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Internet Governance, or Just Governing the Internet?

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Yes, yes, got it: There is no International Telecommunications Union (ITU) plot to take over the Internet.

Yet, that is the message from the ITU Secretary General in a carefully worded campaign to tamp down concerns that renegotiation of the ITU's underlying treaty may provide an opportunity for mischief -- at its most troubling, potentially wandering into areas of Internet policy.

To be sure, there are no "black helicopters" circling Geneva and some of the rhetoric has been over the top. So why am I not reassured by the Secretary General's insistence that there are no references to "Internet governance" in the preparatory documents for the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT)? Well, that's true, as far as it goes. But the ITU is driven by its member states and, thanks to WCITleaks, which put these sub rosa proposals online, we have a better idea about what some countries are proposing. And those proposals aim to put the ITU right in the middle of the Internet.

CDT has released a new analysis, The ITU's WCIT Negotiation: Internet Governance, or Just Governing the Internet?, which provides a brief look at the range of proposals governments have introduced. Russia and others want the treaty to sanction government interference with the Internet when it is used for "the purpose of interfering in the internal affairs or undermining the sovereignty, national security, territorial integrity and public safety of other States..." Multiple countries have submitted proposals to make ITU technical standards mandatory (standards which are currently developed by engineers, academics, and industry through voluntary and consensus-based processes, not by government mandate). Other states want the ITU to have a role in allocating IPv6 addresses, overseeing peering and interconnection between IP networks, or addressing spam, child safety, cybersecurity, and data protection, and proposals are still coming in. What part of the Internet do these proposals not invoke? And what would be the impact on the Internet's openness and the rights of Internet users if they were adopted?

Many of the issues on the table are subjects of intense policy debate because they require careful weighing of equally important interests, such as security, fraud, privacy, free flow of information, innovation, and fundamental rights. Getting policy right for the Internet requires input from a range of stakeholders, including Internet users themselves. It is time to put aside semantics about whether the words "Internet governance" are in the preparatory documents for the WCIT. Instead, Internet users should look closely at what governments are actually proposing to include in the new treaty, and ask whether Internet freedom would be well served by expanding the ITU's reach to the Internet. We think the answer is "no."

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