UN agency releases controversial draft on treaty revising Internet regulation


The International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the United Nations agency charged with information and communications policy, last Friday released a batch of proposals–some quite controversial–submitted by member organizations and states in an attempt, the organization says, to become more transparent as it demands a bigger role in governing the Internet.

Collectively known as TD64, the proposals will be reviewed at the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT-12) in December. The conference is a rare event that will update the telecommunications treaty that outlines ITU's responsibilities based on these approved proposals. The treaty, called the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITR), hasn't been revised since it was developed in 1988. Considered a draft to the future treaty, TD64 is currently posted on the organization's WCIT-12 website for the public to review and comment. 

While some of submissions aim to tackle cybercrime and cybersecurity, there are other plans, such as one sponsored by the European Telecommunications Network Operators Association (ETNO), that would alter the Internet's current infrastructure. According to an analysis by the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT), this particular proposal, if implemented, would be problematic for online innovation and competition, as well as making Internet access more expensive for users.

CDT is among the organization's critics, arguing that ITU's involvement in managing the Internet would threaten freedom of expression. Critics also have long maintained that the UN agency would disrupt the multi-state, consensus-driven global system anchored by the Internet Corporation for Assigined Names and Numbers (ICANN). The Los Angeles-based organization assigns IP addresses and maintains the domain name system registry of the Internet, which then works with multiple global organizations, governments and companies to operate the world wide web.

CDT also charges that the UN telecommunications arm's efforts toward transparency do not go far enough. "We think these are extremely modest first steps and don't really go nearly far enough into creating the kind of open and inclusive and transparent process we believe needs to take place if we're going to be talking about key issues about Internet policy," said Cynthia Wong, CDT's director of the global Internet freedom project, at last week's joint press briefing with Public Knowledge.

Although the United Nations agency has existed since the mid 1800s, when it was in charge with managing telegraph networks, and later, telecommunications technology, groups opposed to ITU's expansion in Internet policy argue that it doesn't have the robust expertise and structure to work with a variety of entities in managing the web.

"They've been working on telephony. They've been working on satelite orbits, on spectrum issues," said Sherwin Siy, deputy legal director at Public Knowledge, at the press briefing. "They haven't been working on Internet issues. It's that lack of expertise on those areas that makes the proposals that are coming out concerning because they do strike heavily onto those areas."

Another reason why critics are concerned with a UN-related Internet is the International Code of Conduct for Information Security. Submitted by China, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan at the last fall's General Assembly, the plan calls for governments to be the "policy authority for Internet-related public issues." 

The U.S. government, which developed ICANN, has also been against the UN's attempt to manage the web. Last month, Congress approved a resolution opposing proposals that would "treat the Internet like an old-fashioned telephone service." A letter signed by 20 Republican members of Congress last week urging Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to do whatever it takes to "prevent centralized goverment control over the Internet" was the latest U.S. move to publically oppose Internet regulation.

On July 13, ITU announced the upcoming release of the key document that would provide a peak at the group's internal processes. Known for being an obscure organization, ITU called the move a "landmark decision." 

The announcement was made shortly after several groups pressured ITU to publicly release the proposals. The move also came after TD64, along with another set of proposals referred to as TD62, was leaked on WCITleaks.org, a site created early last month to make the WCIT process more transparent. 

When asked why TD62 wasn't included in the conference website, Sarah Parkes, an ITU representative said, in an e-mail, that "there was not a lot of point releasing any other document which might only serve to confuse." 

Parkes also added that member states are free to "publish any documents they see fit as part of their national consultation process."