Is the UN Taking Over the Internet?

Callie Bretthauer

As an international organization that works towards peace and security, one of the most important things the United Nations provides is a voice for participating countries from all over the world. One of the many agencies of the UN that allows for this global dialogue to happen is the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). It was created specifically for international cooperation of all bodies of telecommunication, which includes the full membership of the 193 Member States of the UN as well as more than 750 private-sector companies (including some of the world’s largest information and communication technologies firms), organizations and academic institutions.

Usually, the ITU does not gain much attention; recently, however, it can be seen referred to in the media often because of the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) it plans to hold this December in Dubai. The decision to have this conference was made during a vital convention known as the Plenipotentiary Conference, which takes place

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every four years and comprises all 193 UN Member States as the top policy-making body of the ITU.

The purpose of the 2012 WCIT is to review the current International Telecommunications Regulations: a global treaty that outlines how international voice, data and video traffic should be handled, and provides the groundwork for ongoing innovation and market growth. The last time the ITU negotiated this treaty was in Melbourne, Australia in 1988-a moment in time when the concept of the internet was not even released to the general public yet. Because we are now a part of the rapidly changing technological world of the 21st century, there was a broad consensus at the Plenipotentiary Conference that the International Telecommunications Regulations need to be updated to address dramatic alterations in technology and the ways we communicate. Some major topics up for deliberation include cyber-security, prevention of spam, the charges and taxation surrounding international mobile roaming, and the infrastructure of the Internet and how to make it accessible to everyone as a human right.

As shown on the ITU website, these, among a few others, are the topics members find critical to discuss at the WCIT. However, members are still free to make suggestions and proposals for what they believe should be changed about the Internet. Some member countries believe the ITU should be given broader authority over Internet governance and regulation. Because of this, blogs, articles, etc. are claiming that the United Nations is trying to take over the Internet. There are many reasons why this accusation is incredibly false:

  • Even though one country proposes an idea to the ITU, it does not mean it is going to happen. The ITU operates as a democratic body that gives every country the same voice regardless of their size or wealth. The United States, as well as other likeminded countries, oppose a strong regulation of the Internet; therefore, the chances of these suggestions being adopted or implemented are extremely slim. According to BBC, even
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    Dr. Hamadoun Toure, the ITU’s secretary-general, stated that, “Whatever one single country does not accept will not pass.”

  • Freedom of speech and expression on the internet are important both to the UN and the ITU. Article 19 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaims that everyone has this right, which includes “freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
  • Since the Internet has an infrastructure and governance that is decentralized in nature, it would be a technical impossibility for one entity to take control of it.

Overall, the ITU finds the right to communicate to be vital. Its function is to provide a meeting place for all its members to cooperatively develop and decide what they want. The Iowa United Nations Association desires to provide information to the community about what the UN is currently doing and what it plans to do. An Internet takeover has never been its intention or desire; it fully believes in the free flow of information as a basic human right for all.

For more information, you can visit the following websites:

http://www.itu.int/en/wcit-12/Documents/WCIT-background-brief-FAQ.pdf

http://www.itu.int/en/wcit-12/Documents/WCIT-background-brief1.pdf

http://www.unausa.org/images/content/Advocacy/FACT_SHEET_ITU_FINAL.pdf

http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-19106420

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