ITU and the battle for the control of the internet

Excerpted from John Kampfner:

“In December in Dubai, a body that has existed for 150 years but few outside narrow industry circles have heard of, is seeking to take control of the internet. The International Telecommunications Union (ITU), a UN organisation that counts 193 countries as its members, aims to add the internet to its existing regulatory roles. Its strongest supporters include regimes such as China, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, who submitted a proposal last September to the UN general assembly for an “international code of conduct for information security”. Its goal is to establish government-led “international norms and rules standardising the behaviour of countries concerning information and cyberspace”.

These countries, and others of their ilk, have three main goals for the Dubai summit and beyond: an assertion of national sovereignty over cyber communication; a clampdown on anonymity and encryption; and a change in global governance. Not that many readers would know as much. Official preparations for the ITU are clouded in secrecy, as is the organisation’s standard practice, but information has been coming out via, a website created by two techies to publish leaked documents for the meeting. The ITU describes itself as a “multi-stakeholder” organisation, but the claim is spurious. All the big decisions are taken in meetings in which only governments can take part.

Lobbying (from all sides) has been taking place for months, but almost completely behind the scenes. Netizens have been shut out from this process.

Other cultural and political messages are in play too. Some developing nations and emerging powers are galvanised by the prospect of prising jurisdiction away from the US. This is the most seductive part of their message. Since its inception, the internet has been dominated by the US, both government, corporations, civil society groups and users. This is changing fast. Access to high-speed internet via mobile will transform access to information in developing countries in coming years.

The internationalisation of the internet is inevitable, and good. The question is not which countries are in charge, but where the power resides within countries. Control is always the first instinct of the state. The ITU summit in December marks just the start of the battle between those who wish to keep the internet (relatively) free and those who will do everything in their power to reverse the process.”

1 Comment ITU and the battle for the control of the internet

  1. AvatarTom Crowl

    We are shaped… for better or worse by the landscapes within which we exist. ALL transaction… whether in images, words, or tokens of exchange (money) takes place within a landscape.

    As members of a small hunter-gatherer group thousands of years ago that ‘transaction’ landscape could be said to belong either to everybody or to nobody… it was made from the air through which our voices carried and the light by which we saw the smile or frown on the fellow next to us.

    But scaling of civilization has required a multitude of scaling technologies. Money, alphabets, telephone cables and the Internet are all examples of technologies for scaling transaction; however its worth noting both money and alphabets are NOT landscapes themselves but operate through them… whereas a telephone network and the Internet are.)

    I believe there’s a place for enterprise, business and private ownership (no argument with inventors of great phones with handy features being rewarded… or those with innovations fro improving technical landscapes)… but transaction landscapes themselves may be best held in some sort of universally owned or governed formulation. So in that sense a global involvement is logical. However, as an organization of governments rather than an organization of individuals… the U.N. may not have the proper incentives (or too narrow a perspective) to find best solutions.

    Regardless, solutions which will be tough to find and difficult to implement under the best of circumstances… and even then… likely only temporary.

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