international

Vinton Cerf, one of the “fathers of the internet,” discusses what he sees as one of the greatest threats to the internet—the encroachment of the United Nations’ International Telecommunications Union (ITU) into the internet realm. ITU member states will meet this December in Dubai to update international telecommunications regulations and consider proposals to regulate the net. Cerf argues that, as the face of telecommunications is changing, the ITU is attempting to justify its continued existence by expanding its mandate to include the internet. Cerf says that the business model of the internet is fundamentally different from that of traditional telecommunications, and as a result, the ITU’s regulatory model will not work. In place of top-down ITU regulation, Cerf suggests that open multi-stakeholder processes and bilateral agreements may be a better solutions to the challenges of governance on the internet.

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The New WCITLeaks

by on September 6, 2012 · 0 comments

Today, Jerry and I are pleased to announce a major update to WCITLeaks.org, our project to bring transparency to the ITU’s World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT, pronounced wicket).

If you haven’t been following along, WCIT is an upcoming treaty conference to update the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs), which currently govern some parts of the international telephone system, as well as other antiquated communication methods, like telegraphs. There has been a push from some ITU member states to bring some aspects of Internet policy into the ITRs for the first time.

We started WCITLeaks.org to provide a public hosting platform for people with access to secret ITU documents. We think that if ITU member states want to discuss the future of the Internet, they need to do so on an open and transparent basis, not behind closed doors.

Today, we’re taking our critique one step further. Input into the WCIT process has been dominated by member states and private industry. We believe it is important that civil society have its say as well. That is why we are launching a new section of the site devoted to policy analysis and advocacy resources. We want the public to have the very best information from a broad spectrum of civil society, not just whatever information most serves interests of the ITU, member states, and trade associations.

Continue reading →

Facebook has quietly launched a real-money online gambling application in the U.K., marking a major thrust of the social networking site into online gambling.

The Financial Times is reporting that starting today, Facebook will offer users in the U.K. ages 18 and over online bingo and slots for cash prizes. Slate.com  picked up the story this afternoon.

“Gambling is very popular and well regulated in the U.K. For millions of bingo users it’s already a social experience [so] it makes sense [for us] to offer that as well,” Julien Codorniou, Facebook’s head of gaming for Europe, Middle East and Africa, told the Financial Times.

It’s telling in and of itself that Facebook has a gaming chief for the EMEA region. The synergies of social media and gambling has been seriously discussed for several years, mostly in foreign venues,  as the U.S. government until recently, has been hostile toward Internet gambling.

However, the recent thaw on the part of the Department of Justice, seen most recently in its settlement (don’t-call-it-an-exoneration) with PokerStars, plus state action toward legalization in in states such as Nevada and Delaware, point to eventual legalization of Internet gambling in the U.S.

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Today is a a big day for WCIT: Ambassador Kramer gave a major address on the US position and the Bono Mack resolution is up for a vote in the House. But don’t overlook this Portuguese language interview with ITU Secretary-General Hamadoun Touré.

In the interview, Secretary-General Touré says that we need $800 billion of telecom infrastructure investment over the next five years. He adds that this money is going to have to come from the private sector, and that the role of government is to adopt dynamic regulatory policies so that the investment will be forthcoming. It seems to me that if we want dynamism in our telecom sector, then we should have a free market in telecom services, unencumbered by…outdated international regulatory agencies such as the ITU.

The ITU has often insisted that it has no policy agenda of its own, that it is merely a neutral arbiter between member states. But in the interview, Secretary-General Touré calls the ETNO proposal “welcome,” categorically rejects Internet access at different speeds, and spoke in favor of global cooperation to prevent cyberwar. These are policy statements, so it seems clear that the ITU is indeed pursuing an agenda. And when the interviewer asks if Dr. Touré sees any risks associated with greater state involvement in telecom, he replies no.

If you’re following WCIT, the full interview is worth a read, through Google Translate if necessary. Hat tip goes to the Internet Society’s Scoop page for WCIT.

In my [last update on WCIT](http://techliberation.com/2012/06/20/wcitleaks-gets-results/), I noted that due to pressure generated by WCITLeaks, the Secretary-General of the ITU promised to make a recommendation to the ITU’s Council to open up access to WCIT preparatory documents. Here is what has happened since then:

- Secretary-General Touré indeed made his recommendation to the Council.
- The Council responded by releasing a single document, TD-64, which has already been on WCITLeaks for weeks. Indeed, it was the first document we posted.
- The ITU issued a [press release](http://www.itu.int/net/pressoffice/press_releases/2012/46.aspx) declaring this to be a “landmark decision.”

