Quite a week for random governmental retractions. Back in February, when we first warned
about the upcoming "World Conference on International Telecommunications" (WCIT) meeting of the UN's International Telecommunications Union (ITU), we noted that the thing to be most afraid of was countries like Russia and China using the process to take over control of aspects of the internet, in part to allow greater control for the sake of censorship, but also to set up questionable "tariffs" on internet traffic, designed to basically divert money to state owned or "closely associated" telcos. While much of the focus over the past few months was on the EU telcos proposal
, you had to know that even worse was coming.
Last week, the Russians released their proposal, first in Russian and a few days later with an English translation to the ITU -- and both versions quickly leaked. You can download it
from the Internet Archive or view the embed below. It is a pretty blatantly bad document. Larry Downes, over at News.com, has a pretty thorough analysis of the document
and why it's troubling. Here's a snippet:
The leaked proposal would strongly endorse national control over those parts of the Internet that reside within a country's borders, including ISPs, traffic, and engineering. One suggested change to the treaty, for example, declares that "Member States shall have the sovereign right to manage the Internet within their national territory, as well as to manage national Internet domain names."
Russia is also calling for a major revision to the multi-stakeholder governance process that has long-presided over domain names and Internet addressing, which it calls a "critical transnational resource." Under a proposed revision, the treaty would be amended to make clear that "Member States shall have equal rights in the international allocation of Internet addressing and identification resources."
Today, oversight of domain names and IP addresses is delegated to ICANN, a nongovernmental organization, which manages key Internet resources through a complex mechanism. According to ICANN, its model is "bottom up" and includes "registries, registrars, Internet Service Providers (ISPs), intellectual property advocates, commercial and business interests, noncommercial and nonprofit interests, representation from more than 100 governments, and a global array of individual Internet users."
The ITU, by contrast, allows only its member nations to vote. Private organizations can participate in its proceedings by paying a large annual fee but cannot propose amendments or vote.
This isn't a surprise... but it is a clear problem:
Curbing the Internet is a priority for these countries that goes well beyond the WCIT process. China, for example, recently hosted its first annual "Internet Roundtable for Emerging Countries," attended by Russia, Brazil, India, and South Africa. According to observers of the meeting, the participants agreed that "The Internet must be managed by governments, with a particular focus on the influence of social networks on society."
The Russian proposal, however, is the most audacious power grab to date. And it comes as little surprise to observers of the ITU, which has deepened ties to Russia in a bid to demonstrate its relevance in cybersecurity. Last year, during a meeting between Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and ITU Secretary-General Hamadoun Toure, Putin bluntly told Toure that Russia was keen on the idea of "establishing international control over the Internet using the monitoring and supervisory capability of the International Telecommunications Union."
Of course, a funny thing happened over the weekend... In talking to people familiar with the matter, we found out that days after the Russian proposal went live, they pulled it and submitted a "revised" version. Right now it's Russian only, so people are waiting for the ITU's translators to dig in, but we're hearing from people who understand Russian that the new version is slightly
better than the original, but still has significant problems.
Meanwhile, Downes piece also has two ridiculous tidbits about just how out of touch and clueless the ITU is. Earlier this month, we wrote about an editorial in Wired by ITU boss Hamadoun Toure in which he explained why the UN should
regulate the internet. Downes points out that the title of that article was changed from "UN Must Regulate the Internet" to "UN: We Seek to Bring Internet to All." Quite different, though it's unclear who came up with the headline. The bigger issue, however, is that part of Toure's insistence that the ITU process is an "open" one relies on the existence of the WCIT Public Views and Opinions
page, where people could submit their opinions -- and he encouraged people to do so. Only problem? At the time Toure's piece was published, the ITU had already turned off
the ability to add new comments.
A link directed readers to the WCIT 12 "Public Views and Opinions" page, which, since it was created in July, has received only 15 posts.
But perhaps that's because the ITU required commenters to first register, provide extensive identifying information, and agree to a lengthy terms of service agreement before they could "express their views" on the contents of a single, and highly redacted, early draft of the proposals the ITU decided to release. (The complete document, as well as many more recent versions, are available on WCITLeaks.)
Or perhaps that's because, as one of Wired's reader's pointed out, the "Public Views and Opinions" page had actually been shut down before Toure's editorial was even published.
Weeks ahead of the conference, and just as some of the worst proposals are leaking out of the ITU's information fortress, the public comment page now reads solemnly: "We inform you that the WCIT-12 Open Consultation process is now closed."
That statement captures, in a nutshell, everything that's wrong with the WCIT, and the ITU's pathetic effort to spin it.
Why is it even a discussion for the ITU to try to take more control over the internet when they clearly have no clue?