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David Talbot

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The U.N. Isn’t Regulating the Internet–but Governments Still Exert Control

A vote on new International Telecommunications Regulations means no change in terms of control over the Internet

  • December 14, 2012

Is the U.N. now somehow regulating the Internet now that its International Telecommunications Union—after a two week meeting in Dubai that centered largely on whether it should include the Internet in its telephone-centric regulations—has today declared the existence of a new global telecom treaty?

No. First, the United States, Canada, and many European nations declined to sign the new International Telecommunications Regulations.  Some 89 countries were in favor and 55 opposed or abstained.  If you go to the actual new wording of the regulations–which haven’t been changed since 1988–and search for “Internet” you find it mentioned in fairly bland language within a one-page nonbinding resolution.

The fact that it’s even mentioned at all might be read as the first effort to bring the Internet – currently overseen by private sector and engineering groups— under governmental and U.N. control in the future.   But governments don’t need any U.N. language to exert a great deal of control, as they do already by filtering and other means such as those documented here by academic researchers.  

The United States, before walking out of the vote Thursday, had managed to keep out language that might force content providers to pay to send out their traffic, much as you pay to make an international phone call (see “A Budding War Over Internet Economics”). But other wording about security and spam were left in – which some felt could be used as a basis for (further) national repression and censorship in the future.

Hamadoun Touré, secretary general of the ITU, declared in a statement: “History will show that this conference has achieved something extremely important. It has succeeded in bringing unprecedented public attention to the different and important perspectives that govern global communications. There is not one single world view but several, and these views need to be accommodated and engaged.”

Right.

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