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Q&A: why the web watchers worry over UN plans


By Stewart Mitchell

Posted on 3 Dec 2012 at 09:38

Over the last year, people have come up with proposals, mainly from Brazil, Russia and China to bring the internet into the scope and those proposed controls are really proscriptive and high level and they concern things like spam, content filtering and management, cyber security issues and infrastructure contracts on things like peering arrangements, and IP numbering.

Q. That all sounds sensible enough, doesn't it?

A. It makes sense when you describe it this way, but when you get into the meat of it, and look through the proposals it's important to understand what's not being said and how people are defining words. For example, there's a proposal to mean that fighting and dealing with spam becomes of the utmost importance and is managed for cyber security issues – stuff that we'd all agree with.

However, what it means is that it's about definitions. Being able to manage spam doesn't just mean spam - it could potentially mean all content. It's important to make a difference between what's being said and what's being implied. What one country might assume is one thing, another country thinks is another.

Article 2 of the ITRs lays out definitions for everything and that will be the crux of this proposal to see how the definitions are negotiated and applied in the final treaty. All of this is really beyond the scope of what the ITRs should be. They should be top-level best practices on how to interact, not proscriptive issues because something could change in the technology next year that puts it completely out of date and upsets peering contracts.

Q. But the regressive countries can already block material, why are they pushing to get it into the ITRs?

A. Talking generally, countries like Russia are trying to apply their kind of regime to other countries. So if countries sign up to this particular treaty – and that's still up for debate – it's mutually binding. And it would give countries carte blanche to do what they want. So, for example, if Russia and Russia's allies wanted to wholesale block content, this gives them the justification to do that in a way that's extraterritorial. So it's not just within their territory, but within their region. For example, a country could say "look Egypt is blocking this content and the ITRs say we can to it too".

Q. What actually happens if countries dissent and don't vote for the treaty to go ahead?

A. My understanding is that countries will chose to sign up or not and that's not an ideal situation - if a number of countries don't sign it will cause a schism. If people can't agree on an effective treaty there will be no common ground going forward.

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User comments

Interesting article

on Techdirt today saying that ITU officials recently held a "secret" meeting to figure out how they were going to avoid getting SOPA'd:

Shortened URL:

Actual URL:

By revsorg on 3 Dec 2012

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