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Neena Kapur | The IT Ambassador

Stop the net grab

Published: Monday, December 3, 2012

Updated: Monday, December 3, 2012 07:12

Today, Dec. 3, marks the beginning of the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT−12), convened by the International Telecommunications Unions (ITU) of the United Nations. And, though this conference may seem like just another UN meeting, there is a lot at stake. The future of the Internet as a global entity is being debated, and many negative ramifications could result.

In the crosstalk leading up to the conference, several concerning features of the conference were highlighted, and various countries, as well as members of the private sector, have openly expressed their disapproval of the topics being discussed. In November, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) launched a “Stop the Net Grab” campaign to bring attention to the troubling matters at hand and to alert the UN General Secretary to a number of risks.

The first concern is the nature of the conference itself. Because decisions regarding the Internet have always followed a multi−stakeholder approach — where businesses, governments, researchers and non−governmental organizations participate in dialogue about Internet−related issues — any change to the Internet affects the public sector, private sector and the general public. However, the conference is operating under a troubling lack of transparency, and is not allowing voices from any civil society engagements to be heard. This means that big players in Internet allocation and regulation, such as the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers and the Number Resource Organization, will not be included in this decision−making process. Not only is this straying from the inclusive, multi−stakeholder path of the UN that its Secretary General Ban Ki−Moon established, but it also creates an unsettling closed−door environment in a supposedly multilateral organization.

The second concerning aspect of the conference is the fact that the current, decentralized and multi−stakeholder approach to regulating the Internet will be contested. The purpose of the conference is to revise the International Telecommunications Regulations (ITRs), which is a binding global treaty that previously established principles of global interconnectedness through the Internet. According to the ITUC official website, the following changes to the ITRs would occur if the new regime, proposed by the ITU, is adopted: Government restriction of information distributed throughout the Internet; creation of a global regime to monitor Internet communications; requirement that the Internet be only used in a “rational” way; and the governmental capability to shut down the Internet if there is a belief that the internal affairs of the state are at risk.

Though, as primary opposition to the WCIT, the ITUC may have exaggerated these changes, the overarching themes are that the Internet will not longer be controlled through a multi−stakeholder model, and governments will play a much more significant role in Internet regulation. There are merits to the proposal, as it makes an effort to address the increasing threat cyber attacks pose for a country’s internal grid system, but it does not do an effective job in maintaining freedoms while making necessary security changes.

The US Department of Commerce released a statement on Friday advocating against the ITU agenda: “We have and will continue to advocate for an Internet that is not dominated by any one player of group of players, and one that is free from bureaucratic layers that cannot keep up with the pace of change.”

The WCIT’s confused agenda and closed−door nature poses a serious problem to the future of Internet regulation. A multi−stakeholder approach has enabled the Internet to succeed as a medium of communication and information sharing, and this inclusive and transparent approach should not be changed under any circumstance. Stop the net grab, ITU, and preserve the Internet.

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Neena Kapur is a sophomore majoring in international relations and computer science. She can be reached at Neena.Kapur@tufts.edu.

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