From December 3 -14, 2012, the 12th World Conference on International Telecommunications ("WCIT") convened in Dubai to revise a key treaty of the International Telecommunication Union ("ITU"), a United Nations agency that sets standards for international telephone networks. According to the WCIT web site, their goal was to "review the current International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs), which serve as the binding global treaty designed to facilitate international interconnection and interoperability of information and communication services, as well as ensuring their efficiency and widespread public usefulness and availability."
Prior to the WCIT, China's position was that responsibility for regulating the Internet should be handed over to the UN. See: http://blog.feichangdao.com/2012/10/china-says-united-nations-best-forum.html.
On December 10, overseas media reported that "China, Russia and others have withdrawn controversial proposals at the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) 2012 that would have given them greater control over the Internet, following a public backlash from dismayed onlookers." The document, posted here - http://files.wcitleaks.org/public/S12-WCIT12-C-0047!!MSW-E.pdf - was entitled "Proposals for the Work of the Conference," and indicated China, Russia, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Sudan and Egypt all wanted to be granted greater control over the Web.
|Screenshot of first page of China's submission.|
According to the Rusnews website, eight countries, including Russia, continued to propose to the ITU that all countries strengthen administration of their domestically registered Internet resources. Russia and the seven other countries submitted a proposal asking the ITU to give its member state the power to assign, transfer, and reclaim domestically registered IP addresses and domain names.
|The Rusnews report.|
Algeria, Cuba, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirites, China, and Russia had raised a proposal on Internet sovereignty with the ITU, but it was rejected.On December 20, 2012, Xinhua published an article entitled "Foreign Media: Most Countries Support Increasing Oversight of the Internet." (外媒：多数国家支持加强互联网监管). The article contains no original reporting. Rather, it is a collection of partial translations of reports from the Wall Street Journal, Reuters, and the New York Times that meticulously excises all negative references to China.
For example, the following shows how Xinhua excerpted "America's First Big Digital Defeat," by L. Gordon Crovitz, published in the December 17 edition of the Wall Street Journal. Text that is struck out was omitted by the Xinhua version.
The open Internet, available to people around the world without the permission of any government, was a great liberation. It was also too good to last. Authoritarian governments this month won the first battle to close off parts of the Internet.
At the just-concluded conference of the International Telecommunications Union in Dubai, the U.S. and its allies got outmaneuvered. The ITU conference was highly technical, which may be why the media outside of tech blogs paid little attention, but the result is noteworthy: A majority of the 193 United Nations member countries approved a treaty giving governments new powers to close off access to the Internet in their countries.
. . . .
Authoritarian regimes, led by Russia and China, have long schemed to use the U.N. to claim control over today's borderless Internet, whose open, decentralized architecture makes it hard for these countries to close their people off entirely. In the run-up to the conference, dozens of secret proposals by authoritarian governments were leaked online.
. . . .
ITU head Hamadoun Touré, a Mali native trained in the Soviet Union, had assured that his agency operates by consensus, not by majority vote. He also pledged that the ITU had no interest beyond telecommunications to include the Internet. He kept neither promise.
A vote was called late one night last week in Dubai
—at first described as a nonbinding "feel of the room on who will accept"—on a draft giving countries new power over the Internet.
The result was 89 countries in favor, with 55 against. The
authoritarianmajority included Russia, China, Arab countries, Iran and much of Africa. Under the rules of the ITU, the treaty takes effect in 2015 for these countries. Countries that opposed it are not bound by it, but Internet users in free countries will also suffer as global networks split into two camps—one open, one closed.
. . . .This graphic, published by the ITU, shows which countries signed and which did not.
The treaty document extends control over Internet companies, not just telecoms. It declares: "All governments should have an equal role and responsibility for international Internet governance."
This is a complete reversal of the privately managed Internet. Authoritarian governments will invoke U.N. authority to take control over access to the Internet, making it harder for their citizens to get around national firewalls. They now have the U.N.'s blessing to censor, monitor traffic, and prosecute troublemakers.
|China was joined by countries such as Cuba, Libya, Sudan, Somalia, and Vietnam.|
Non-signatories include Canada, Finland, India, Japan, Peru, and Switzerland.