A 12-day conference of the International Telecommunications Union, taking place in Dubai, is supposed to result in the adoption of a new international treaty governing trans-border communications.
But in a critical session at the midpoint of the conference on Friday, delegates refused to adopt a U.S.-Canadian proposal to limit the treaty’s scope to traditional communications carriers and exclude Internet companies such as Google, the ITU said on its website.
Further complicating the negotiations was what a U.S. official at the talks called the “surprise” announcement of an accord among some Arab states, Russia and other countries to pursue treaty amendments that are expected to include Internet provisions unacceptable to the United States
A still-secret draft of the coalition’s proposals is to be introduced soon by the United Arab Emirates, the official said.
The emergence of the new coalition, whose members are generally seeking greater Internet censorship and surveillance, is likely to harden battle lines separating those countries from the United States and some allies in Western Europe.
The United States and others objected to the introduction of complex new material midway through the conference. The U.S. ambassador to the conference said in an earlier interview that the U.S. would not sign any agreement that dramatically increased government controls over the Internet.
That would potentially isolate America and its allies from much of the world, and technology leaders fear that the rest of the globe would agree on actions such as identifying political dissidents who use the Internet and perhaps trying to alter the Net’s architecture to permit more control.
The 147-year-old ITU, which is now under the auspices of the United Nations, historically has set technology standards and established payment customs for international phone calls. But under Secretary-General Hamadoun Touré, it has inched toward cyber-security and electronic content issues, arguing that Internet traffic goes over phone lines and is therefore within its purview.
The Internet’s infrastructure, while initially funded in part by the U.S. government, is now largely in private hands. It has been subject to little government control, although many nations have attempted to regulate Internet communications in various ways.
ICANN, under contract to the U.S. Department of Commerce, is ultimately responsible for making sure that people trying to reach a given website actually get there, but most technology policies are developed by industry groups.
At the ITU meeting, the American delegation had counted on support from at least Japan, Australia and other affluent democracies.
But its effort to stave off wholesale changes has been hindered by complications in Western Europe, where some countries were supporting a change to the economic model that would have Google, Facebook and others pay for at least some of the costs of Internet transmission.
The way things have been happening lately around the world, where there is little respect for the American Government is a foreboding measure of things to come that will directly effect me and you.
Thanks to Joseph Menn and Reuters, and
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