Lawmakers move to reject proposals for U.N. Internet regulation

Josh Peterson Tech Editor
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U.S. lawmakers introduced a resolution Wednesday that would reject proposals to bring the Internet under international governance.

The bipartisan resolution was introduced one day before a House subcommittee hearing on new Internet regulations. U.S. officials are expected to brief the subcommittee on international proposals to renegotiate the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITR) at the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) in Dubai in December.

The ITR is a treaty that deregulated international telecommunications, and in turn paved the way for the global Internet. It was ratified in 1988 by member states of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a little-known U.N. agency responsible for the regulation of long-distance phone calls and the governance of satellite orbits.

But while many U.S. policymakers and industry analysts agree that this deregulation is the reason why growth and innovation has been so explosive on the Internet in the past several decades, an international movement wants to give international governing bodies more power to police the internet.

One such proposal,  known as “The International Code of Conduct for Information Security,” was submitted to the U.N. in September 2011 by Russia, China and several former Soviet satellite countries. It was introduced after a meeting between then-Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and ITU Secretary-General Hamadoun Touré in June 2011, during which Putin commended a proposal from Touré for “establishing international control over the Internet using the monitoring and supervisory capabilities of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).”

Other proposals hailing from India, Brazil and the Middle East are also supportive of the idea that a new governance model is needed.

The resolution to reject the international proposals currently under consideration by the U.N. was introduced by Reps. Mary Bono Mack, Fred Upton, Henry Waxman, Greg Walden and Anna Eshoo.

“This year, we’re facing an historic referendum on the future of the Internet,” said Bono Mack, a Republican from California. “For nearly a decade, the United Nations quietly has been angling to become the epicenter of Internet governance.”

“A vote for my resolution is a vote to keep the Internet free from government control and to prevent Russia, China, India and other nations from succeeding in giving the U.N. unprecedented power over Web content and infrastructure,” said Bono Mack. “If this power grab is successful, I’m concerned that the next ‘Arab Spring’ will instead become a ‘Russian winter,’ where free speech is chilled, not encouraged, and the Internet becomes a wasteland of unfilled hopes, dreams and opportunities. We can’t let this happen.”

“This resolution reaffirms our belief and sends a strong message that international control over the Internet will uproot the innovation, openness and transparency enjoyed by nearly 2.3 billion users around the world,” Eshoo said in a statement.

U.S. policymakers held court at the National Press Club on Wednesday with members of the press, congressional staffers, policy analysts and others to discuss the proposals that will appear in the ITU working group’s report, which will be discussed and negotiated at the WCIT in December.

In his remarks, Richard Whitt, Public Policy Director & Managing Counsel for Google, outlined various steps policymakers and lawmakers, common citizens, academics, businesses and civil society groups can do to spread awareness of the UN proposals and develop an international consensus on what to do about them.

“I think a key aspect of this is that this cannot be the U.S. against the world,” said Whitt. “If that is the formula, we lose, plain and simple. This has to be something where we engage with everybody around the world. All of the communities of interest who have a stake, whether they know it right now or not, in the future of the Internet, we have to try to find ways to engage them.”

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