U.S. announces will not sign ITU treaty, period

U.S. announces will not sign ITU treaty, period

Summary: The U.S. has just announced that, "U.S. cannot sign revised telecommunications regulations in their current form."


I just got out of a briefing with the United States ambassador to the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT-12), Terry Kramer.

The U.S. has just announced that, "U.S. cannot sign revised telecommunications regulations in their current form." Further, Kramer stated, "ITR should be a high-level document, and the scope of treaty does not extend to the Internet."

ITR in this case refers to International Telecommunications Regulations. Kramer stated that while the final signatories of whatever treaty comes out of WCIT-12 won't be known until tomorrow, the United States and a variety of other countries won't be part of it, "We cannot be part of that consensus."

He further stated, the "world community is at a crossroads of its collective view of the Internet." He also said, the "U.S. will continue to uphold and advance the multistakeholder model of internet governance."

There wasn't just one deal-breaker at the conference, although the last minute Internet resolution introduced last night didn't win any friends in the U.S. delegation. He also stated that there were other issues of disagreement which revolved around the question of whether a treaty would explicitly allow nations to look at content. Interestingly, this includes spam, which the U.S. considers a type of content, and doesn't want to allow to be regulated and inspected.

From an "agency" point of view, Kramer stated, "We don't want lack of clarity of the agencies subject to this. A lot of players could be subject to these regulations." The idea here is that if the definitions in the treaty are too open-ended, many ISPs, and even Web site operators could be subject to formalized regulations that the U.S. doesn't want to encourage.

When I spoke to Ambassador Kramer, I asked him what happens now? Will other countries route around the U.S. desires for an open Internet? And, I also asked, could this lead to what might essentially be two Internets, one open, and one closed?

His answer to me was very interesting. First, he said, "We hope that doesn't happen here". He also said, "Candidly, nations can still do that under national sovereignty."

The key, even though these treaties are non-binding, is that we in the U.S. don't want to set up a situation where various agencies are subject to influence because of the existence of a treaty and America's implied support. By removing America's support from the ITR, it's clear that the U.S. doesn't intend for its players to be subject to the model put forth by more oppressive nations.

He also stated that: "On a second Internet, anything is possible," but "It's not going to be an easy task to set up a different standard, very difficult to pull off," and "We need to continue to do this outreach so we don't inadvertently allow a balkanization of the Internet."

The bottom line, according to Kramer and U.S. policy is that, "Multi-stakeholder model is much more practical in advancing the Internet," even if the "divergence of views is significant."

Kramer believes this isn't over. He stated, "At the end of the day, these ITRs are not legally binding. What is fundamental about this is [there will need to be a] very explicit discussion about views on the Internet and how it should be managed."

Ambassador Kramer ended with, "Candidly, we're resolute on this." 

Topics: Security, Government, Privacy


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.

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  • This is the kind of thing that has rendered almost the entire UN useless.

    Maybe let's just move the UN headquarters to Syria. The dictators internet can be governed by the dictators UN. Good for the US to object. I'll be fine if I have to get by on an internet without iran and north korea and china on it.
    Johnny Vegas
    • Useless?

      Really? With the PRC's global-economic & geopolitical importance skyrocketing for the long-term future? They might want to filter incoming material -- and of course that's objectively bad mostly -- but can the rest of us afford to in-effect filter _them_? It'll be the Cold War all over again, or like how the West is blindsided today by the Muslim World on account of our relative ignorance of them beyond 9th grade Social Studies truisms. Or even NKorea for that matter, as recently as this week's rocket/missile launch: Splash off of Okinawa, or satellite in space, which was it?

      Our "freedom" is ill-served by ignorance.
      Teri W.
      • The UN is USELESS, and the problems that you mention, have gotten worse

        and the UN helped to make them worse.

