(Arstechnica) -The world’s leading search company has decided to come out swinging against an effort by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the telecommunications arm of the United Nations, to seize a larger role for itself in Internet governance.
“There is a growing backlash on Internet freedom,” Google says on its website. “Forty-two countries filter and censor content. In just the last two years, governments have enacted 19 new laws threatening online free expression.”
Google worries that these censorious governments could use the upcoming World Conference on International Telecommunications, which starts December 3, as an opportunity to grab more authority over the Internet. “The ITU is the wrong place to make decisions about the future of the Internet,” Google argues.
Founded in 1865 to manage interconnections among the world’s telegraph lines and later its telephone network, the ITU had a large role in world telecommunications policy for many decades. But the ITU was a creature of state telecommunications monopolies, and the Internet was designed to route around the control of those incumbents. So as the Internet has grown, the ITU’s influence has waned. Instead, Internet governance has been performed by more open organizations such as the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.
The agenda for next month’s meeting is shrouded in secrecy, but ITU officials have denied that they’re planning a power grab. Still, the website WCITLeaks, created by two researchers at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, provides copies of leaked draft documents, some of which suggest that the ITU, with the backing of repressive governments such as Russia, is hoping to reverse its declining authority by seizing some of the powers currently held by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. Google and other critics object to that approach because ITU is a strictly inter-governmental body, with no representation for private companies like Google, non-profits, or ordinary citizens.
Google isn’t alone in opposing a growing ITU role in Internet governance. Two activist groups that played a key role in the debate over the Stop Online Piracy Act, Fight for the Future and Access Now, have launched a website of their own warning that “the ITU could put the Internet behind closed doors.”
“If some proposals at WCIT are approved, decisions about the Internet would be made by a top-down, old-school government-centric agency behind closed doors,” the groups warn. “Some proposals allow for access to be cut off more easily, threaten privacy, legitimize monitoring and blocking online traffic. Others seek to impose new fees for accessing content, not to mention slowing down connection speeds.”