As I [told Talking Points Memo](http://idealab.talkingpointsmemo.com/2012/07/un-telecom-agency-releases-secret-treaty-critics-unswayed.php), I am not impressed by the ITU’s landmark decision. In fact, I am more convinced than ever that the ITU is too out of touch to be trusted with any role in Internet governance.

Consider these quotes from Secretary-General Touré at May’s WSIS Forum, [highlighted by Bill Smith](http://www.circleid.com/posts/20120723_itu_landmark_decisions/) at CircleID:

- “The ITU is as transparent as organizations are.”
- “The transparency of the ITU is not something that you can question.”
- “We don’t really have too much to learn from anybody about multi-stakeholderism because we almost invented it.”

Troubling, no?

If you would like to see first-hand how transparent the ITU is, you can [visit its site and download TD-64](http://www.itu.int/en/wcit-12/Pages/public.aspx), the “draft of the future ITRs.” Then go to [WCITLeaks.org](http://wcitleaks.org/) to read all the other documents it wants to keep from you.

Thanks to TLFers Jerry Brito and Eli Dourado, and the anonymous individual who leaked a key planning document for the International Telecommunication Union’s World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) on Jerry and Eli’s inspired WCITLeaks.org site, we now have a clearer view of what a handful of regimes hope to accomplish at WCIT, scheduled for December in Dubai, U.A.E.

Although there is some danger of oversimplification, essentially a number of member states in the ITU, an arm of the United Nations, are pushing for an international treaty that will give their governments a much more powerful role in the architecture of the Internet and economics of the cross-border interconnection. Dispensing with the fancy words, it represents a desperate, last ditch effort by several authoritarian nations to regain control of their national telecommunications infrastructure and operations

A little history may help. Until the 1990s, the U.S. was the only country where telephone companies were owned by private investors. Even then, from AT&T and GTE on down, they were government-sanctioned monopolies. Just about everywhere else, including western democracies such as the U.K, France and Germany, the phone company was a state-owned monopoly. Its president generally reported to the Minster of Telecommunications.

Since most phone companies were large state agencies, the ITU, as a UN organization, could wield a lot of clout in terms of telecom standards, policy and governance–and indeed that was the case for much of the last half of the 20th century. That changed, for nations as much as the ITU, with the advent of privatization and the introduction of wireless technology. In a policy change that directly connects to these very issues here, just about every country in the world embarked on full or partial telecom privatization and, moreover, allowed at least one private company to build wireless telecom infrastructure. As ITU membership was reserved for governments, not enterprises, the ITU’s political influence as a global standards and policy agency has since diminished greatly. Add to that concurrent emergence of the Internet, which changed the fundamental architecture and cost of public communications from a capital-intensive hierarchical mechanism to inexpensive peer-to-peer connections and the stage was set for today’s environment where every smartphone owner is a reporter and videographer. Telecommunications, once part of the commanding heights of government control, was decentralized down to street level.

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This morning, the Secretary-General of the ITU, Hamadoun Touré, [gave a speech at the WCIT Council Working Group](http://www.itu.int/en/osg/speeches/Pages/2012-06-20.aspx) meeting in Geneva in which he said,

> It has come as a surprise — and I have to say as a great disappointment — to see that some of those who have had access to proposals presented to this working group have gone on to publicly mis-state or distort them in public forums, sometimes to the point of caricature.

> These distortions and mis-statements could be found plausible by credulous members of the public, and could even be used to influence national parliaments, given that the documents themselves are not officially available — in spite of recent developments, **including the leaking of Document TD 64.**

> As many of you surely know, a group of civil society organizations has written to me to request public access to the proposals under discussion.

> **I would therefore be grateful if you could consider this matter carefully, as I intend to make a recommendation to the forthcoming session of Council regarding open access to these documents, and in particular future versions of TD 64.**

> I would also be grateful if you would consider the opportunity of conducting an open consultation regarding the ITRs. I also intend to make a recommendation to Council in this regard as well.
Continue reading →

As Jerry noted [ten days ago](http://jerrybrito.org/post/24687446662/an-update-on-wcitleaks-org), [our little side project](http://wcitleaks.org/) got some good press right after we launched it. I am delighted to report that the media love continues. On Saturday, WCITLeaks was covered by [Talking Points Memo](http://idealab.talkingpointsmemo.com/2012/06/un-proposals-to-regulate-internet-are-troubling-leaked-documents-reveal.php), and a [Wall Street Journal article](http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303822204577470532859210296.html) appeared online last night and in print this morning.

