international

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.

Continue reading →

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.

The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), a controversial bill before the House of Representatives aimed at combating “rogue websites,” isn’t just about criminal, foreign-based sites that break U.S. intellectual property laws with impunity. Few dispute that these criminal websites that profit from large-scale counterfeiting and copyright infringement are a public policy problem. SOPA’s provisions, however, extend beyond these criminal sites, and would potentially subject otherwise law-abiding Internet intermediaries to serious legal risks.

Before moving forward with rogue websites legislation, it’s crucial that lawmakers take a deep breath and appreciate the challenges at stake in legislating online intermediary liability, lest we endanger the Nozickian “utopia of utopias” that is today’s Internet. The unintended consequences of overbroad, carelessly drafted legislation in this space could be severe, particularly given the Internet’s incredible importance to the global economy, as my colleagues have explained on these pages (123456)

To understand why SOPA could be a game-changer for online service providers, it’s important to understand the simmering disagreement surrounding the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998, which grants certain online service providers a safe harbor from liability for their users’ copyright infringing actions. In exchange for these protections, service providers must comply with the DMCA’s notice-and-takedown system, adopt a policy to terminate users who repeatedly infringe, and meet several other conditions. Service providers are only eligible for this safe harbor if they act to expeditiously remove infringing materials upon learning of them. Also ineligible for the safe harbor are online service providers who turn a blind eye to “red flags” of obvious infringement.

The DMCA does not, however, require providers to monitor their platforms for infringing content or design their services to facilitate monitoring. Courts have held that a DMCA-compliant service provider does not lose its safe harbor protection if it fails to act upon generalized knowledge that its service is used for many infringing activities, in addition to lawful ones, so long as the service provider does not induce or encourage users’ infringing activities.

Defenders of the DMCA safe harbor argue that it’s helped enable America’s Internet-based economy to flourish, allowing an array of web businesses built around lawful user-generated content — including YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter — to thrive without fear of copyright liability or burdensome monitoring mandates.

Conversely, some commentators, including UCLA’s Doug Lichtman, argue that the DMCA inefficiently tips the scales in favor of service providers, to the detriment of content creators — and, ultimately, consumer welfare. Pointing to a series of court rulings interpreting the safe harbor’s provisions, critics argue that the DMCA gives online intermediaries little incentive to do anything beyond the bare minimum to stop copyright infringement. Critics further allege that the safe harbor has been construed so broadly that it shields service providers that are deliberately indifferent to their users’ infringing activities, however rampant they may be.

What does SOPA have to do with all of this? Buried in the bill’s 78 pages are several provisions that run a very real risk of effectively sidestepping many of the protections conferred on online service providers by the DMCA safe harbor.

Continue reading →

In a speech today before the Internet Governance Forum entitled “Taking Care of the Internet,” Neelie Kroes, Vice President of the European Commission, responsible for the Digital Agenda for Europe, argued for “a globally coherent approach” to preserve “the global character of the Internet, and keep it from fragmenting.” That sounds good in theory but, as always, the devil is in the details. No one wants to see a highly balkanized Internet with each country and continent becoming a digital island cut off from the rest of Internet. On the other hand, if “a globally coherent approach” means layers of international red tape and bureaucracy, then fragmentation doesn’t sound so bad by comparison. That’s particularly true for those of us who live in countries to cherish principles of freedom of speech and free enterprise, as we do in the United States.

For example, to most of the rest of the planet, America’s First Amendment is viewed as a pesky local ordinance that simply interferes with the ability of government to establish rules for acceptable speech and expression throughout society. What, then, does “a globally coherent approach” to Internet governance mean when America’s values conflict with other countries and continents? Does it mean that the U.S. should conform to a global norm as established by a “consensus body”? Who would that be? The OECD? The United Nations? The International Telecommunications Union? If so, it is clear that protections for freedom of speech and expression would be sacrificed on the altar of “consensus” or a “coherent global approach” to Net governance. Continue reading →

“Global Internet Governance: Research and Public Policy Challenges for the Next Decade” is the title for a conference event held May 5 and 6 at the American University School of International Service in Washington. See the full program here.

Featured will be a keynote by the NTIA head, Assistant Secretary for Commerce Lawrence Strickling. TLF-ers may be especially interested in the panel on the market for IP version 4 addresses that is emerging as the Regional Internet Registries and ICANN have depleted their free pool of IP addresses. The panel “Scarcity in IPv4 addresses” will feature representatives of the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN) and Addrex/Depository, Inc., the new company that brokered the deal between Nortel and Microsoft. There will also be debates about Wikileaks and the future of the Internet Governance Forum. Academic research papers on ICANN’s Affirmation of Commitments, the role of the national governments in ICANN, the role of social media in the Middle East/North Africa revolutions, and other topics will be presented on the second day. The event was put together by the Global Internet Governance Academic Network (GigaNet). Attendance is free of charge but you are asked to register in advance.

I’ve posted a long article on Forbes.com this morning on the Global Network Initiative. A non-profit group aimed at improving human rights though the agency of information technology companies, GNI has never really gotten off the ground.

Since its formal launch in 2008, following two years of negotiations among tech companies, human rights groups and academics, not a single company has agreed to join beyond the original members–Google, Yahoo and Microsoft.

This despite considerable pressure from supporters of GNI, including Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary’s Subcommittee on Human Rights.  Indeed, in the wake of uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and elsewhere and the seminal role played by social media and other IT, a full-court press has been launched against Facebook and Twitter in particular for failing to sign up. Continue reading →

That will be the subject of a Cato on Campus session this afternoon entitled: “The Internet and Social Media: Tools of Freedom or Tools of Oppression?” Watch live online at the link starting at 3:30 p.m., or attend in person. A reception follows.

The delight that so many felt to see protesters in Iran using social media has given way to delight about the use of Facebook to organize for freedom in Egypt. But this serial enthusiasm omits that the “Twitter revolution” in Iran did not succeed. The fiercest skeptics even suggest that the Tweeting during Iran’s suppressed uprising was mostly Iranian ex-pats goosing excitable westerners and not any organizing force within Iran itself. Coming to terms with the Internet, dictatorships are learning to use it for surveillance and control, possibly with help from American tech companies.

So is the cause of freedom better off with the Internet? Or is social media a shiny bauble that distracts from the long, heavy slog of liberating the people of the world?

Joining the discussion will be Chris Preble, Director of Foreign Policy Studies at Cato; Alex Howard, Government 2.0 Correspondent for O’Reilly Media; and Tim Karr, Campaign Director at Free Press. More info here.