The 193 member countries of the United Nation’s International Telecommunications Union (ITU) will meet in Dubai to update the International Telecommunications Regulations treaty for the first time since 1988. The treaty governs how telephone calls and other communications traffic are exchanged internationally.
A lot is at stake in the upcoming negotiations: Observers say some of the proposals put forward by countries for the treaty conference could threaten Internet freedom, encourage online censorship and expand a United Nations agency’s authority over the Internet.
The treaty negotiations run by the ITU will take place in Dubai over a two-week period from Dec. 3 to Dec. 14.
Ambassador Terry Kramer, a former Vodafone executive, will lead the 95-person U.S. delegation during the conference. Members of the U.S. delegation include a mix of Obama administration officials and industry representatives from Google, Verizon, AT&T, Cisco, Microsoft and Facebook. Advocacy groups and trade organizations also have representatives on the delegation.
In the run up to the Dubai conference, Kramer has made clear in a series of public appearances that the U.S. is committed to maintaining liberalized markets in the telecom industry and upholding human rights and free speech principles during the treaty negotiations.
U.S. officials and American companies have sounded alarm about proposals that would expand the scope of the treaty so it shifts from regulating telecommunications networks to regulating the exchange of information on the Internet. The U.S. has argued that the scope of the treaty should stay confined to telecommunications networks and not the Internet.
Kramer has said that countries like China and Iran are looking to propose language that could lead to online censorship and government monitoring of Web traffic. These countries say the proposals are intended to protect computer networks from online threats like cyberattacks and spam and to crack down on child pornography, but the methods they suggest to accomplish these ends would allow them to peer into “what information is flowing on the Internet,” he said during a recent talk.
Robert Dix, vice president of government affairs at Juniper Networks, said many of the proposals aimed at boosting cybersecurity or information security are simply a “guise” for countries to gain the ability to monitor Web traffic and “suppress the ability…