        If we do need a UN, it has to be something with a much different charter and with less influence by dictators and oppressive governments, and the UN does not represent that kind of ideal.
        • Government

          The problem is that in order for the UN to really be more meaningful it really would have to become a Wolrd Government. I understand how tempting a thought that is to some but really it would be a disaster for any country in North America or Western Europe just to start with.
          • Wrong!!! No need for world government...

            The idea is to have a set of minimum standards that all countries respect.

            Like, respect for women and respect for borders and respect for each others religions (or lack thereof) and a minimum standard for education in all countries and a goal to eliminate poverty (or at least the elimination of hunger) and the establishment of minimum rights for each country's citizenry, including the right to vote and to determine its form of government. The biggest goal should be the elimination of dictatorships.

            There are many other goals that a UN can be chartered with, but none of them would be to establish a world government to use force to accomplish them. Governments can have sanctions (aka: punishments) applied for non-compliance with the charter, and they can be ostracized from the community of countries that do abide by the charter. There should be no farcical appointment to a committe/commission of a government that violates human dignity and does not allow basic human rights, and that does not allow its people to have free and open elections to choose its leadership.

            Any country that doesn't abide by the basic rules, will not be allowed to be a member of the UN, and it can only apply for membership when it abides by the charter.

            A community of nations is not the same as world government, and it's not to be a form of coercion. Countries either decide to abide by the rules, or they don't and won't become members. Nothing dictatorial about that. Follow the rules of the "club" or you won't be member.
          • Attention space aliens

            Please return Adornoe. He was rather fun to argue with.

            BTW: I agree with everything you said. I just don't know how workable making compliance with minimum human rights standards a prerequisite for membership is at this late date. It would have been much better to have set that standard in 1945, but the western allies didn't think they were in a position to do so (and I'm not convinced they were wrong). At this point, the UN is good for consultations and some forms of collective action (we still haven't had WWIII); but setting standards on things like human rights would probably be better done in a different forum.
            John L. Ries
          • WWIII was not prevented by the UN; it was prevented by the forces of the US

            the world's policeman.

            The UN has been a failure from its inception, and the only thing in which they might have been good at, is using "donations" from countries such as the U.S. to prevent or reduce diseases. But, again, that is a function which could have been done by the U.S. and the donating countries. The UN is a front for the corrupt member states, who will use the even the most minute advantage to advance their evil deeds against the civilized and democratic world.

            Fact is that, if there hadn't been a UN, there would not be that much difference in the state of the world. As a result, the UN has just been a consumer of goods and services, with little to show for it.

            If the standards for the world body were nothing but a charade from the start, and standards could not be set or attained, then, it was all a charade, and anybody that pretends any different is just in denial.

            The people who need to be taken away by "space aliens" are those that pretend that, the world is so much better off with the charlatans at the UN. Get real!!!
        • Interesting

          What standards would you propose to reduce the influence of dictators and/or oppressive governments? Also, since you're a self-proclaimed Conservative, would you have excluded the military regimes that dominated South and Central America in the 1970s and 80s (supported by many U.S conservatives at the time)?

          A different charter might be helpful, but the devil's in the details.
          John L. Ries
          • During the Cold War...

            ...most U.S. conservatives cared a lot more about whether a country was an ally or an adversary than about how it was actually governed or how its rulers treated their own people.

            That was definitely true of Eisenhower, Nixon, and Ford; less true of Reagan, to his credit.
            John L. Ries
          • Sadly true

            Upstanding democracy of truth and virtue was not a useful enough measuring stick during the Cold War sadly...there was a real worry of a war to end life on Earth that sped people towards expediancy at an understandable clip.

            You are right about the devil in the details on the new charter. However, and this is going to hurt...a Tech forum is a really bad place to have that conversation. Then again, what is?
          • This is one of the places...

