears that many of the initial fears are 100% accurate. We’ve already covered how the ITU seems to be hiding all sorts of awful scary things by claiming they all fall under the “cybersecurity” banner, and we’ve noted that the ITU’s mandate over cybersecurity is imaginary and its history with the subject is sketchy, at best. However, in the op-ed, Toure doubles down on why the UN should be there helping countries censor things like “porn and propaganda” on the internet as a part of its “cybersecurity” efforts

Governments are looking for more effective frameworks to combat fraud and other crimes. Some commentators have suggested such frameworks could also legitimize censorship. However, Member States already have the right, as stated in Article 34 of the Constitution of ITU, to block any private telecommunications that appear “dangerous to the security of the State or contrary to its laws, to public order or to decency.” The treaty regulations cannot override the Constitution.

Many authorities around the world already intervene in communications for various reasons – such as preventing the circulation of pornography or extremist propaganda. So a balance must be found between protecting people’s privacy and their right to communicate; and between protecting individuals, institutions, and whole economies from criminal activities.

First, it should be made clear that Toure is being somewhat disingenuous here. The ITU’s mandate concerning such communications were written for a different time, when telecommunications meant limited communications systems — initially the telegraph (yes, that’s how far this goes back) and then the telephone. Toure claims that the ITU is “charged with coordinating global information and communication technology (ICT) resources,” but that’s only in his own mind. The “Constitution” he so proudly points to only refers to telecommunications — which in this context has a very, very different meaning than broader “information and communications technology.” The ITU’s charter is for telecommunications only. That is, old telephone networks (and telegraphs before that). In such cases, there was a need for a group like the ITU to help deal with standardization and interconnection among large companies. But, with the internet, their role is basically obsolete. There are other basic standards bodies — ones that are more open and understanding. But Toure is focused on helping out authoritarian states like Russia and China that want to claim that “pornography or extremist propaganda” should be censored.

This is a serious problem for those who support an open and free internet that provides greater ability for free expression to occur. If people are doing things that violate local laws, go after them legally and prosecute them under those laws. To put it on telcos — often ones with close ties to state governments — to block and censor, all in the name of “cybersecurity,” is opening up a huge can of worms. There is no need for the ITU to get involved in this situation at all.

Then, there’s the second big problem — and what this story is all about in reality. As we’ve noted in the past, large, slow, lumbering legacy telcos (many of them either state owned or formerly state owned) haven’t innovated at all. They see big internet companies, who are building awesome and fantastic services that consumers want — and getting rich doing so. In response, they get jealous, and say that they deserve some of that money. And that’s what this plan is really about — the ITU helping its “member” telcos try to divert money from the successful services out there to the big lumbering telcos who failed to innovate. Toure more or less says that in his op-ed, by labeling it as a more “fair” distribution of revenue:

An important and influential factor is network financing, so the conference may consider strategies around sharing revenues more fairly, stimulating investment, mainstreaming green ICTs, and expanding access as widely as possible to meet booming demand.

And that’s what this comes down to. It’s about diverting revenues from companies who earned it in the market, to the telcos who did nothing, often getting fat and lazy on the back of government subsidies and who are now jealous. But since they make up the core of the ITU and give it its purpose, suddenly it’s all about “sharing revenues more fairly.”

Thankfully, it appears that most of the commenters on the Wired piece see through this and are calling Toure out on it.

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Comments on “ITU Boss Explains Why He Wants The UN To Start Regulating The Internet”

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ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Maybe it’s just me, but my personal sentiment has always been that if the politicians want to try and regulate a global computer network they are more than welcome to go and program their own.

Be careful what you wish for. They may make you live with what they create on their own, and I’d be much happier living on a global computer network built by scientists and engineers than politicians and dictators.

Zakida Paul says:

How exactly would regulating the Internet? Do they not know that the Internet is simply a collection of individual networks that are interconnected? Also, how would they get around the fact that such regulations would need to be uniform in each and every country around the world?

It seems like regulation of the Internet is a governmental pipe dream that is just too impractical to implement.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

It seems like regulation of the Internet is a governmental pipe dream that is just too impractical to implement.

