UN: We Don't Want To Take Over The Internet... Just Fundamentally Change How It Works
from the tone-deaf dept
Cerf points out that the ITU is playing word games in claiming that it simply acts as a neutral platform for various proposals from different telcos, noting that it's pretty clear that it's been actively working in this direction for a while, encouraging proposals that would give the ITU much greater say in key internet issues, despite little familiarity with the basics of the internet (or, worse, thinking that it's no different than a standard telco network).
Of course, the ITU process is being condemned by a growing number of folks. The US government has a surprisingly unified voice on this issue, with both houses of Congress emphatically passing resolutions rejecting the ITU's efforts here. Of course, the worry is that the US is just one vote in the process, and many other countries see this as an opportunity not just to prop up telcos, but to better establish standards that would make it easy to monitor and censor the internet. Iran, China and Russia, for example, have all been quite interested in the upcoming ITU discussions. Now, the US is (not surprisingly) still a powerful voice in what happens here, so even as just one vote, it can exert influence... which it appears to be trying to do in a variety of ways.
Given the sudden and unexpected public interest in its activities, the ITU has been scrambling to respond, including having its chief, Hamadoun Toure give a talk at Columbia supposedly responding to "critics." Of course, as Larry Downes highlights, Toure and the ITU seem totally tone deaf in the way they've responded so far. For example, Toure seems to think that the complaints are all due to "sensationalist claims in the press," -- apparently ignoring governments, the public, internet companies, civil service, public interest groups and others. All the press's fault, apparently.
The ITU itself, meanwhile, is stepping up the rhetoric in its campaign to defend the transfer of at least some Internet oversight from today’s multi-stakeholder process to the U.N. Dr. Toure, for example, says that he hopes the WCIT negotiations will address issues “of real import,” including Internet security.Toure, of course, is used to dealing with telco execs and some regulators, and simply hasn't been prepared for public scrutiny at all.
But “security,” in ITU jargon, is a loaded term, relating more to perceived threats to national security than to the security of network communications.
In that regard, the ITU has become dangerously close to associating itself with the overtly repressive goals of Russia. Last year, at a meeting between Dr. Toure and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Putin was characteristically blunt about his country’s aspirations for the ITU. Putin told Dr. Toure that he was keen on “establishing international control over the Internet using the monitoring and supervisory capability of the International Telecommunications Union.”
The ITU’s clumsy response has exposed just how uncomfortable the agency is in dealing directly with Internet users worldwide—a sure sign of the ITU’s inability to regulate a technology it doesn’t even know how to use. The agency’s flurry of releases read like weird dispatches from Dickensian England, with lots of extra “distinguished guests,” “plenipotentiaries” “directorates,” and references to “civil society” thrown in for good measure.So not only does the group not actually understand the internet that it's looking to have much more control over... it doesn't even think that web-only journalists count as real journalists. Is this really the group that we want making decisions on core internet issues?
In an unprecedented number of interviews and public speeches, ITU senior officials have tried to dismiss their critics as “scaremongers” and “paranoids.” Dr. Toure has even called out FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell, who first brought the threat of a free-for-all WCIT to the attention of Congress.
The agency also keeps the media at arm’s length or better. Any journalist who wishes to cover the WCIT conference, for example, must first satisfy the ITU that they are “a professional journalist or analyst with a proven track record of reporting for bona fide media.” Online journalists must be “registered to a media organization with a verifiable non-web address and telephone number.” Bloggers can just stay home.