UN and ITU intensify battle for control of the internet

By Graeme Burton
27 Nov 2012 View Comments
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Lobbying among countries and various special interests to "take control" of the internet is intensifying in advance of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) World Conference on International Telecommunications in Dubai next week.

Further reading

The main purpose of the World Conference is to review the current International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs), which serve as the binding global treaty intended to facilitate international interconnection and interoperability of telecoms networks.

The last major changes to the ITRs were ratified in 1988, well before internet rose to prominence, now eclipsing the traditional telecoms structure.

A number of authoritarian countries therefore plan to use the conference to wrest control of the internet, making a case that has been pushed for more than a decade that it should be put under the control of a global organisation, such as the United Nations-controlled ITU. Failing that, the countries seek to win the right to control it even more tightly within their own borders.

The charge is being led by Russia, whose President Vladimir Putin has stated that it is a foreign policy goal of Russia – and its allies – to establish "international control over the internet" via the ITU.

Russia's original proposals claimed that, as the internet formed a "vitally important" part of the world's telecoms infrastructure, it should be put under the auspices of the ITU. Its plans proposed that:

  • "Member States shall have the sovereign right to regulate the activities of operating agencies providing Internet access services within their national territory...
  • ...the sovereign right to manage the Internet within their national territory, as well as to manage national Internet domain names.
  • ...should ensure that administrations and operating agencies cooperate with the aim of developing the Internet within their national territory.
  • ...should ensure that administrations and operating agencies cooperate with the aim of maintaining the security, integrity and reliable operation of the national Internet segment."

If accepted, the proposals would have represented a power grab, not just by the UN-controlled ITU, but also by states such as Russia, bidding to take full control of the internet and all the traffic that might pass through the internet in their territorial jurisdiction.

After those proposals were leaked, Russia amended them in order to water them down, but they amounted to pretty much the same thing – national control of the internet. 

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