Australian govt fights against internet governance changes

The Australian government has flagged that it will oppose proposed changes to the International Telecommunications Regulations that would expand government power over the internet.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy is in Dubai this week for the International Telecommunications Union's (ITU's) World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT), and said that the Australian government will oppose changes that would give governments greater control over the internet.

The ITU will seek the support of delegates from 193 different nations to change the International Telecommunications Regulations (ITR) to give more control over the internet to governments, rather than existing independent organisations, such as the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). The treaty was first created in 1988 at a similar conference in Melbourne.

The proposal likely to come from the closed-door meeting has already been met with opposition from Google and Anonymous, with Google's chief evangelist Vint Cerf saying that the changes could "put government handcuffs on the net", with a number of governments that have track records of opposing internet freedom getting a vote on the changes to the ITR.

Others have warned that the changes would make internet "blackouts", such as those seen in Egypt and Syria, much easier to coordinate.

Conroy announced today that the case had not been made for the changes to the ITR to be accepted, and he believed that ICANN should still be kept in charge.

"ICANN's multi-stakeholder model has played a significant role in the success of the internet, and is essential for ensuring that the internet remains a central point for innovation and a driver of economic growth," Conroy said.

"Australia wants to make sure that any amendments to the ITRs do not undermine this model or fundamentally change the way the internet operates. Australia does not believe a case has been made for change."

Conroy said that the ITU should still focus on developing technical telecommunications standards that ensure networks can work with one another across the globe, but said that ICANN should continue to oversee the global Domain Name System.

"There appears to be little value in either organisation seeking to encroach on the responsibilities of the other," he said. "Given the increasing importance of communications networks in our day-to-day lives, governments should continue to play a role in developing and protecting this vital infrastructure from harm — either from deliberate attacks or natural disasters."

Conroy said that he would be meeting with the delegations from other nations to seek support for Australia's position on the proposed ITR changes.

Telecommunications analyst Paul Budde this morning dismissed the concerns about the conference as "conspiracy theories," stating that it was not a "takeover of the internet by the UN," but working to build a consensus about ITR.

"The decisions that have been made over that time have been based on consensus, and the Secretary-General of the ITU, the UN body in charge of the organisation organising the conference, is determined that any decision-making at this conference will take place on that basis also."

He claimed that people with vested interests were seeking to spread FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) about the conference.

The conference comes just weeks after the government announced that it would drop its proposal for a mandatory internet filtering system in Australia, which, under its initial proposal, would have seen all content that sat outside the government's rating system blocked from view.

Instead, the government has opted to force internet service providers to block content on the Interpol black list.

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