Battle for control of the internet spills into the open at WCIT

By Graeme Burton
03 Dec 2012 View Comments
mouth-taped-shut

The Russian government, meanwhile, has lobbied for the ITU to recognise the right of national governments to take control of the internet within their jurisdiction. In many respects, this would merely recognise the reality on the ground in many countries.

Further reading

But alongside proposals for mandatory identity management, so that people could not use the internet anonymously, and calls for "deep packet inspection" of all internet data in the name of combating cybercrime, it would effectively undermine only commerce and put companies at greater risk of corporate espionage – especially state-sponsored corporate espionage.

Campaigning for the status quo 

And most of this lobbying and jostling for power has taken place behind closed doors in the run-up to WCIT.

A number of organisations have lobbied against any significant changes to the status quo. Many of them question whether the internet needs the kind of governance by quango that the UN, the ITU and a number of governments are seeking.

"Mozilla lauds the professed aims of the conference. But we question the very assumption that a 'binding global treaty', enacted by member states alone, will be beneficial for the internet or for global society," wrote Harvey Anderson, vice president of business affairs and general counsel for Mozilla, in the Mozilla blog.

He added: "The internet needed no treaty to come into existence, to expand, to flourish, and to transform global society. The internet needed no convocation of governments to facilitate the professed aims of the new treaty. There is no reason to believe that a treaty will fill any current need or cure any current defect."

Google, meanwhile, published a post on its blog from Vint Cerf, the "father of the internet": "Starting in 1973, when my colleagues and I proposed the technology behind the internet, we advocated for an open standard to connect computer networks together. This wasn't merely philosophical; it was also practical. Our protocols were designed to make the networks of the internet non-proprietary and interoperable. They avoided 'lock-in', and allowed for contributions from many sources," he wrote.

This engineering is why the internet does not need a governing body like the ITU in the same way that the telegraph industry did 150 years ago, which was what the ITU was originally set up to govern. "This openness is why the internet creates so much value today. Because it is borderless and belongs to everyone, it has brought unprecedented freedoms to billions of people worldwide: the freedom to create and innovate, to organise and influence, to speak and be heard," wrote Cerf.

Far from opening up the internet to more people, the ITU would do the opposite – approximately one-third of the world's people have acquired internet access in fewer than 20 years thanks to the way that it works, relatively free from government and bureaucratic intervention, claimed Cerf.

Nevertheless, the ITU claims that it only wants to spread the use of the internet beyond the "rich" world. "The brutal truth is that the internet remains largely [the] rich world's privilege," Dr Hamadoun Toure, secretary-general of the ITU, said before the WCIT convened. He added: "[The] ITU wants to change that."

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