I think it’s great that both left- and right-of-center publications are covering WCIT and the threat to our online freedoms posed by international bureaucracy. But I worry that people will infer that since this is not a left vs. right issue, it must be a USA vs. the world issue. This is an unhelpful way to look at it.

**This is an Internet users vs. their governments issue.** Who benefits from increased ITU oversight of the Internet? Certainly not ordinary users in foreign countries, who would then be censored and spied upon by their governments with full international approval. The winners would be autocratic regimes, not their subjects. And let’s not pretend the US government is innocent on this score; it intercepts and records international Internet traffic all the time, and the SOPA/PIPA kerfuffle shows how much some interests, especially Big Content, want to use the government to censor the web.

The bottom line is that yes, the US should walk away from WCIT, but not because the Internet is our toy and we want to make the rules for the rest of the world. The US should walk away from WCIT as part of a repentant rejection of Internet policy under Bush and Obama, which has consistently carved out a greater role for the government online. I hope that the awareness we raise through WCITLeaks will not only highlight how foolish the US government is for playing the lose-lose game with the ITU, but how hypocritical it is for preaching net freedom while spying on, censoring, and regulating its own citizens online.

Today, WCITLeaks.org posted a new document called TD-62. It is a compilation of all the proposals for modification of the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs), which will be renegotiated at WCIT in Dubai this December. Some of the most troubling proposals include:

  • The modification of section 1.4 and addition of section 3.5, which would make some or all ITU-T “Recommendations” mandatory. ITU-T “Recommendations” compete with standards bodies like the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), which proposes new standards for protocols and best practices on a completely voluntary and transparent basis.
  • The modification of section 2.2 to explicitly include Internet traffic termination as a regulated telecommunication service. Under the status quo, Internet traffic is completely exempt from regulation under the ITRs because it is a “private arrangement” under article 9. If this proposal—supported by Russia and Iran—were adopted, Internet traffic would be metered along national boundaries and billed to the originator of the traffic, as is currently done with international telephone calls. This would create a new revenue stream for corrupt, autocratic regimes and raise the cost of accessing international websites and information on the Internet.
  • The addition of a new section 2.13 to define spam in the ITRs. This would create an international legal excuse for governments to inspect our emails. This provision is supported by Russia, several Arab states, and Rwanda.
  • The addition of a new section 3.8, the text of which is still undefined, that would give the ITU a role in allocating Internet addresses. The Internet Society points out in a comment that this “would be disruptive to the existing, successful mechanism for allocating/distributing IPv6 addresses.”
  • The modification of section 4.3, subsection a) to introduce content regulation, starting with spam and malware, in the ITRs for the first time. The ITRs have always been about the pipes, not the content that flows through them. As the US delegation comments, “this text suggests that the ITU has a role in content related issues. We do not believe it does.” This is dangerous because many UN members do not have the same appreciation for freedom of speech that many of us do.
  • The addition of a new section 8.2 to regulate online crime. Again, this would introduce content regulation into the ITRs.
  • The addition of a new section 8.5, proposed by China, that would give member states what the Internet Society describes as a “a very active and inappropriate role in patrolling and enforcing newly defined standards of behaviour on telecommunication and Internet networks and in services.”
These proposals show that many ITU member states want to use international agreements to regulate the Internet by crowding out bottom-up institutions, imposing charges for international communication, and controlling the content that consumers can access online.

Over at TIME.com I write that we should keep a close eye on moves by Russia, China and other countries to move Internet governance to the UN:

>All this year, and culminating in December at the World Conference on International Telecommunications in Dubai, the nations of the world will be negotiating a treaty to govern international telecommunications services between countries. It is widely believed that some countries, including Russia and China, will take the opportunity to push for U.N. control of Internet governance. Such a turn of events would certainly be troubling. …

>It’s amazing to think about it, but no state governs the Internet today. Decisions about its architecture are made by consensus among engineers and other volunteers. And that, in fact, is what has kept it open and free.

>“Upending the fundamentals of the multi-stakeholder model is likely to Balkanize the Internet at best, and suffocate it at worst,” FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell said recently in a speech. “A top-down, centralized, international regulatory overlay is antithetical to the architecture of the Net, which is a global network of networks without borders. No government, let alone an intergovernmental body, can make decisions in lightning-fast Internet time.”

Read the whole thing at TIME.com.