Corrigendum: We had incorrectly reported yesterday that India had signed the new ITR Act in an earlier version of this post. We were mistaken, and wrong. Our apologies to our readers for the mistake. The post has been corrected accordingly.
Yesterday: The much awaited World Conference on International Telecommunication at Dubai from Dec 3-14, 2012 has seen some interesting twists and turns along its way. Among the many concerns raised world over – internet freedom and control of Internet by International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs) have been issues unanimously raised by many across the globe. Consequently, this issue has indeed been an area of heated discussion throughout this conference. Here’s a quick look at some of the important happenings at the conference in Dubai so far:
WCIT Proposal Approved
Member States of International Telecom Union (ITU) have approved the first proposal of World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT). The organization said that this proposal was targeted at improving the connectivity in landlocked developing countries (LLDCs) and small island developing states (SIDSS) and provide access to international optical fibre networks.
Walk outs on the final day:
As we publish this post, 80 nations including U.S., U.K, Canada, Chile, Greece, Sweden, Egypt, Canada, Poland, the Netherlands, Denmark, Kenya, New Zealand, Costa Rica, Qatar, the Czech Republic and others have refused to sign the ITR in its current form. While some of these countries refused to sign it due to discrepancies in the ITR in its current form, the others cited consultation with the capital as a reason to keep from signing the ITR. Amid the stance taken by these countries, the ITR has been approved and the remaining of the 193 countries (113 countries) have signed the ITR. The approved ITR in its current form allows for countries to block spam which many fear could lead to censorship and government control of internet content.
Update: India has not signed the ITR in its current form. The entire list of countries and their position is detailed here at TechDirt.
A note from the Indian Government reads as follows:
India has officially submitted the following stand on ITRs at WCIT-2012:
“India supports the proposed ITRs and the Resolutions 1,2,4 and 5. We support the broad thrust of Resolution Plen/3 regarding an enabling environment for the greater growth of the Internet, particularly its recognition of the multi-stakeholder nature of the Internet and its wider social and economic impact within and across countries around the world.
India considers that this resolution should reflect the current and emerging global realities and the dynamics of the Internet. We need to consider the wider ramifications of this Resolution before taking a decision on signing of the ITRs. We would therefore like to undertake necessary consultations at home before announcing our final decision.”
USA, leading the side on free speech?
Ambassador Terry Kramer who is heading the American delegation to the WCIT had already threatened to walk out of the conference, if the new regulations about content were approved, according to a report from CommsDay.com. The report states the ambassador made this statement following reports that World Telecommunications Standards Assembly had approved a 66 page standard on tracking and blocking Internet communications.
Apart from their stand on the regulation of content, the U.S has been strongly in support of free speech and keeping the internet outside the purview of the ITR. U.S has been strongly backed by the E.U and U.K in its many stands throughout the conference.
Leaked Proposals Gets Withdrawn
A proposal formulated by a member state bloc comprising of Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for WCIT 2012 got leaked, according to a ZDNet report. As per the leaked proposal (pdf), the member state bloc had apparently proposed redefining the Internet as a system of government controlled and state supervised networks. The proposal had also indicated that member states will have equal rights to establish and implement public policy on Internet governance, including international policy and regulate Internet activities of operating agencies providing Internet access and carrying Internet traffic as well as the national Internet segment.
Since the leak, the member state bloc has however withdrawn their proposal as indicated by a tweet on the official ITU account.
Controversy over the Internet under the purview of the ITR/UN body
The biggest worry about the WCIT for many, world over, has been the regulation of the internet by the ITR. Till December 12, 2012, it seemed like the world’s worst nightmare about the WCIT was at bay with the U.S and its allies fighting to keep the internet away from the ITR. However, this had drastically changed on the evening of December 11, 2012 before the WCIT was adjourned for the day. The chair had called for a vote on the internet issue and a majority voted in favour of the internet regulation by a UN body which essentially could curb free speech as feared by many. However, this left many puzzled since the WCIT was focused on passing resolutions based on consensus and not voting.
When objections were raised about the vote, Mohamed Nasser al Ghanim, the Chairman of ITU said that it was not a vote and he was only looking to get a ‘feel of the room’. In response, the Algerian delegate objected stating that the issue had been resolved. With that the chair called for the meeting to be adjourned for the day. All we know is that members were asked to vote that may not actually be a vote. This incident has definitely left millions world over to continue their petitions against internet control with heightened vigour.
Fight over Human Rights Text in the ITR
The issue over the inclusion of human rights text in the preamble to the ITRs has been the other most controversial topic of discussion at the conference. Several countries like Russia, China and other Arab countries have been particular on nation states having stronger control on the internet and the content on the internet. This initiated the discussion on human rights to freedom of expression. However, the states that have been against the inclusion of even the word ‘internet’ were against the direct usage of freedom of expression in the ITRs since this might actually bring internet into the purview of the ITR. Finally, countries have come to a consensus to include this line in the preamble to the ITRs:
“While implementing these Regulations Member States shall take into account their international obligations in relation to universal human rights.”
In retrospect, many have called the WCIT to be a failure with respect to the ITRs, the stands taken along with the way the entire conference has been conducted. The WCIT and ITU have been criticised for their one-country one-vote policy and their closed door decision making by a small group of people. Although nation states were alerted months ahead about the possible issues that could be raised at the WCIT, both the ITU and several nation states did not come prepared to face the reality of the world today at the WCIT.
Vikas SN also contributed to this post