UN and ITU intensify battle for control of the internet

By Graeme Burton
27 Nov 2012 View Comments
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However, Russia is just one among many authoritarian countries seeking to exert greater national control of the internet, its operations and the traffic that passes through the internet within their territory.

Further reading

A grouping of Arab states has also advocated universal identification of internet users, while others are demanding that content providers, such as the BBC and Google, pay for transmission – not end users.

Taking control

The ITU itself has been leading efforts to take control of the internet on behalf of countries such as Russia, China and others. At a "senior management retreat" in September, intended to thrash out the organisation's strategy, it highlighted the likelihood that the conference consensus would probably support ITU control, as well as major changes to the ITRs that the US would oppose.

Many countries already impose stiff controls on internet usage and engage in widespread surveillance of users to a lesser or greater extent. Indeed, for users in some 40 countries, the internet is so tightly controlled that it amounts to a de facto "walled garden".

Russia now has laws that allow the government to order a website offline without even a court hearing, while China routinely blocks access to websites that might disseminate information unfavourable to the government.

But the proposals at the conference will formalise government control and facilitate the development of standards to tighten control.

However, global debate among those most affected by the plans – ordinary internet users – has been stifled by the traditional secrecy surrounding proposals submitted to the ITU. These are not published in advance and debate among non-participants is deliberately stifled, not encouraged.

The ITU's secrecy prompted the establishment of a WCIT-leaks.com website by activists Jerry Brito and Eli Dourado, where many of the proposals have been published.

"Access to preparatory reports, as well as proposed modifications to the ITRs, is limited to ITU member states and a few other privileged parties. This leaves civil society groups, and the public in general, in the dark," Brito and Dourado claim on the site. 

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