Internet Safe From Globalized Censorship as UN Treaty Fails

The doomsday predictions that the internet would become a centralized, globalized tool for governments to suppress and eavesdrop on speech didn’t come to fruition Friday, after a two-week secret meeting between world governments failed to reach a consensus.

The World Conference on International Telecommunications, which opened two weeks ago in Dubai with some 193 nations discussing the global internet’s future, collapsed after Western nations, including the United States, failed to sign onto a global pact that for the first time would have left internet governance in the hands of the United Nations.

“It’s with a heavy heart and a sense of missed opportunities that the U.S. must communicate that it’s not able to sign the agreement in the current form,” said Terry Kramer, the U.S. ambassador to the summit.

The day before, he said “internet policy should not be determined by member states, but by citizens, communities and broader society.”

The discord ranged from human rights, privacy, spam, censorship to who would control the domain-naming system, which is now maintained in the United States.

The idea behind the meetings was to update the International Telecommunications Regulations governed by the International Telecommunications Union, a United Nations agency known as the ITU, that is responsible for global communication technologies.

Hamadoun Touré, the ITU Secretary-General, suggested it was ridiculous to exclude the internet when it comes to global communications policy.

“If the word internet was used frequently here in Dubai, it is simply a reflection of the reality of the modern world,” he said. “Telecommunication networks are not just used for making voice calls, so our two worlds are linked.”

The treaty was supported by 89 countries in the 193-member U.N. telecom union. About 55 did not vote, including about 20 Western nations and the United States. Other nations did not have representatives with enough rank to cast a vote.

Despite its failure, nations states are free to govern the internet how they see fit within their own borders.

All nations must have agreed to the pact for it to take force globally.

The last time the International Telecommunication Regulations global treaty was considered was in 1988.

The United States successfully staved off plans to treat the internet like the telephone when it comes to transmission agreements. Some European and Middle Eastern members called for so-called termination fees, in which networks where a web session begins must pay the routing cost for the session’s destination — like phone companies work with phone calls.

That has obvious cost and privacy issues, such as making all internet communications trackable.

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