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Internet Freedom Dominates Debate at International Telecommunications Union Conference in Dubai

BY Julia Wetherell | Friday, December 14 2012

Dr Hamadoun I. Touré, Secretary-General, ITU, speaking at the closing ceremony at WCIT 2012 (credit: ITU/Flickr)

As we reported Monday, the ITU was negotiating revisions to its 1988 international communications treaty this week in Dubai. Now controversial measures added to the treaty on the governance of the Internet have thwarted a consensus.

A US-led coalition of nations has refused to sign the final accord, citing clauses that could be interpreted to grant greater state power over online communications. The Internet has not been subject to the ICT in the past, and is not actually mentioned by name in the current revision to the treaty, as ZDNet notes. The passage in question calls on member states “to prevent the propagation of unsolicited bulk electronic communications and minimize its impact on international telecommunication services,” raising suspicion that this could provide a pathway to online censorship.

Although this could be seen to refer to SMS spam, for example, some saw the clause as making it easier for repressive regimes to classify unwanted online communications as spam and crack down on them — such regimes can already do this, of course, but the fear was that the treaty's phrasing might lend greater legitimacy to such actions.

The efforts to bring greater state governance to the Internet were led by Russia and a coalition of states seeking to fight online crime. In spite of the controversy, ICU Secretary General Hamadoun Touré expressed optimism over the outcome of the conference in an official statement.

History will show that this conference has achieved something extremely important. It has succeeded in bringing unprecedented public attention to the different and important perspectives that govern global communications.

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network for its generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.