At closed-door discussions to be held next month, an Internet treaty will be discussed that could grant repressive regimes with dominant control over the Internet. This would lead to greater surveillance over everyday online activity, more expensive access costs and strict censorship that would have governments deciding what citizens can or cannot see.
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Article by Larry Downes for CNET News
The Russian Federation is calling on the United Nations to take over key aspects of Internet governance, including addressing and naming, according to documents leaked on Friday from an upcoming treaty conference.
The Russians made their proposal on November 13 in the lead-up to December's World Conference on International Communications in Dubai. The conference will consider revisions to the International Telecommunications Regulations (ITRs), a treaty overseen by the UN's International Telecommunications Union (ITU). The treaty has not been revised since 1988, before the emergence of the commercial Internet.
Russia's proposals would, if adopted, dramatically affect Internet governance, transferring power from engineering-based organizations such as the Internet Society and ICANN to national governments, all under the authority of the UN.
There are 193 Member States participating in the WCIT. Each gets a single vote on proposed changes to the treaty. The treaty negotiations and its documents are secret, though many have been exposed through the Web site WCITLeaks, run by two researchers at George Mason University.
"The [proposed] additions to the ITRs...are aimed at formulating an approach that views the Internet as a global physical telecommunications infrastructure, and also as a part of the national telecommunications infrastructure of each Member State," the Russian proposal says.
Russians propose bringing "IP-Based Networks" under UN control
Currently, the ITRs cover only international telecommunications services (PDF). But the Russians propose adding a new section to the treaty to deal explicitly with "IP-based networks." Bringing the Internet into the treaty in any capacity would represent a major expansion of the scope of the ITU's authority.
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.
The multi-stakeholder system is seen as a major roadblock to long-standing efforts by some governments to control both incoming and outgoing Internet traffic, particularly for political purposes. Critics inside and outside the U.S. have been warning all year that some countries as well as private members of the ITU were determined to hijack the conference and transform the UN's increasingly trivial international telephone rules into a broad, UN-sanctioned takeover of Internet governance.
Proposals leaked earlier from Russia, China, Iran, and others would authorize member nations, with UN blessing, to inspect and censor incoming and outgoing Internet traffic on the premise of monitoring criminal behavior, filtering spam, or protecting national security.
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." Read more »
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