            ...where tech and public policy collide, so a tech forum is as good a place as any and better than the usual partisan echo chambers.
            John L. Ries
          • As a conservative, YES, I would have reduced the influence of dictatorships

            and I would not have allowed them to be members of the UN. Being a conservative has nothing to do with how one feels about a very specific issue, and conservatism is about a general belief system which believes that human beings deserve a basic set of human rights, to be respected by all. The way I see it, dictatorships don't deserve to exist nor be encouraged or placated. We can still hold a conversation with them, but, we should never embolden them or seem to enable them. Fact is that, from my recollection, most conservatives were opposed to most dictatorships in South and Central America. When a dictatorship of the left is being replaced by a dictatorship from the right, neither of them is in it for the good of the people, and it's mostly about power grabbing for those who look to rule with an iron hand. The way I see it, there is not such thing as a benevolent tyrant or dictator. Power corrupts, and the people are always the victims.
          • I'll accept that

            Thanks. I've seen enough apologies for Samoza, Stroessner, Pinochet, etc to last a lifetime. I understand that it's sometimes necessary to cooperate with some very unsavory regimes, but it should always be remembered that they're not our friends; merely allies of convenience (same goes with the many left wing dictatorships).

            Reagan was, at least, willing to push those sorts of regimes in the right direction, even while working with them (and sometimes to tell then it's time to leave, as he did to Ferdinand Marcos). I think Henry Kissinger, on the other hand, actually preferred them.
            John L. Ries
      • Isolationism is never a good long-term policy BUT

        The OUT-filtering is already being performed by the repressive regimes, without any help from the western nations. When is the last time you saw a Google search turn up a useful scientific paper from the PRK? Or a factual news account of earthquake damage in the PRC. Or coverage of a woman being stoned from Iran. Why do I need in-depth knowledge of Islamic precepts and practices that became static in the eighth century? Why is it wise to provide a platform that allows the more virulent forms to disseminate their doctrines and proselytize?

        You seem to minimize that they IN-filter ALL content except the most innocuous and want more power to do more of it. That is the stated intent of those leading this WCIT. The opposition is not just from the US; the E.U. is also unanimous in opposition and is backed in its stance by Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico and others.

        I would shed not a single tear if those repressive regimes dropped off the web. It would be their loss.
    • UN?

      The WCIT has nothing to do with the United Nations. So sorry, you'll have to find something else to whine about.
      • Maybe a little research would help?

        From the Wikipedia article on the ITU:
        The International Telecommunication Union, originally founded as the International Telegraph Union, is a specialized agency of the United Nations which is responsible for information and communication technologies.

        From that same article:
        In December 2012 (3-14 December 2012), ITU facilitated the The World Congress on International Telecommunications 2012 (WCIT-12) in Dubai. WCIT-12 was a treaty-level conference to address international rules for telecommunications, including international tariffs.[11] The previous conference to update the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs) was held in Melbourne in 1988.[12].

        In August 2012, ITU called for a public consultation on a draft document ahead of the conference.[13] It is claimed the proposal would allow government restriction or blocking of information disseminated via the internet and create a global regime of monitoring internet communications – including the demand that those who send and receive information identify themselves. It would also allow governments to shut down the internet if there is the belief that it may interfere in the internal affairs of other states or that information of a sensitive nature might be shared.[14]

        Telecommunications ministers from 193 countries will attend the conference.[14]

        In other words, your statement that the WCIT has nothing to do with the UN is factually incorrect.
      • It's sad when someone is SO totally wrong.

        Sorry, drobinow. The WCIT-12 summit IS the latest of periodic meetings of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), a little known arm of the United Nations. The little known condition is easily remedied by a simple Google search.
      • No

        Not only is it tied to the UN but the alternatives to this effort would naturally all lead back to the UN so it is germain to the facts of what is going on now as well as the pssible directions it could go in tomorrow.
      • Not entirely true

        The ITU is called an "agency" of the UN (there are lots of these), but like the others, it has its own assembly and other institutions, and is not directly controlled by either the U.N General Assembly or its secretariat.

        And, of course, the membership of the ITU is almost identical with that of the UN, making the politics very similar.
        John L. Ries
        • which means

          Agency of does not equal nothing to do with. The man was wrong and misleading.