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UN to Reassess Internet Telecom Regulations in December

In December the UN’s International Telecommunication Union (ITU) will hold a meeting in Dubai to review the International Telecommunication Regulations global treaty which hasn’t been revisited since 1988. Representatives from all over the world will attend this conference to discuss several topics that will reform the treaty, but many are concerned that the meeting will lead to increased Internet regulations impacting eCommerce and online business.

The upcoming December meeting is the ITU’s World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) where several proposed regulations will be suggested and discussed amongst telecommunications ministers from 193 countries. For some time parties have voiced their concern that this meeting will lead to increased controls the UN has over the internet, and even if the U.S. decides not to adopt the new treaty many other countries will.

At an industry conference in October the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN) told attendees to keep a close watch on the WCIT as many countries directly incorporate the treaty into national law. With little information about the conference or topics up for discussion available, speculation grew on what changes would be made and why so little preparatory documentation were being released. In November an open letter was sent to the UN Secretary General from the International Trade Union Confederation and Greenpeace noting their concern about the lack of transparency in preparations for the upcoming conference restricted to government representatives and held behind closed doors. The letter then states that all stakeholders should be given free access to all preparatory documentation for the conference, because the internet is a multi-stake holder community.

Update 11/27/2012: In late November Google joined several others in voicing their concerns about an internet governed by the UN by launching a new campaign on their “Take Action” website advocating a free and open web and opposing the ITU’s closed door meeting. Google played a major factor in creating consumer awareness about the controversial SOPA and PIPA acts when they covered the Google logo with a black bar on their home page and urged users to tell Congress not to censor the web. Google’s ubiquity and vast reach should also help organize support against the ITU’s upcoming meeting.

Meanwhile, Dr. Hamadoun Touré, the UN Secretary-General, has stated that this conference is about improving online access, connectivity, infrastructure and cybersecurity. But many others feel the treaty is being revised to allow the ITU to govern the internet. A draft proposal for the International Telecommunications Regulations recently posted on the ITU website proposed changes include allowing governments to restrict or block information disseminated via the internet, creating a global regime for monitoring internet communications and allowing governments to shut down the internet if sensitive information is at risk of being shared.

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