International Telecommunication Union (ITU) logo.
Only weeks after a meeting of the International Telecommunication Union in Dubai sparked worldwide outrage, the UN’s telecom branch remains adamant about re-writing the rules of the Web.
Following a meeting of ITU members last year, participants involved in the United Nation’s telecom group announced that they hoped to re-write a multilateral communications treaty, in turn causing a whole new set of international laws to structure the way the Internet works.
Although the United States and dozens of other countries have refused to sign the proposal, the ITU is nevertheless powering through with plans to put new rules and regulations on the world’s Internet, including implement sweeping deep-packet inspection powers and other efforts that could censor the Web.
With the US contributing the lion’s share of the organizations funding, advocates for an open Internet are asking for all that to change.
According to the just-launched website defundtheitu.org, the UN group currently spends around $180 million annually to advocate for that revamped treaty.
But while the United States opposes the very actions the ITU seeks, they at the same time contribute a massive amount of the group’s resources.
“The ten most oppressive countries in the Open Net Initiative’s ranking of online freedom all sided against the Internet, and none of them are giving the ITU as much as the US is,” the site claims. In fact, insists the site, the US government gave nearly $11 million to the ITU in 2010 — almost 8 percent of its total budget — all the while opposing the group’s attempt at creating a bill that some say would change the Web as we know it.
“It’ll be the biggest power grab in the UN’s history, as well as a perversion of its power,” blogger Arthur Herman wrote for Fox News last month.
Dr. Hamadoun I. Toure, the general secretary of the ITU, has said his group has no interest in threatening free speech and instead insists a new treaty is a “chance to chart a globally-agreed roadmap to connect the unconnected, while ensuring there is investment to create the infrastructure needed for the exponential growth in voice, video and data traffic.” US lawmakers say the ITU would do so much more, though — censor the Web, in fact — which caused the US House of Representatives to unanimously agree to reject the proposal.
“The unanimous vote is meant to send a signal – as a show of strength – to other countries meeting at the telecommunications summit that both the White House and its lawmakers oppose any role the U.N. might take in Internet governance or regulation,” ZDNet reported in December.
With the ITU still bankrolled by millions of dollars from around the world, though, their plans for an international Internet treaty is still a possibility. While the US formally opposes their plan, they continue to fund the group regardless. On the just-launched petition, some aim to change that.
“This petition seeks to cut this self-defeating expenditure from the State Department’s budget, allocating the savings to constructive work supporting a free and open Internet. By reducing the budget the ITU uses to oppose us both government and private sector will realize indirect savings in time and money as a result of having to spend less to defend ourselves and the Internet against the ITU’s attacks,” the website says. “This is merely the logical follow-through to the Senate and House resolutions condemning the ITU’s attack against the Internet and directing the State Department to combat it.Paying for both sides of a conflict is unsustainable and illogical, and should simply be corrected.”
On WhiteHouse.gov, a separate petition by the same people behind the ‘Defund the ITU’ website has been created imploring US President Barack Obama to immediately reduce his government’s funding of the group by half. So far it has accumulated only 338 signatures.
The ITU is expected to next meet in February 2013.