UK and US reject global telecoms treaty over internet 'power grab'

By Graeme Burton
14 Dec 2012 View Comments
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Anti-spam measures, for example, would effectively authorise national governments' surveillance of internet traffic, especially following an earlier agreement on deep packet inspection (DPI) that might endanger internet users' privacy.

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"If the ITU claims somewhere that DPI operations will respect privacy, it's either clueless or recklessly dishonest," professor Ross Anderson, professor of security engineering at the University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory, told "DPI kit is used by repressive governments for the purposes of repression."

The fact that "implementers and users" of DPI would have to comply with the law "does not contradict that at all", he added. "Repressive regimes often have laws making repression legal," Anderson said, but also noted that in the UK the use of DPI might be legally problematic as Section 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights doesn't allow warrantless, "suspicionless" mass surveillance.

It might, though, be able to effectively privatise such activity by requiring internet service providers to conduct the surveillance, as the UK government plans to do under the much-criticised Communications Data Bill.

The revised ITRs is the first global telecoms treaty since 1988. A number of governments had sought to use the new treaty to encompass the internet in the new regulations under the guise of extending access to every corner of the world.

This push was strongly resisted by civil society, internet and privacy groups, as well as a number of national governments, led by the US. Campaigners also noted that the more authoritarian a government is, the more likely it was to support the draft treaty.

ITU secretary general Doctor Hamadoun Touré rejected claims that the ITU was seeking to extend its governance to the internet. In a statement, Touré said that the final text did not include any provisions for the internet in the treaty.

However, his statement contained explicit reference to the internet and how the contested article will "set the framework for increased investment and rollout of broadband and mobile broadband, bringing vital services to populations that are currently disconnected".

He added: "I have been saying in the run-up to this conference that this conference is not about governing the internet. I repeat that the conference did NOT include provisions on the internet in the treaty text.

"Annexed to the treaty is a non-binding resolution which aims at fostering the development and growth of the internet – a task that ITU has contributed significantly to since the beginning of the internet era, and a task that is central to the ITU's mandate to connect the world, a world that today still has two-thirds of its population without internet access."

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