– By Sharan Burrow The World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) meeting in Dubai has ended – and thanks to your efforts we have held off the attack on the open Internet, at least for now. The two-week conference unfolded as many fear …

USi Live

– By Sharan Burrow

The World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) meeting in Dubai has ended – and thanks to your efforts we have held off the attack on the open Internet, at least for now.

The two-week conference unfolded as many feared it it would.

Countries with a history of censorship took every chance to get the internet under the control of the ITU’s International Telecommunication Regulations, and, for the most part, failed to achieve that. Iran in particular severely overplayed its hand in trying to force other countries to legitimise censorship via a UN treaty.

That failure was in large measure due to intense community concern around the world, with hundreds of thousands of people signing petitions (including 100,000 generated from the union campaign), lobbying of governments to show the level of concern, and media attention.

This was achieved despite the fact that the ITU tried to limit public comment, did not engage civil society, kept most of the really contentious proposals away from public scrutiny and disingenuously denied that the Dubai conference would be about internet regulation.

Around 50 industrialised and developing countries have not signed the new treaty, and many of them publicly objected to the attempts to bring the internet under the control of ITU regulations.

It is no coincidence that the countries which have been most successful in bringing internet connectivity to their populations are amongst those which refused to sign.

A very worrying new ITU standard on Deep Packet Inspection (the most intrusive technology for monitoring, controlling and even changing the content of internet traffic) was sneaked through by the ITU in a technical meeting a few days before the WCIT conference took place.

Since there was virtually no chance for civil society to look at this standard before it was sneaked through, assessment of its possible implications is still ongoing, but it is absolutely clear that privacy and freedom of speech concerns were NOT properly addressed in the discussions and the outcome of this standard (despite the concerns of countries such as Germany).

The Dubai conference revealed for all the world to see, the deep divisions between those who want an open internet, and those who want internet communications to be controlled by governments against the interests of free trade and freedom of expression. The conference in fact probably worsened those divisions, especially because of the lack of transparency before and even during the event.

Those governments which want to bring the internet under their control will not stop at Dubai. Nationally, many of those countries will continue to clamp down on citizen’s net activities, and they will continue to try and get UN cover for that. The debate will continue, and risks becoming even more polarised. We must maintain the pressure to maintain the existing Multi-Stakeholder mechanisms through which the internet is managed where all interested parties have an equal say.

A lot of vigilance and engagement from civil society will be needed to keep the internet open, so that global economic activity, labour, environment and human rights, can continue to be promoted. The United Nations itself has an important role to play in this, and should be more active in supporting bodies like the Internet Governance Forum.

ITUC and Greenpeace have written to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon on your behalf drawing attention to the untransparent activities of the ITU. These letters were influential in putting the entire United Nations on notice that the ITU is over-reaching its mandate. You can read them here:

Frank La Rue, UN Special Rapporteur on the Freedom of Expression, usefully supports our view. Civil society must be ready to push the UN in the right direction and engage actively in the future debates around internet governance.

There are many other crucial concerns which must be addressed around freedom of expression, dealing with intellectual property concerns and bringing internet access to the billions of people who still don’t have it. The ITU has clearly demonstrated that it is not the place where this can happen. Thus it is imperative that the multi-stakeholder community, which has grown and driven the internet, must remain active, and distinct from those corporate interests which see the internet simply as a profit centre.

We thank you again for your support. This is most certainly not the end of the journey. We must reinvigorate this campaign in the New Year and will be letting you know how you can continue to help us to make a stand for an open Internet.

– Sharan Burrow is the General Secretary of the ITUC

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