Technically, it would be quite easy to do. The internet’s Achilles’s heel is the backbone. The backbone is fairly localized and concentrated, and any subnet can quite easily be disconnected from it. It’s also owned almost entirely by the major telecom companies.

Even right now, the US scans most of the traffic flowing over the internet by installing equipment in a few dozen locations in North America.

JWW (profile) says:

I think the key here is how he started his piece:

“Governments are looking for…”

Well, Mr. Government toady, thats all fine an good.

But as for the PEOPLE on the Internet, we couldn’t care less what “governments” want. We want our Freedom of Expression!! Sorry that’s too inconvenient for you.

Take your useless, worthless, outmoded extra-governmental agency and go straight to hell.

Argonel (profile) says:

I think the ITU should feel welcome to try to regulate the internet the same way the IEEE does. Write standards proposals and see buys in and starts manufacturing equipment or supplying software that meets the standards requirements. I predect the this will lead to ITUnet with a few thousand users, mostly government sponsored and the continuation of the internet with millions/billions of users.

Anonymous Coward says:

Revenue sharing brings out the Randian in me

“Orren Boyle’s Associated Steel owns 60 open-hearth furnaces, one-third of them standing idle and the rest producing an average of 300 tons of steel per furnace per day. I own 20 open-hearth furnaces, working at capacity, producing 750 tons of Rearden Metal per furnace per day. So we own 80 pooled furnaces with a pooled output of 27,000 tons, which makes an average of 337.5 tons per furnace. Each day of the year, I producing 15,000 tons, will be paid for 6,750 tons. Boyle, producing 12,000 tons, will be paid for 20,250 tons. Now how long do you expect me to last under your plan?”?

Mr. Rearden – In times of [inter]national peril, it’s your duty to serve.

Allen (profile) says:

I dont think the ITU is the right international body for this. Some members of the ITU are no doubt taking this as an opportunity for a bureaucratic power grab.

But others are motivated by concerns that the non government organizations that run critical components of the internet are only non government because US Federal law delegated the responsibility. If you visit this site only casually you will see plenty of evidence of discomfort from US citizens over what the government is doing to spy on it’s own citizens, block websites, attempts to impose US law on foreign websites, etc. so it shouldn’t be too surprising that the US government isn’t quite trusted to maintain it’s “hands off” oversight.

These concerns aren’t going to go away and debate about how to address them is a good thing.

Anonymous Coward says:

Russia and the Itu

The only major mistake in the article ? or rather, lacuna ? is ascribing the ‘regulator’ motive to Russia/China. The USA and other, more shadowy members of the erstwhile Western bloc of nations, are at the forefront of sales globally of surveillance and interception hardware and systems, which are beginning to replace traditional arms and weaponry as instruments of government control of people.

iambinarymind (profile) says:

Re: "Regulating the internet" is not what they are trying to do.

…and “free speech” is just an logical extension of “property rights” (which are a logical extension of self-ownership).

All “rights” are property rights.

The core solution: Respect for property rights as an extension of self-ownership, and the “non-aggression principle” (the initation of force is immoral while self-defense is valid).

For more on these ideas I highly recommend two works by Murray N. Rothbard – “For A New Liberty” and “The Ethics of Liberty” [both of which can be downloaded for free over at]

iambinarymind (profile) says:

Leave the Internet Alone...

The power to regulate is the power to grant favors.

“Regulation” is just a euphemism for individuals calling themselves “government” using force/coercion to keep individuas from voluntarily interacting & exchanging with other individuals.

The more freedom and voluntary exchange that occurs, the more prosperous a society becomes.

The “solution” that the ITU boss is proposing would result in the exact opposite of his claims.

It is tantamount to a gangster coming to your place of business and claiming that you need his “help” to keep your business “safe” & accessible to all, all for a fee of say, $5,000 a month. If you choose not to pay for the gangster’s “help”, the gangers will destroy your business and beat you to a pulp.

The true answer is consensual relationships and voluntary exchange, with respect for property rights as a logical extension of self-ownership.

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