US, UK, Canada refuse to sign ITU treaty

The UK, US and Canada have decided against signing a treaty which would grant greater involvement in internet governance to nations across the world.

At the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) conference in Dubai, plans to bring some say in internet governence to the UN-backed organisation were dealt a blow as a number of states objected outright to the proposals.

There was strong opposition from various quarters. US Federal Communications Commission chief Robert M. McDowell said that the public governing of the internet could impact the freedoms on which the web was created. 

“Today, America’s delegation… stood strong for Internet freedom when it proclaimed that it would not sign new international rules that capture the Internet,” McDowell said. 

He added that some of the nations present at the conference in Dubai had gone back on commitments to keep the internet free from state control. 

“By agreeing to broaden the scope of the ITU’s rules to include the internet, encompassing its operations and content,” he said, “these nations have radically undermined the highly successful, private sector, non-governmental, multi-stakeholder model of internet governance”. 

According to the BBC, the UK has also refused to sign the treaty, as the ITU seeks to update 24 year old telecommunications guidelines with regards to web regulation.

UK delegation head Simon Towle said that the stakes were too high for the proposed treaty.

“My delegation came to work for revised international telecommunication regulations, but not at any cost,” he said. “We prefer no resolution on the internet at all, and I’m extremely concerned that the language just adopted opens the possibility of internet and content issues.”

In addition, Canada has also objected to the treaty, while negotiators from a number of nations indicated that they would be unable to sign an agreement without further consultation with respective national governments.

While many nations signed the treaty, those who did not will still be bound by the guidelines set out in the 1988 version, which didn’t cover internet rules.

A number of nations including Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Algeria and Sudan are demanding that they have a more equal say in the running of the internet. Currently, the US is responsible for appointing governing bodies to coordinate aspects of the internet, such as the allocation of web addresses.

It is argued that an ITU led approach could aid in improving some aspects of the internet, with a concerted approach against the proliferation of spam, for example.

However, critics of the proposals have argued that they hand states powers to enforce web regulation and increase censorship.

The ITU plans have faced strong opposition from the private sector internet organisations. Google vice president Vint Cerf, considered one of the founding fathers of the web, who hit out at the proposals, highlighting the “borderless” nature of the web.