Associations to the UN: Don’t Mess With the Internet

During an international telecom conference, United Nations members held a provisional vote to consider allowing for greater government oversight of the internet. Associations came out against the measure.

Could the United Nations open up a can of worms regarding internet regulation?

A conference taking place this week in Dubai put the question on the table, and a number of associations are sounding the alarm as a result. More details:

We urge the internet community to join together to stop this imminent threat to internet freedom.

The situation: At the UN’s World Conference on International Telecommunications on Thursday, a provisional vote to consider greater government oversight of the internet moved forward, despite the concerns of Western nations. A nation bloc that includes China, Russia, and a number of Middle Eastern countries favors the UN giving governments more control of the network. The meeting, which ends Friday, is considering some of the first revisions to worldwide telecommunications rules since 1988, the Associated Press reports.

Internet concerns: Western governments, including the United States, along with many associations, are concerned that the UN may use the opportunity to allow for more regulation and censorship over a network that has largely benefited from a high level of freedom. “We do not believe the focus of this conference should be on the internet, and we did not come to this conference in anticipation of a discussion on the internet,” said U.S. Ambassador Terry Kramer.

Supporters’ stances: Countries looking for more regulation, including Saudi Arabia and Russia, say they would like more control over spam, domain names, and other issues related to the web, Bloomberg reports. These countries say that not enough compromises are being made on the issue. “I brought it to this meeting, but I have to say there is a group that was basically walking out of this compromise one after one,” Chairman Mohammed Nasser Al Ghanim said of the nonbinding vote, which he proposed at the meeting in an effort to “sound the temperature of the room.”

Associations’ strong words: A number of major trade groups, including the recently formed Internet Association and the Internet Society, have spoken out against the vote. The Internet Assocation, in a statement, said it considers the vote a prelude to censorship and that it “is strongly opposed to [International Telecommunication Union] efforts to regulate the internet, and urges member states to ensure it is not included in the final treaty text. We urge the internet community to join together to stop this imminent threat to internet freedom.”

While the International Telecommunication Union—founded in the age of the telegraph in 1865 and now an agency of the UN—has no formal control over regulation of the internet, the United States and other governments have expressed concern that these votes could lay groundwork that nations such as China could use to sell their own regulatory efforts.

(Delegates meet Thursday at the World Conference on International Telecommunications in Dubai. ITU photo)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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