Ambassador: Iran helped make Internet access a ‘human right’

Iran managed to transform Internet access into an internationally recognized “human right” — but, in an unprecedented twist of legal maneuvering thought to be an effort to avoid international sanctions, the Islamic Republic ensured that the right only applies to governments, not ordinary citizens.

Policy experts and government officials familiar with the matter debriefed members of Congress on the results of the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT-12), which took place in December 2012, at the Tuesday hearing.

While conference leadership had assured concerned delegates from the U.S. and its allies that the conference would not be about the Internet, representatives from Russia, China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and others repeatedly forced the issue throughout the conference.

“Perhaps most strangely, during the last minutes of WCIT, Iran was successfully able to call for a vote on the adoption of what I understand is an unprecedented treaty provision that creates, in the ITU’s words, a ‘human right’ for governments – not individuals – to access international telecommunications networks despite the imposition of international sanctions,” said Gross, in his opening testimony.

The provision is recognized in the second and third stanzas of the preamble of the newly agreed upon ITRs.

“Member states affirm their committment to implement these Regulations in a manner that respects and upholds their human rights obligations,” it states. “These Regulations recognize the right of access of Member States to international telecommunications services.”

The highly controversial conference had brought together a number delegates from countries around the world, as well as corporations and members of civil society, to debate changes to an international telecommunications treaty that many credit for paving the way for the development and expansion of the Internet – the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs).

Prior to the December conference, the last time the treaty was ratified was in 1988 via unanimous consensus.