Dubai – A proposal that would have granted oversight of the Internet to the United Nations fell apart after Western countries said a compromise plan gave too much power to the international body. A new Internet treaty will be signed but without the support of many of the largest economies the document will have little practical force.
“It’s with a heavy heart and a sense of missed opportunities that the U.S. must communicate that it’s not able to sign the agreement in the current form,” said Terry Kramer, the U.S. representative at the UN’s International Telecommunication Union.
Technologists who had raised alarms about the proceedings pushed for no deal to one that would have allowed more government censorship and surveillance. Supporters, however, said the failure to reach an accord may increase the chance that the Internet will work very differently in different regions.
“Maybe in the future we could come to a fragmented Internet,” delegate Andrey Mukhanov, a top international official at Russia’s Ministry of Telecom and Mass Communications, said. “That would be negative for all, and I hope our American, European colleagues come to a constructive position.”
Countries that had been seeking an expansion of the ITU role reacted with bitterness to the failure to reach an agreement. Tariq al-Awadhi of the United Arab Emirates, head of the Arab States’ delegation, said his group had been “double-crossed” by the U.S. bloc after it had agreed to a compromise deal that moved Internet issues out of the main treaty and into a nonbinding resolution saying the ITU should be part of the multi-stakeholder model.
“Unfortunately, those countries breached the compromise package and destroyed it totally,” said Mr. Awadhi. “We have given everything and are not getting anything.” Mr Awadhi said the treaty should have included all forms of telecommunications, including Internet-based instant messaging services and Voice Over Internet Protocol. “They are using telecom network and using telecom services,” he said.
Mr. Kramer said that the U.S. had negotiated in good faith but that there were a number of issues that made agreement impossible, including the resolution’s recognition of an ITU role. He said a section on reducing the unwanted emails or spam opened the door toward government monitoring and blocking of political or religious messages.
The turnabout was a defeat for ITU Secretary-General Hamadoun Tour, who had previously predicted that “light-touch” Internet regulation would emerge from the conference. However he said the 12-day meeting “has succeeded in bringing unprecedented public attention to the different and important perspectives that govern global communications.”
Among the countries that said they could not sign, at least without consulting officials in their capitals, were most nations in Western Europe along with Canada, Philippines, Poland, Egypt, Kenya, and the Czech Republic. The U.S. bloc’s rejection of the proposal followed a vote that approved an African proposal to add a sentence in a treaty relating to human rights.
“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,” Simon Towler, head of the British delegation, said after the African proposal was passed.