U.S. ambassador on WCIT: Keep the Internet out of this conference

U.S. ambassador on WCIT: Keep the Internet out of this conference

Summary: According to Terry Kramer, U.S. ambassador to the WCIT, the United States position is, "Fundamentally, the conference should not be dealing with the Internet sector,"

SHARE:

This continues our ongoing coverage of the WCIT shenanigans in Dubai. This morning, I had the opportunity to attend a briefing with U.S. Ambassador Terry Kramer, who helped to clarify some of the subtleties of the United States position and the conference overall.

As you can see from our ongoing coverage, there's been a lot of concern about whether or not the UN's the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) will be able to, essentially, appropriate Internet governance.

Diplomatic and legal behavior works a lot differently than, say, New Jersey negotiation techniques. Where back home, we might just draw a line in what's left of the sand and say, "This far, no farther -- or else," when it comes to diplomacy, it's more about the wording of the treaty and the charter of the organization.

This is important stuff.

According to Ambassador Kramer at the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT), the ITU is chartered for telecom (meaning telephone and old-school networking) and not the Internet. Other nations, like China and Russia, want to extend the charter to cover Internet activities.

His negotiating strategy is to, essentially, hold the ITU to its original charter, which -- by definition -- would blow all the Internet-related governance issues out of the conference.

Kramer is clearly a dude with a clue. He unequivocally separates the concept of the telecom sector from the Internet sector, and said he wants to, "Stay pure to the focus on this conference which is telecom service providers."

He also said, "Fundamentally, the conference should not be dealing with the Internet sector," and, more bluntly, that they're interested in "Keeping the Internet out of this conference."

You can't really be more clear than that.

Unfortunately, other nations have opinions as well. Kramer did say they made progress, because the deliberative body agreed on the definition of "telecommunications." But he also said there is a "Pretty big gap in points of view from a variety of nations" and it's "not an easy issue to work through because it's a philosophical one."

However, when it comes to some of the Russian proposals, like where the Russians want to blur the distinction between telecom security and Internet security, "We draw a very stark line between the two," and, "What are seemingly harmless proposals can open the door to censorship," and, "We're very much opposed to those."

The U.S. ambassador also said, regarding the "most dramatic element of Russian proposal," that is, moving the management of the Internet over to government, "We fundamentally disagree with that."

So, at least at this point, the United States' position is quite clear. That said, if the U.S. team isn't successful in keeping the Internet out of the conference, how much of a risk are we at that the nature of the Internet will change? In that case, what can and will America do to protect the core nature of the net?

For that, we have no answer.

Topics: Security, Government, Privacy

About

David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

5 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • That's what I thought

    The question is, if efforts to internationalize internet governance have majority support, what's to stop the majority from creating their own Internet and an international agency (separate from the ITU) to govern it?

    I do predict that Russia and China's latest attempt (of many) to institute international censorship will go nowhere (just like all the others).
    John L. Ries
  • With regard to the ITU charter

    A quick inspection of the ITU on Wiikipedia indicates that it was established in 1865. And, prior to being known as the International Telecommunication Union today, it was known as the International Telegraph Union (that's right, telegraph). More here on the ITU:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ITU

    While I don't like censorship, it does seem like it's a reasonable time to update the ITU charter to include the Internet. Does anyone, today, use the Internet for information and/or communication? Skype? Google Voice? Just to name two Internet-based services that, for many. have replaced the telephone.
    Rabid Howler Monkey
    • And telephone companies

      are not just telephone companies. They bring us the Internet and television. This seems to blur the line(s) even more. I do not like a government, especially an international organization like the UN, regulating the Internet.
      radar_z
    • ITU Charter

      Well here's the crux of it, the ITU is a political & governmental organization - Which I don't think should exist. The truth here is that the ITU was created to create a framework that establishes general principles to guide the governance and operation of international telecommunication.
      This helped a lot when none of the companies talked to each other around the world. Now they do because they realize that they need to. Yes there are points where government may need to make a guideline.
      There are plenty of other commercial organizations that get the head IT & ISP's together.
      The problem here is that with WCIT not being needed to do much else they are looking for something to get their teeth into.
      The big problem with the WCIT and some of the other countries is that I'm sure they'd love to be able to have the internet filtered not just at their own countries but to filter it for everyone in the world. (ie, well a Chinese man may be in the U.S. so he should still be filtered) And since they set regulations for the world.... Yes the US wouldn't go along with that, but most other countries would, it's a floodgate that doesn't need to be opened. Not until a lot of the smaller countries grow up a bit and become more level headed and less influenced by extreme religious and monarchial needs.
      The company's priority isn't to make it so that they can spy on their customers, or block customers from being able to see things. It's to make a profit.
      Kyle Weir
      • Control the channels

        The other problem of course is that more and more governments are comming to understand what broadcast news agenceis have known for decades. If you control the medium you can control (or at least influence to such a large extent it mimicks control) the conversation by its content. You do not have to keep people from saying things...just from being heard. You can also put people forth in such a way as to make a majority opinion out of a minority.
        Right now we have no real recourse against the press, but in many of the voting states of the UN there is no recourse against government. Certainly there is no recourse against the UN itself as it begins to vote itself independant Judicial powers.
        I guess I see the point as being that whatever any of the agencies involved in this discussion are, they are tying themselves to the UN and trying to grab control of the medium over which more and more information is flowing. This is inherently dangerous and for that reason alone these agencies need to be opposed at every turn. If the question is standards or something sane then fine...but it ought to be the elected representatives of accountable governments (US, Commonwealth etc.) who create the standards and then get out of the way to allow industries to get on board and get to work.
        jfsiegel