Statement by Internet-related organizations on the ITU and its conferences and activities
Posted by Internet Society - Bulgaria on August 7, 2012
Statement by Internet-related organizations on the ITU and its conferences and activities
The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) will be celebrating its 147th birthday next year. Throughout these years this intergovernmental organization has changed its focus from telegraph through radio, to telecommunications. In its search for broadening its activities, the ITU has started looking also on ways to increase its “monitoring and supervisory capabilities” for “establishing international(1) control over the Internet”, as noted in the meeting between Russia prime minister Putin and ITU Secretary-General Touré in June 2011. This search will come to its peak at several ITU gatherings to take place in the coming years, which have become widely known under their abbreviations – WCIT, WTSA, WTPF and PP-14.
WCIT (World Conference on International Telecommunications) is not the first, or the last ITU conference, that deals with Internet issues. TheWTSA (World Telecommunications Standards Assembly) takes place before it. TheWTPF (World Telecommunications Policy Forum ) follows in 2013, and the PP-14 (ITU Plenipotentiary meeting) is in 2014 (check the page for the PP-10 to see some of the discussed issues).
The Estonian President Tomas .H. Ilves has noted, “The outcome of [the WCIT], and related processes, will help determine the topography of the web for the next two decades… More ominously we will face calls to limit free expression as we know it on the web today.”
The “related process” Mr. Ilves talks about are a number of smaller, often for government only, meetings in Geneva, of the so called “working groups”, and sometimes “dedicated groups”, and sometimes “correspondence groups”. There are even the so-called “non groups”, which have “non sessions”, and are being chaired by “non chairs” – this is all part of the UN language.
Internet users, or just citizens, may want to find out what is being discussed at these meetings, but they might face the reality – there’s no public access to the documents. They are accessible only with a password, given only to governments or organizations that pay a substantial amount of money for membership at the ITU. And even that does not mean the organizations can have the same access, as the governments. Quite the contrary – often it’s the other way around, and governments have all the access to all the documents. The ITU in principle accepts on its agenda for discussion only documents, provided by governments, while the organizational members’ documents are “for information only”.
What has remained outside of the attention of the media and the public is what actually happens at these meetings. Just one curious example – in 2009 one of the ITU groups was seriously discussing the creation(2) of a new, alternate Internet, to be built by the governments, and secured by them, which will have no spam, and less – or not at all – privacy. Minitel, in other words.
The organizations, which have signed this statement, are seriously concerned with the quantity and quality of suggestions for changes to the ITU International Telecommunications Regulations (ITRs) to be discussed at the WCIT, as well as with other proposals that have been circulating at other ITU-related events, and are being proposed to be discussed by the governments, without participation of the civil society, businesses, academia, and the citizens. While not all of them are yet released(3) the way the ITU works allows any country to submit at any time any proposals, and they will have to be reviewed by every country within a 10-day conference to take place in Dubai (December 4 – 14, 2012). Based on previous experience and on the of some of the suggestions, published on the WCITleaks web site, there is a clear and present danger for the way each of us communicates on the Internet.
In the absence of transparency (for which the process is ill-equipped, even if the will was suddenly to appear) we believe it is important to point out the following:
– Our goal is free and open Internet(4), based on free and open standards;
– The Internet, as a network of networks, governed by sets of rules and standards, has been developing ever since it was created;
– The way it operates today is the result of a gradual evolution;
– The existing multistakeholder model of developing the Internet has proven that it is open to changes, updates, tweaking, and allows the broadest possible participation.
– The Internet governance forum (IGF) has proven to be a successful conference for politicians, users, businesses, academia and citizens.
Worldwide Internet usage increased every day, speeds are higher, and prices are lower. At the same time, the biggest threat for the Internet does not come from spam, lack of security, computer viruses, or malware. The biggest threat comes from governments (all governments, regardless of their level of democratic development), which are trying to control the Internet as a whole, be that the flow of free information, or the access to the Internet, through the mixture of tools – from laws and regulations, through software, to control over the Internet Service Providers.
The signed organizations look forward to being able to provide some detailed input regarding the different forces at play at the ITU and its coming meetings, thus ensuring that our national governments, as well as all the regional organizations, produce positions – based on consultations with their citizens – which will be as strong as possible in their defense of the open and free Internet that has provided so much societal and economic value.
We urge all interested parties – especially the “more equal ones”, the governments, to pay attention to the opinions of the Internet users and of the public at large, of the businesses and academia, and while discussing the changes in the ITRs, to not forget that the Internet is a delicate balance of ideas, interests, rules and standards, which are constantly adjusting to the changing environment.
It is very easy to cause harm while trying to fix something, and we urge the governments – and the ITU – to try to overcome their desire for more control, and instead consider more sharing.
The first step is to ensure that no current multi-stakeholder decision-making or consultation model is undermined by the current process.
The second step, if the ITU wishes to become credibly engaged in Internet policy issues is to start with releasing more – or all – of its documents, which are currently password protected on the ITU website, and allow people to participate on the ground, or remotely, at the ITU WTSA, WCIT, WTPF and ITU-Plenipot 2014, as well as at all other ITU meetings, which are currently marked “for members only”.
By opening the doors of the ITU to the general public, this old organization will show that it prefers to modernize itself rather than try to drag the world and modern technologies back into the Minitel age.
One may also argue that the question is what Internet do we want – do we want open, secure and safe, and free, or do we want less open, “secured” by the government, if the price is our freedoms and liberties.
Everyone can help, and here are some ways you can do it, too:
– call, mail or email your elected member at the national level (e.g. National Assembly, Congress);
– call, mail or email your member of the cabinet (Council of Ministers);
– talk to their advisers, assistants, relatives;
– call, email or talk to every relevant political party leader in your country, or in the regional gathering (e.g. European Union)
– talk to people you know, raise awareness;
– call, email or talk to the national or local Internet Society chapter (if there’s one in your country) or similar group (e.g. EDRi, EFF, CDT)
– call, email or talk to your country code top level domain administrator
– think of SOPA, PIPA or ACTA, and what you did at the time people were raising awareness about them; do it again – create online groups, forums, etc.
We ask all the Internet users to read more(5) on these issues, but also engage in this dialog with the governments, the businesses, the civil society, and the academia. At stake is not just the future of the Net, but the basic freedoms and liberties of the Internet.
This document can be signed by others – just make a comment below, or email email@example.com
(1) Understand “intergovernmental” here.
(2) Joint contribution from Saudi Arabia and Syria – New, Alternate Internet Based on Innovative Technologies (password required, but the title of the document is enough)
(3) The Bulgarian ministry of Transport, IT and Communications have published one of the document, draft of the future ITRs. Official message here (in Bulgarian), document (English, PDF) – here
(4) “free Internet” in this declaration means free of governmental control – licenses, regulations, etc., or “free” like in “freedom”.
(5) Additional readings include, but are not limited to:
UN Tries To Navigate Cold Hard Politics Of New Cyber War
The U.N. Threat to Internet Freedom
U.N. Threat to Internet Freedom – Part 2
Russia’s Top Cyber Sleuth Foils US Spies, Helps Kremlin Pals
International Proposals to Regulate the Internet