Fears over internet freedom as world's nations gather at crucial UN conference on web regulation to discuss 900 potential lawsSome nations, including Russia, call for laws to allow state censorshipOther countries, including America, call for internet freedomNearly 200 countries will give their position on the state of the internetFirst major look at the rules since 1988 – a decade before the web went mainstream
13:47 GMT, 3 December 2012
The battle over web freedom and controls is set to take place over the next 11 days, with 193 countries gathering to discuss the future of internet regulation.
When the United Nations delegates last
met to discuss the laws of the virtual land, it was 1988, and the Internet was pretty
much unheard of within the general public.
At that time, Google was still a twinkle in the eyes of two 15-year-olds, auctions could only be won if you attended in person, and Amazon was a river in South America.
Now that the Internet is an everyday commodity for much of the world, the talks, starting today in Dubai, will see a variety of viewpoints raised.
Some nations, including Russia. having previously pressed for internet controls and censorship, while others, including a U.S. delegation, pressing for web freedom.
Time to conference call: Participants listen to the speech of Hamdoun Toure, Secretary General of the International Telecommunication, at the Dubai conference
Some delegates at the Dubai conference – including a 123-member U.S. delegation with envoys from tech giants such as Google and Microsoft – worry that any new U.N. ruling could be used by nations such as China and Russia to justify further tightening of Web blocks and monitoring.
Even Google got political as the
conference started, placing a message on its homepage today which reads:
'Love the free and open Internet Tell
the world's governments to keep it that way'.
The 11-day conference highlights the
fundamental shift from tightly-managed telecommunications networks to
the borderless sweep of the Internet.
The Dubai gathering will confront questions that include how much sway the U.N. can exert over efforts such as battling cyber-crimes and expanding the Internet into developing nations.
The secretary-general of the U.N. International Telecommunications Union, Hamadoun Toure, said that accusations how the meeting could limit Web freedoms is 'completely untrue' and predicted only 'light-touch' regulations.
Google gets political: The search engine posted a link as it campaigned to keep the Internet regulation-free
'Many countries will come to reaffirm their desire to see freedom of expression embedded in this conference,' he told reporters on the meeting's opening day.
However, the outcome of the Dubai gathering is far from certain.
The 193 nations at the meeting have put forward more than 900 proposed regulatory changes covering the Internet, mobile roaming fees and satellite and fixed-line communications.
Broad consensus is needed for any item to be adopted for any changes – the first major review of the U.N.'s telecommunications agenda since 1988, well before the Internet age.
The gathering is also powerless to force nations to change their Internet policies, such as China's notorious 'Great Firewall' and widespread blackouts of political opposition sites in places including Iran and the Gulf Arab states.
Last week, Syria's Internet and telephone services disappeared for two days during some of the worst fighting in months to hit the capital, Damascus.
Switch on: Any attempts for increased Web regulations are likely to face stiff opposition from groups led by a major U.S. delegation
The head of the U.S. delegation in Dubai, Ambassador Terry Kramer, told reporters last week in Washington that all efforts should be made to avoid a 'Balkanization' of the Internet in which each country would impose its own rules and standards that could disrupt the flow of commerce and information.
'That opens the door … to content censorship,' he said.
The International Trade Union Confederation, representing labor groups in more than 150 countries, claimed a bloc that includes China, Russia and several Middle East nations seeks to 'pave the way for future restrictions on both internet content or its users.'
'It is clear that some governments have an interest in changing the rules and regulations of the Internet,' the confederation said in statement Monday.
Another likely battle that will take place in Dubai is over European-backed suggestions to change the pay structure of the Web to force content providers – such as Google, Facebook Inc. and others – to kick in an extra fee to reach users across borders. Advocates of the changes say the money raised could pay to expand broadband infrastructures in developing countries.
Toure said he hoped for a 'landmark' accord on trying to bring broadband Internet to developing countries. 'The Internet remains out of reach for 2/3 of world's people,' said Toure, who is from Mali.
The U.N. telecommunications agency dates back to 1865, when the telegraph revolutionized the speed of information.
Over the decades, it has expanded to include telephone, satellite and other advances in communications.