Documents Leaked Detailing Proposals for UN Telecommunications Summit

Leaked documents for the upcoming World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT), have caused alarm in many Internet activists who claim the documents, which propose possible revisions to the current regulations governing international telecoms, demonstrate the potential for governments to place unwanted and unprecedented levels of control over the Internet. Talking Points Memo explains the purpose of the summit as offering up “new proposals that could give the U.N. the ability to intervene in cybersecurity issues, Internet taxation and content filtering.”

L. Gordon Crovitz, writing for the Wall Street Journal, finds the secretive nature by which governments have proposed changes to the current regulations even more troubling, making it “hard to know what authoritarian governments were plotting or how the U.S. was responding.” While the proposals are not considered confidential, the ITU has not provided a forum in which those not within the Union can view nations’ submissions to the summit.

The conference is hosted by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), an organization that was originally established to regulate the telegraph and is now the official UN agency for all information and communication technologies--this includes developing technical standards for ICTs and improving underdeveloped communities’ access to ICTs.

Two researchers, in response to the secrecy behind countries’ submissions to the conference, have created an online forum to provide more transparency. Jerry Brito and Eli Dourado of George Mason University have launched WCITleaks, a site that encourages WCIT participants to submit documents related to the conference, with the following mission statement:

The forthcoming World Conference on International Telecommunications is marred by a lack of transparency. Access to preparatory reports, as well as proposed modifications to the ITRs, is limited to ITU member states. This leaves civil society groups, and the public in general, in the dark.

To foster greater transparency, we are offering a way for those in possession of such documents to make them publicly available. They can be anonymously submitted to us using the form below, and we will publish them here.

WCITLeaks has since released a number of documents, including a proposal for a new tax on international web traffic. CNET explains that the tax would impose “heavy costs on popular Web sites and their network providers for the privilege of serving non-U.S. users, according to newly leaked documents.” Another document proposes “moving Internet regulatory authority away from organizations aligned with the United States, towards international control.”

While changes could be made to the purview and regulatory structure of the ITU, the situation may not be as drastic as some are claiming. Jerry Brito explains in an interview with Mashable, “The UN is not about to take over Internet governance, as some fear, but they might make some changes to international telecom regulations that could seriously affect the future of the internet.” Eric Pfanner, writing for the New York Times, concurs:

Documents prepared for the December meeting, which leaked out last week — yes, on the Internet — show that there are no proposals to hand governance of the Net to the I.T.U. The union insists that it has no desire to play such a role. And even if some governments would like to give the agency increased regulatory powers, the United States and other like-minded countries could easily block them.

The major point being driven home is that while more proposals surface, some may appear to give the ITU more regulative power. However, it is not within many countries’ best interest to approve them. Eli Dourado explains to CNET, internet taxes would be "an attractive revenue stream for many governments, but it probably is not in the interest of their people, since it would increase global isolation." Other supporters of the summit explain that what is really being discussed is “how best to cooperate to ensure the free flow of information, the continued development of broadband, continued investment, and continuing innovation," and not to evaluate and distribute who ‘runs’ the Internet.

The WCIT will be held in Dubai on December 3-14, 2012.