US prepared to walk out of ITU talks over internet regulation

By Graeme Burton
10 Dec 2012 View Comments
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The US is prepared to "press the nuclear button" and walk out of talks in Dubai to establish a new global telecommunications treaty.

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The treaty would be the first since 1988, but US negotiators have grown frustrated over many countries' attempts to use the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) as a vehicle to establish governmental control over the internet.

In the latest twist in the two-week long negotiations of the World Congress on Information Technology (WCIT), the head of the American delegation, Terry Kramer, has said that the US will veto many of the proposed changes put forward at the Congress and could walk out.

In an interview between Kramer and the ITU's Sarah Parkes, Kramer said that he was "surprised and disappointed" at the new International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs) submitted on Friday. He claimed that they would "create an open door for review of content and potential censorship".

According to Australia's Communications Day Newsletter, Kramer told a reporter for Dow Jones that the US could walk away from the Congress should an attempt be made to usurp control of the internet from the US to organisations under ITU – and therefore United Nations – control.

The US would likely be joined by the European Union states, and a number of other countries around the world, such as Kenya and Japan, in opposition.

More than 900 changes to the ITRs have been put forward before and during WCIT, many of which relate to the internet, rather than telecommunications. In November, the ITU agreed a standard for deep-packet inspection, which would enable telecoms companies to analyse the source and destination of data packets.

That had aroused the opposition of Tim Berners-Lee, the CERN-based computer scientist who devised the worldwide web. "Somebody clamps a deep packet inspection thing on your cable which reads every packet and reassembles the web pages, cataloguing them against your name, address and telephone number either to be given to the government when they ask for it or to be sold to the highest bidder – that's a really serious breach of privacy," he told a meeting of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) earlier this year.

Responding to widespread fears, the US Congress in May introduced a resolution calling on the government to block any proposals put forward at the ITU that "would justify under international law increased government control over the internet and would reject the current multi-stakeholder model that has enabled the internet to flourish". 

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