U.S. fails to win early limit on Net controls at global gathering

DUBAI/SAN FRANCISCO Tue Dec 4, 2012 5:49pm EST

A woman surfs the web at an Internet cafe which in Bangkok September 29, 2010. REUTERS/Sukree Sukplang

A woman surfs the web at an Internet cafe which in Bangkok September 29, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Sukree Sukplang

DUBAI/SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A U.S. and Canadian proposal to protect the Internet from new international regulation has failed to win prompt backing from other countries, setting up potentially tough negotiations to rewrite a telecom treaty.

The idea, also supported by Europe, would limit the International Telecommunication Union's rules to only telecom operators and not Internet-based companies such as Google Inc and Facebook Inc.

That could reduce the prospective impact of efforts by other countries including Russia and some in the Middle East and Africa to obtain more powers to govern the Internet through the ITU, an arm of the United Nations. Those efforts, slated for discussion next week, could make Net anonymity - or the ability to remain anonymous online - more difficult to maintain and could bolster censorship, critics say.

"We want to make sure (the rewritten ITU treaty) stays focused squarely on the telecom sector," said U.S. Ambassador Terry Kramer. "We thought we should deal with that up-front."

Kramer had been hoping that a committee comprising representatives from six regional bodies would give quick approval to the American request on Tuesday. But that failed to happen.

An ITU spokesman said late on Tuesday that the talks were continuing and that the issue would only return to the main policy-making body on Friday.

About 150 nations are gathered in Dubai to renegotiate the ITU rules, which were last updated in 1988, before the Internet and mobile phones transformed communications.

The 12-day ITU conference, which began on Monday, largely pits revenue-seeking developing countries and authoritarian regimes that want more control over Internet content against U.S. policymakers and private Net companies that prefer the status quo.

The Internet has no central regulatory body, but various groups provide some oversight, such as ICANN, a U.S.-based nonprofit organization that coordinates domain names and numeric Internet protocol addresses.

U.S. companies have led innovation on the Internet, and this stateside dominance is a worry for countries unaligned with the world's most powerful country.

The United States has also led in the development and use of destructive software in military operations that take advantage of anonymous Internet routing and security flaws.

Some of the proposals now being contested by the American and Canadian delegations are aimed at increasing security and reducing the effectiveness of such attacks, though the West and several rights groups argue that is a pretext for greater repression.

ITU Secretary-General Hamadoun Touré told Reuters last week that any major changes to the 1988 treaty would be adopted only with "consensus" approaching unanimity, but leaked documents show that managers at the 147-year-old body view a bad split as a strong possibility.

If that happens, debates over ratification could erupt in the United States, Europe and elsewhere.

(Reporting by Matt Smith in Dubai and Joseph Menn in San Francisco; editing by Matthew Lewis)

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Comments (3)
bobber1956 wrote:
We had to come all way over to the far side of the planet to fight for and have free speech because of the backward, oppressive attitudes of the Eastern Hemisphere. And now we are just going to roll over? I just wish the UN would go ahead and try to take out guns and get it over with.

Dec 04, 2012 6:11pm EST  --  Report as abuse
ErnestPayne wrote:
The US and canada have fouled their own nests and have no international credibility or following (israel excepted). Whatever happens it is unlikely to be the result the US or its lackey want.

Dec 04, 2012 6:43pm EST  --  Report as abuse
Batman_is_mad wrote:
The US, Canada and many countries supporting the freedom of the Internet should just walk out of these stupid meetings. Tell the Russians, Chinese and other go pound sand.

Why do we even have a UN, totally worthless.

Dec 05, 2012 7:20am EST  --  Report as abuse
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