Department of State representatives downplayed to U.S. lawmakers a significant relationship between Russia and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a U.N. agency, during a Capitol Hill hearing on Thursday.
During a rare moment of solidarity with the Obama administration, House Republicans and Democrats presented a united front against international proposals to regulate the Internet through the ITU, which will be negotiated at the upcoming World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) in Dubai in December.
Efforts to govern the Internet through international regulation have been underway for nearly a decade, but U.S. lawmakers’ concerns over Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intentions to bring the Internet under U.N. control — a move that would shift the Internet from its current, voluntary multi-stakeholder governance model — were brought to the fore on Thursday.
Members of the subcommittee sought answers regarding the implications of a proposal geared towards standardizing international cybersecurity norms. The proposal, which was submitted in September 2011 by Russia, China and several former Soviet satellite countries, monopolized a majority of the subcommittee’s time during the hearing.
The Russia-led proposal — one of many proposals to be considered by the ITU at the WCIT — was introduced several months after then-Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin met with ITU Secretary General Hamadoun Toure in Geneva, Switzerland in June 2011.
“Mr. Secretary General, I can’t tell you how good it feels to meet a countryman so far away from home,” Putin said. “You are a countryman in the sense that you studied in St. Petersburg and recently received an honorary doctorate from the Bonch-Bruyevich Institute. Congratulations!”
Toure graciously accepted Putin’s praise, which included gratitude for Toure’s proposal to establish “international control over the Internet using the monitoring and supervisory capabilities of the International Telecommunication Union.”
“Thank you, your excellency! You are right — being a graduate of the Bonch-Bruyevich Institute, I consider myself a resident of St. Petersburg and a representative of the Russian Federation at the ITU,” Toure replied.
Ambassador Philip Verveer, deputy assistant secretary of state and United States coordinator for international communications and information policy, assured lawmakers that the connection between Toure and Putin would not be a problem.
“My view is that the secretary general is in fact a very effective and honorable international civil servant elected to this position and then re-elected unanimously at the last go-around,” Verveer said in response to a question posed by Nebraska Republican Rep. Lee Terry. “And so he’s very well respected, and he’s been very effective.”
“I don’t personally have any serious misgivings about his ability to be fair, and his ability to be helpful,” Verveer continued.