Deep divides in Dubai at UN talks on Internet (Update 2)

Dec 10, 2012 by Brian Murphy

Talks over possible new U.N. regulations for the Internet were deeply divided Monday, with Russia and others advocating for more government control, while a U.S.-led bloc warned against rules that could restrict freedoms in cyberspace.

The Dubai conference, which wraps up later this week, is not empowered to bring about any immediate changes on how the Internet operates. But the U.S. and its backers argue that sanctioning greater government roles in Internet oversight could allow governments that already heavily censor Web traffic, such as China or Iran, to justify more restrictions and monitoring.

A high-powered U.S. delegation—including representatives from tech giants such as Google Inc. and Microsoft Corp.—has tried to block all discussions of possible Internet regulations. The effort, however, has met strong resistance from countries such as Russia that want a greater control over Net commerce and security.

So far, the closed-door talks have failed to find much common ground at the 193-nation U.N. International Telecommunications Union, which last updated its rules in 1988, long before the Internet became a global force.

"What's happened in the conference is a variety of proposals have come in from other nations that get into the Internet, that look at Internet governance," said the head of the 123-member U.S. delegation, Ambassador Terry Kramer, in a video uploaded by organizers late Sunday. "It creates an open door for review of content and potential censorship there. It will create a chilling environment for the Internet."

For several days, U.S.-led envoys fought against a proposal submitted by the host United Arab Emirates, which last month passed sweeping new Internet laws outlawing social media posts that insult rulers or call for protests.

The proposal—backed by Russia, China and other Arab states—was removed from discussion Monday, conference organizers said, after an uproar from Web activists who support the American position. Among its provisions was a call for governments to have "equal rights to manage the Internet," including its technical workings, according to a text leaked by a website, wcitleaks.org. The site claimed to have access to meeting documents not yet made public.

It's unclear, however, whether the American views have gained the upper hand as the talks move into their final days. U.S. officials say other proposals that support a greater government voice in Internet affairs are still active.

"These issues will continue to be on the table for discussions in other forms during the remainder of the conference," said Kramer.

Many experts on Internet technology believe the proposals could further squeeze the Net in countries where it is already closely regulated, even though it won't fundamentally alter cyberspace practices in places with traditions of openness.

"These proposals would break what's working—freedom of information and freedom of access," tech analyst Elise Ackerman wrote in a column for Forbes. "And they wouldn't help fix the parts of the Internet that need reinforcing, namely security and privacy."

She noted that the conference reflects a general push for more "international policymaking" as the U.S. dominance of the Internet weakens.

On Monday, the head of the U.N. telecoms agency, Hamadoun Toure, was scheduled to meet with civil society groups who have complained of being excluded from the talks.

Other issues at the conference also remain unresolved, including a European-led proposal to charge content providers for access to cross-border markets. The idea is strongly opposed by U.S. companies such as Google, Facebook Inc., Amazon.com Inc. and others. Supporters say the so-called "toll" could be used by developing countries to fund expansion of Internet services.

Explore further: Yelp to pay US fine for child privacy violation

1 /5 (1 vote)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Hackers said to hit UN telecoms talks in Dubai (Update)

Dec 06, 2012

(AP)—Organizers of a U.N. conference on global telecommunications said Thursday that hackers apparently blocked their website and disrupted the talks, a gathering some critics fear could lead to greater controls over the ...

US seeks to drop Internet from UN telecoms talks

Dec 04, 2012

(AP)—American envoys say they are working with other nations on a proposal to drop all discussions on possible Internet regulations from a U.N. telecommunications conference in Dubai.

Clashes over Internet rules to mark Dubai meeting

Dec 03, 2012

The U.N.'s top telecommunications overseer sought Monday to quell worries about greater Internet controls emerging from global talks in Dubai, but any attempts for major Web regulations will likely face stiff ...

Recommended for you

Facebook dressed down over 'real names' policy

32 minutes ago

Facebook says it temporarily restored hundreds of deleted profiles of self-described drag queens and others, but declined to change a policy requiring account holders to use their real names rather than drag names such as ...

Yelp to pay US fine for child privacy violation

7 hours ago

Online ratings operator Yelp agreed to pay $450,000 to settle US charges that it illegally collected data on children, in violation of privacy laws, officials said Wednesday.

A Closer Look: Your (online) life after death

Sep 16, 2014

Sure, you have a lot to do today—laundry, bills, dinner—but it's never too early to start planning for your digital afterlife, the fate of your numerous online accounts once you shed this mortal coil.

Web filter lifts block on gay sites

Sep 16, 2014

A popular online safe-search filter is ending its practice of blocking links to mainstream gay and lesbian advocacy groups for users hoping to avoid obscene sites.

User comments : 0