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A breakdown in communications: U.S. and UK refuse to sign treaty 'that could lead to greater government control of cyberspace'U.S. led group of 20 nations which walked away from the treaty
Rival countries had sought to break the Western grip on the InternetU.S. and allies claimed new rules would harm free-form nature of the net
18:57 GMT, 14 December 2012
The UK and the U.S. today refused to sign the first UN telecommunications treaty of the Internet age, claiming it would lead to greater government control of cyberspace.
They were among a group of 20 nations which walked away from negotiations in Dubai after an ideological split over the nature of the Internet and who is responsible for its growth and governance.
Rival countries – including Iran, China and African states – insisted governments should have a greater sway over Internet affairs and sought to break the Western grip on information technology.
Summit: Delegates at the ITUtalks in Dubai listen to Hamadoun Toure, the group's secretary-general. The UK and U.S. today led a bloc of 20 nations which refused to sign the accords
They also favoured greater international help to bring reliable online links to the world's least developed regions.
In a testament to the contentious atmosphere at the negotiations of the UN's International Telecommunications Union, the pages of reservations and comments by various countries involved were longer than the treaty itself.
In the end, it was supported by 89 countries in the 193-member union. Fifty-five did not sign, including the U.S.-led bloc of more than 20 nations, and others needing home country approval.
The remainder did not have high-ranking envoys in Dubai.
The ITU – which dates to the age of the telegraph in the mid-19th century – has no technical powers to change how the Internet operates or force countries to follow its non-binding accords, which also dealt with issues such as mobile phone roaming rates and international emergency numbers.
But the U.S. and its backers nevertheless worried that the new treaty could alter the tone of debates about the Internet.
Instead of viewing it as a free-form network, they claim, it could increasingly been seen as a commodity that needs clear lines of oversight.
Hamadoun Toure, the group's
secretary-general, said he was 'very much surprised' by the U.S.-led
snub after days of difficult negotiations that dropped or softened
wording that troubled the West.
it fell short of American-led demands that all references to the
Internet – even indirect or couched in general language – be omitted.
Breakdown in communications: Mr Toure, left, said said he was very much surprised by the snub after days of difficult negotiations had softened or dropped wording that had troubled U.S. delegate Terry Kramer, right
Even apparently clear-cut issues such as unsolicited email 'spam' brought division.
Efforts to try to address blanket electronic message barrages was seen by American envoys and others as something governments could use as possible U.N. cover for increased surveillance on email traffic.
'Fundamental divides were exposed,' said Lynn St. Amour, CEO and president of the Internet Society, an industry group.
STATES THAT BLOCK THE NET
Internet restrictions and availability at selected countries and regions around the world:
Internet use is extremely restricted with many of North Korea's 24million people unable to get online. Some North Koreans can access an internal Intranet that connects to state media. Members of the elite, resident foreigners and visitors in certain hotels are allowed full access.
Most Western social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter are blocked in Iran, as well as political opposition and sexually explicit websites. But proxy server sites and other methods are widely used to get around the official restrictions.
There are more than 500 million Chinese online but they contend with an extensive Internet filtering and censorship system popularly known as the 'Great Fire Wall.' Censors police blogs and domestic social media for content deemed pornographic or politically subversive and delete it.
Tight control, slow connections and high costs mean only around 5 percent of Cubans have access to the global Internet, with another 23 percent relying instead on a government intranet with very limited content. Web access is mainly via public facilities where people must first register with identification.
GULF ARAB STATES
Internet censorship is prevalent across former Soviet Central Asian republics, but the strongest restrictions have been recorded in Iran's authoritarian neighbours to the north, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
The government restricts access to the Internet and closely monitors online communications. The U.S. State Department's latest human rights report said the government monitored email without obtaining warrants as required by law, and that all Internet users were required to use one of three service providers owned directly by the government or controlled by members of the country's sole party.
Mr Toure framed it as clash of 'two societies'; a so-called digital divide with citizens of wealthy countries able to access the Net on one side, and 4.5 billion others in poor nations on the other.
'We are defending here the right to communicate as a basic human right. That's something very important in the ITU. We so remind our members constantly of that obligation,' he told reporters.
He also said there was no specific endorsement of 'Internet control or Internet governance.'
Still the dissident nations said the general acknowledgement of a government stake in 21st century telecommunications was just as troubling as any specific wording.
'Internet policy should not be determined by member states, but by citizens, communities and broader society … the private sector and civil society,' Terry Kramer, head of the U.S. delegation, told the gathering late last night. 'That has not happened here.'
Mr Toure today said it was impossible and illogical to ignore the Net.
'If the word Internet was used frequently here in Dubai, it is simply a reflection of the reality of the modern world,' said Mr Toure, a Russian-trained engineer from Mali.
'Telecommunication networks are not just used for making voice calls, so our two worlds are linked.'
Overshadowed by the Internet showdowns were other details in the pact. They include agreements that could lower mobile phone roaming charges, pledges to invest more communications infrastructure in poorer countries, efforts for greater communication technology for the disabled and a move to create a common emergency number for mobile phones and other devices.
Either the 911 or 112 number will be picked in later talks.
It's unclear whether countries that rejected the pact could benefit from possible changes such as lower roaming rates when the accord takes effect in 2015.
'Some really good stuff' in the accord, said a Twitter post by .nxt, a website following Internet policy. But it said the disputes over possible Internet controls forced the U.S and others 'to bail' out on the deal.