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Civil Society concerns over Internet regulation and ITU

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With the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) to take place during 3-14 December 2012 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates and the World Summit on the Information Society Forum (WSIS) 2012 having taken place in Geneva between 14-18 May 2012, a large group of human rights advocates, freedom of expression groups, academics and organisations of the civil society all over the world, including EDRi, drafted a letter raising several concerns related to the preparation process.
 The letter of 17 May 2012, addressed to WCIT organiser, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the Council Working Group to Prepare for the WCIT-12 and to ITU member states, is asking for more transparency and expresses the wish of the signatories to participate in the preparation process for WCIT.
 In the groups’ opinion, the present preparatory process “lacks the transparency, openness of process, and inclusiveness of all relevant stakeholders that are imperative under commitments made at the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS).”
 Although the Tunis Agenda for the Information Society urges international organizations “to ensure that all stakeholders, particularly from developing countries, have the opportunity to participate in policy decision-making … and to promote and facilitate such participation,” the group considers there has been little participation by civil society in the Council Working Group’s preparatory process for the WCIT so far.
 During the WCIT in December, there will be a renegotiation of the ITU’s underlying treaty, the International Telecommunications Regulations (ITRs). Presently, the ITRs do not address Internet technical standards, infrastructure, or content. What we have now is a decentralized system in which governments, industry, engineers and civil society have the opportunity to participate in standards and policy development. OECD member states have recently adopted a set of Internet Policymaking Principles that backs up the existing model.
 There are however states such as Russia or China, which advocate for the expansion of ITRs to include Internet regulation, which would fundamentally change the Internet governance, affecting freedom of expression, access to information and privacy rights, thus undermining the use of the Internet as a platform for innovation, economic and human development.
 The civil society’s participation in the current process is limited by restrictions on sharing of preparatory documents, high barriers for ITU membership (including cost), and lack of mechanisms for remote participation in preparatory meetings.
 The letter therefore asks for the removal of the restrictions on the sharing of WCIT documents and the release of “all preparatory materials, including the Council Working Group’s final report, consolidated reports from all preparatory activity, and proposed revisions to the International Telecommunication Regulations”.
 It also asks for the participation of the civil society, “in its own right and without cost at Council Working Group meetings and the WCIT itself”, with formal speaking opportunities and the facilitation of remote participation as much as possible. Open public processes at the national level in the Member States are also required “to solicit input on proposed amendments to the International Telecommunication Regulations from all relevant stakeholders, including civil society, and release individual proposals for public debate.”
 Some of the proposals that would allow the ITU and its governments to exert unprecedented regulatory control over the Internet include a governmental regulation of IP-traffic routing, content-related proposals referring also to “information security” and online child protection issues, the expansion of the scope of the ITRs to cover any entity that operates a telecommunications installation, the mandatory compliance with technical standards developed by the ITU and the expansion of the ITRs to address issues of cybercrime and cybersecurity.
 “Beyond the creaking bureaucracy, the undemocratic procedures and the fact that the ITU effectively sells access to decision-makers through exorbitant corporate membership fees, the single biggest practical problem with the ITU is that it moves extremely slowly and cannot readily remedy any mistakes that it makes. Any damaging policy adopted under this process will burden global freedom of communications for years to come,” stated Joe McNamee, EDRi Advocacy Coordinator.
 Letter from Civil Society to the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) raising concerns with the engagement process (17.05.2012)

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