It’s another face off for Internet freedom. On one side we have the United Nation’s International Telecommunications Union (ITU) who claims that revising their global treaty would help increase Internet access to all, stop spam and increase safety. On the other side are organizations like Google and Mozilla who believe the two week conference held by the ITU to revise their International Telecommunication Regulations will jeopardize Internet freedom and legitimize censorship. As the EU digital commissioner Neelie
Kroes tweeted, “The Internet works, it doesn’t need to be regulated by ITR treaty. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
The ITU was created to open communication and increase infrastructure in all nations. It was founded in 1865 to connect telegraph networks across borders when building these literal lines of communication was a complicated affair with no standardization from nation to nation. Since then it has transformed as systems of communications have shifted, but its primary goal – to make communication accessible to all – has remained the same.
The International Telecommunication Regulations have not been updated since 1988, before the internet became the powerful force it is now. The ITU wants to deal with the new challenges it brings such as the digital divide, internet affordability, and security.
Yet, Vint Cerf of Google fears this meeting will do the exact opposite of the ITU’s mission and limit accessibility. “This openness is why the Internet creates so much value today,” he wrote. “Because it is borderless and belongs to everyone, it has brought unprecedented freedoms to billions of people worldwide: the freedom to create and innovate, to organize and influence, to speak and be heard.”
Furthermore censorship is already written into the ITU’s constitution. “Member States already have the right, as stated in Article 34 of the Constitution of ITU, to block any private telecommunications that appear ‘dangerous to the security of the State or contrary to its laws, to public order or to decency,” according to the ITU Secretary-General.
This meeting does clearly show the difference of the Internet from other communication mediums the ITU has regulated in the past. Mainly, the Internet put power into the users hands and has few gatekeepers. The changes to regulations will happen behind closed doors with only government representatives present. The more than 900 changes to international telecommunication regulations proposed are kept secret from the public. Regardless of the ITU’s intentions, this meeting goes against the very core of the internet revolution: to put power in the hands of users and to make information accessible to everyone.
Can regulation hinder or promote internet accessibility?