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International Internet Regs: Nothing to Write Home About

by Policy TeamWCIT Watch at Access Now

The rework of international Internet treaties at the WCIT came up with an end result almost no one likes: and a treaty many countries aren't likely to sign.

WCIT Watch (from Access Now) breaks down the good, the bad and the ugly from the recent meeting of the WCIT.


The world’s governments just concluded the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) where they updated the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs), a binding international treaty on telecommunications provision and interoperability. In the end, the government-controlled conference produced a text that crossed red lines for several states, from both the developed and developing world, who have said they will either not sign or need to consult their capitals. Still, many of the most problematic proposals failed to make it into the final draft.

The good
None of the key definitions in the treaty like “telecommunications” or “international route” were expanded to include the internet. Problematic language giving states a right to know how traffic is routed, opening up the door to widespread surveillance and necessitating costly changes to internet architecture was also rejected. The most contentious language in the provisions on spam and security, which would have posed a serious threat to human rights, was diluted.

The controversial ETNO proposal, which would have subjected the internet to the “sending party pays” billing model of traditional telephony also didn’t make it into the treaty.

The treaty’s preamble included language affirming member states’ “commitment to implement these Regulations in a manner that respects and upholds their human rights obligations.” A new article was also added to promote access for persons with disabilities to international telecommunication services. Finally, a resolution was adopted to establish special measures for landlocked developing countries and small island developing states for access to international optical fibre networks.

The bad
After hundreds of hours of deliberations, Article 1.1 which defines the scope of the ITRs, resulted in a compromise text utilizing several undefined, vague terms and likely covers government and military networks. The upshot is that it does not appear to apply to internet companies or service providers.

A new provision, 3.6, requiring states to endeavor to ensure the provision of Calling Line Identification -- an undefined term but one that certainly includes user data -- made it into the treaty. Worse still, this provision can be modified by future ITU-T standards, which could dangerously expand this treaty to include the internet.

The ugly
“The really ugly stuff doesn’t come until Articles 5A and 5B on network security and spam,” said Access Policy Director Jochai Ben-Avie. “Worse still, 5B with its use of the words ‘electronic communications’ could be read to apply to the internet.” As part of a compromise, Art. 1.1 a contains an explicit provision saying the Regulations “do not address content-related aspects of telecommunications”, however.

Finally, despite all of the assurances of the ITU Secretariat that the WCIT wouldn’t discuss internet governance, the final treaty text contains a resolution that explicitly “instructs the Secretary-General to take the necessary steps for the ITU to play and active and constructive role in... the internet.”

Governments urged not to sign
We urge member states to reject the treaty or return to their capitals and, in the true spirit of the WSIS commitments to multistakeholderism, consult with all those who will be affected by this treaty before deciding whether or not to sign it.

“Both the openness of the internet and the free exercise of human rights have been put at risk during the WCIT,” said Ben-Avie. “We applaud the countries, both developed and developing, who have already spoken out against the ITRs and corresponding resolutions, and we urge others to do the same.”