Stop the Net Grab: What happened in Dubai?
Thanks to everyone who supported the ITUC/TUC Stop the Net Grab petition to the ITU’s World Conference on International Telecommunications. Over 100,000 signed the global petition in total, including more than 16,000 from the UK.
Thanks in large part to the public outcry, manifested in major petitions, lobbying of delegations and media attention, the attack on the open Internet was held off, at least for now.
The two-week conference unfolded as many feared it it would.
Countries with a history of censorship took every chance to get the Internet under the control of the ITU’s International Telecommunication Regulations but, luckily, for the most part failed to achieve that. Iran in particular severely overplayed its hand in trying to force other countries to legitimise censorship via a UN treaty.
A very worrying new ITU standard on Deep Packet Inspection (the most intrusive technology for monitoring, controlling and even changing the content of Internet traffic) was sneaked through by the ITU in a technical meeting a few days before the WCIT conference took place. Assessment of its possible implications is still ongoing, but it is absolutely clear that privacy and freedom of speech concerns were NOT properly addressed in the discussions and the outcome of this standard (despite the concerns of countries such as Germany).
In the end though, consensus could not be reached and around 50 countries have not signed the new treaty, with many of them publicly objecting to the attempts to bring the Internet under the control of ITU regulations.
The Dubai conference revealed for all the world to see, the deep divisions between those who want an open Internet, and those who want Internet communications to be controlled by governments against the interests of freedom of expression. The conference in fact probably worsened those divisions, especially because of the lack of transparency before and even during the event.
Those governments which want to bring the Internet under their control will not stop at Dubai. Nationally, many of those countries will continue to clamp down on their own citizens’ net activities, and they will continue to try and get UN cover for that.
A lot of vigilance and engagement from civil society will be needed to keep the Internet open, so that global economic activity, labour, environment and human rights, can continue to flourish online. The United Nations itself has an important role to play in this, and should be more active in supporting bodies like the Internet Governance Forum.
Civil society needs to be ready to push the UN in the right direction and engage actively in the future debates around internet governance. So this is most certainly not the end of the journey. We’ll have more in the New Year on where the campaign needs to go from here.
Thanks again for you help so far!
GoingToWork.org.uk and EqualTimes.org teams