With two months to go before a major international telecom conference in Dubai, the secretary-general of the International Telecommunications Union is getting defensive about allegations the meeting may end up increasing government control over the Internet.
The ITU is the United Nations’ regulatory agency which has been facing pressure from countries like Russia and China to allow governments to have more power to manage the online world within their borders.
As this thorough report in Forbes from Larry Downes notes, in trying to reassure privacy and free speech critics in a speech last week, ITU sec-gen Dr. Hamadoun Toure merely muddied the waters.
(ITU secretary-general Dr. Hamadoun Touré last July. ITU photo)
This conference is important, for it seeks to examine the international telecom treaty signed in 1988. Telecommunications has changed a lot since then, which leaves the treaty open for many suggested changes. Unfortunately for the ITU, it isn’t seen in many quarters as a strong upholder of privacy and freedom.
So in his recent speech Toure insisted the Dubai meeting “is definitively not about taking control of the Internet or restricting people’s freedom of expression or freedom of speech.” However, Downes notes that in the past Toure has spoken in favour of allowing new traffic management policies, as well as new network financing schemes.
Are critics paranoid about the ITU’s agenda? Even Canada’s telecom regulator, the CRTC, allows carriers some traffic management leeway. (For a fuller description of those guidelines click here).
On the other hand, it would not be the first time the UN has been used by member countries for their own ends.
In a statement issued this week about the upcoming conference, Industry Minister Christian Paradis’ office said that Canada believes in an open, private-sector led Internet. “Canada will continue to work with our international partners to emphasize the need to maintain an open, accessible Internet,” the statement said.
The conference is scheduled to run Dec. 3-14. Between now and then a lot of lobbying will be going on.