Google is winning a propaganda victory against UN moves to regulate the internet, but now it appears that the International Telecoms Union, which is touting the changes, is fighting back.
For a while, the move by the UN telecommunications body has been pitched as a cunning plan to enable it to bring in tough controls for web users.
The claim comes from the US, which does not want to give up its own control of the internet under the bogus justification that it invented it.
But the secretary general of the UN telecommunications body, Hamadoun Toure, told Security Week that the review of the 24-year-old telecom regulations would not lead to internet freedom being curbed or controlled.
Toure said that such claims were “completely unfounded” and he found it a very cheap way of attacking the World Conference on International Telecommunications.
The conference is being held in Dubai to review regulations reached in 1988. If you believe the US, it is all part of a plan by autocratic regimes who want to censor the internet.
Toure told participants at the conference that the freedom of expression online will not be touched during the discussions.
He said that nothing could stop the freedom of expression in the world today, and nothing in this conference will be about it. He never suggested anything about controlling the internet.
Indeed, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon told the conference the UN must work together and find a consensus on how to most effectively keep cyberspace open, accessible, affordable and secure.
So, if the UN does not really want to bring in internet controls, then why has the impression been conveyed that the web is about to fall into the paws of autocratic censorship-happy states?
It appears that part of the problem is that the UN is a global organisation which wants everyone to use the internet. To make sure that poorer countries are part of the broadband dream, the UN wants to tax big multinational telecos to pay for these projects. Google, in particular, has been named.
Google has been vocal in warning of serious repercussions on the internet if proposals made by member states are approved at the WCIT-12 meeting. It did not mention the tax but claimed that it was all about permitting censorship over legitimate content.
Bill Echikson, Google’s head of Free Expression in Europe, Middle East and Africa said that some proposals could permit governments to censor legitimate speech, or even cut off internet access. He made no mention of the tax.
Google claims that the ITU is not the right body to address internet regulation.
Echikson admitted that the ITU had helped the world manage radio spectrum and telephone networks, but it is the wrong place to make decisions about the future of the internet. This is because only governments have a vote at the ITU.
But Toure pointed out that the ITU worked on “consensus” and dismissed claims that the meetings in Dubai were secretive, telling reporters that the sessions are open.
Despite having backing from the US, Google claimed in a blog post yesterday that preliminary talks saw some “frightening proposals” discussed, including an Arab states’ proposal to have the ITU take over the allocation of IP addresses.
It warned such moves “would cause duplication with the private sector ICANN,” the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. But that is not what ICANN’s chief Fadi Chehadi thinks. He thinks that his organisation and the ITU complement each other.
Google said some proposed treaty changes “could increase censorship and threaten innovation” and others “would require services like YouTube, Facebook, and Skype to pay new tolls in order to reach people across borders”.
The ITU said that these changes would pay for broadband access for developing nations, but Google claims that these will actually limit the ability of developing nations to get the internet.
Toure, referring to the suggested fees, dubbed as tolls, insisted to AFP that the meeting “is not about that… we are not discussing it.”
The US press hinted darkly that the conference is hosted by the United Arab Emirates, one of the countries that censors internet content, blocking political dissent and sexual material.
However, if the conference were being held in the UN headquarters in New York, then it would be fairly clear that Google could find nothing to point at.
If you look at the social networking sites, it is clear that Google is winning this particular propaganda war as most perceptions are that is about censorship – but in actual fact it appears to be about taxing Google to pay for third world internet development.