International Telecommunications Regulations Set for an Update

by Jordan Richardson on June 25, 2012

In December of this year, the World Conference on International Telecommunications will be held in Dubai. More than 190 countries are expected to be in attendance to discuss, among other things, potential changes to the International Telecommunications Regulations.

The current set of these regulations is 24 years old, so you can imagine why a refurbishing would come in handy. A lot has changed since they were put in place.

The trouble is that some countries with less than “open” values when it comes to the Internet could get their mitts on the regulations, impacting how international standards play out. While the United States delegation has assured that it will block any potential language that advocates censorship of the Internet, there still must be a consensus agreement as to what goes into the final regulations.

Russia wants users to have “unrestricted access” to the Internet, “except in cases where international telecommunication services are used for the purpose of interfering in the internal affairs or undermining the sovereignty, national security, territorial integrity and public safety of other states, or to divulge information of a sensitive nature.”

That’s a pretty broad “exception.”

One also has to wonder how China would play its cards with respect to the Internet. It’s not exactly known for transparency or for supporting free and open access.

For months now, dozens of countries have been holding meetings to debate changes to the treaty. Legal experts and civil liberties unions tracking the negotiations have been careful to suggest that things are going smoothly. After all, one linguistic distinction could transform the entire meeting of the treaty, blocking Internet opposition to political moves and effectively censoring protest or dissent.

The Russian proposal summarized above has not yet been rejected by the United Nations, even as it violates the U.N.’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Couple that with the relatively “secretive” nature of the debates thus far and you’ve got the perfect recipe for a number of conspiracy theories with regard to the future of an “open Internet.”

Countries without regulations often look to the International Telecommunications Regulations for ideas as to how to structure their respective regulations. The trouble is that the regulations are static, which means that many portions are outdated before they even come out of the box. Applying the old model, largely designed for a telephone-oriented system of communications, to the new model of Internet communications (and beyond) isn’t effective anymore.

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