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Russia tells U.N. it wants to be able to censor the web

June 24 2012 at 3:25 PM

Coalde  (Login cwc.mgmt)
CWC Member


While it doesn't surprise me that Putin is pressing for a way to more effectively censor the Internet, I can't quite figure out why he believes that this should be done at an international level? As the leader of Russia he is certainly well within his rights to attempt to create a series of draconian censorship laws so he get Russia back to the good old Soviet days...with Gulags, widespread murdering of dissidents and so forth...

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin 'wants there to be centralised control of the internet'
  • U.S. vows to block any proposals at U.N. Internet conference involving 170 countries
  • Global web treaty will be first revision to rules in 20 years
  • 'Leaks' website set up to make treaty negotiations transparent

By Eddie Wrenn, 22 June 2012 11:52 GMT

Russia wants the ability to censor the internet - but the U.S. plans to stonewall the plans at a U.N. conference later this year.

Russia says it wants wants the right to block access where it is used for 'interfering in the internal affairs, or undermining the sovereignty, national security, territorial integrity and public safety of other states, or to divulge information of a sensitive nature'.

The member nations of the United Nations will gather this December to create a treaty for the World Conference on International Telecommunications - and Russia has already made it clear which way it wants the internet to develop.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has long called for a centralised control of the internet.

[linked image]
Internet block: President Vladimir Putin, right, pictured taking part in a wreath laying ceremony this morning, wants centralised control of the web

The U.S. delegation has vowed to block any proposals from Russia and other countries that they believe threaten the internet's current governing structure or give tacit approval to online censorship.

But those assurances have failed to ease fears that bureaucratic tinkering with the treaty could damage the world's most powerful engine for exchanging information, creating jobs and even launching revolutions.

Examples of where the internet has acted as a voice for change include when social networks played a key role in the Arab Spring uprisings that last year upended regimes in Egypt and Tunisia.

The wording of Russia's provision for the treaty allow a country to repress political opposition while citing a U.N. treaty as the basis for doing so.

The provision also appears to contradict Article 19 of the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which says people shall have the right to access information 'through any media and regardless of frontiers.'

An amended treaty would be binding on the United States if it is ratified by the Senate. But approval is not automatic. The treaty is sure to be scrutinised by lawmakers wary of its potential impact.

The U.N.'s International Telecommunication Union, which oversees the treaty, does not operate like the U.N. Security Council, where the United States has the power to veto resolutions to which it objects.

The ITU works on a consensus basis. Proposals can be stopped from serious consideration if enough countries voice their objections.

[linked image]
A global concern: Protesters from the Anonymous India group in Mumbai of hackers wear Guy Fawkes masks as they protest against laws they say gives the government control over internet usage

More than 190 nations will attend the Dubai conference and the U.S. delegation is seeking support for its positions at the preparatory meetings that will continue until the conference convenes.

'It is important that when we have values, as we do in the area of free speech and the free flow of information, that we do everything that we can to articulate and sustain those values,' Philip Verveer, deputy assistant secretary of state and U.S. coordinator for international communications and information policy, said in an interview.

The drafting and debating of proposals in preparation for the Dubai conference have taken place largely behind closed doors.

Public interest groups have criticised the process and said it runs counter to development of sound public policy. In response to calls for transparency, two research fellows at George Mason University's Mercatus Center launched the website WCITLeaks.org earlier this month as a way to make documents that have been leaked to them by anonymous sources available publicly.

The negotiations have sparked rumors that the U.N. and the ITU are plotting to take control of the Internet from the loose coalition of nongovernmental organizations that establishes Internet policies, standards and rules, they said.

[linked image]
Tents and protesters during a sit-in against the delay of the Egyptian presidential results and the military rulers, today: Protesting would be much harder with a censored web

The ITU's secretary general, Hamadoun Toure, has called the takeover rumor 'ridiculous.'

The ITU said the preparatory process is open to all member states as well as hundreds of private sector and academic organizations. The member states, not the ITU, determine the rules of participation and are free to share documents and information as they see fit, the agency said in an emailed statement.
The treaty, known formally as the International Telecommunications Regulations, was developed in 1988 to deal with global telephone and telegraph systems that were often state-run. The conference in Dubai, which is being held by the ITU, will be the first time in 20 years that the treaty is being opened for revisions.

Independent organizations, including the Internet Society, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers and the Worldwide Web Consortium, for years have served as the Internet's governing bodies.

They handle core tasks like network and domain name administration and make decisions based on input from the public and private sectors. This system allows the Internet to evolve organically and rapidly to changes in technology, business practices and consumer behavior, according to open Internet advocates.

Yet countries still grappling with how communications have been transformed by the Internet view the ITU and the treaty as the best avenues for plugging themselves into the global information economy.

For developing nations that don't have an effective broadband infrastructure, bureaucratic and regulatory measures can allow them to benefit financially from the traffic that crosses their borders.

But treaties are static instruments that often are unable to adapt and adjust to the fast pace of Internet innovation, said Sally Shipman Wentworth, senior manager for public policy at the nonprofit Internet Society.

Several lawmakers questioned Verveer, who also testified, and McDowell about the relationship between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Toure, the ITU's secretary general.

Their fear is that Putin, who long has pushed for centralised control of the Internet, will use his allegedly close ties to Toure to accomplish that goal.

Toure, a native of Mali, received advanced degrees in electronics and telecommunications from universities in Moscow and Leningrad.

'Is this relationship a concern?' asked Republican Rep. Greg Walden, the subcommittee's chairman. 'What steps are we taking to be able to counterbalance that relationship?'

Verveer told Walden he has no doubts about Toure's honesty and fairness.

But McDowell struck a more ominous tone. Putin's 'designs' need to be taken very seriously, he said, and urged proponents of Internet freedom to be on guard for 'camouflaged subterfuge' that could threaten the Internet's future.

'Further, we do not believe that we should simply take the 1988 regulatory model that applied to the old telephone system and apply it to the Internet,' she said.

A proposal offered by a European association of telecommunications network operators would put pressure on content providers such as Google, Facebook and Netflix to offset the costs of delivering Internet traffic to end-users.

Traffic increasingly includes bandwidth-hungry video, and the proposal from the European Telecommunications Network Operators' Association essentially argues that the investment needed to expand and improve the transfer of data should be borne by the operators and the content providers.

Verveer called the proposal unworkable and said it would have unintended consequences, such as blocking Harvard, MIT and other universities from putting courses online at no cost to users in places where access to education is already limited.

'If it became necessary to pay in order to make these courses available, they would predictably become less available, which would be very unfortunate,' he said.

The threat to Internet freedom won't come in the form of a 'full-frontal assault,' Roger McDowell, a Republican member of the Federal Communications Commission, said at a congressional hearing last month, 'but through insidious and seemingly innocuous expansions of intergovernmental powers.'

His warning resonated with members of the House Energy and Commerce communications and technology subcommittee.



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