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.