Does Free Speech Matter When The Internet Itself Is In Danger Of Breaking?

    December 14, 2012
    Zach Walton
    Comments are off for this post.

The ITU conference has one more day to go before it winds down on December 14. Until then, a proposal that would lead to governmental regulation of the Internet could be put forward despite some countries taking similar proposals off the table. The House and Senate have already publicly opposed any such outcome, and now the Obama administration is adding its voice to the chorus.

In a post on the White House blog, the Obama administration stated clearly that it does not support any new rules that pertain to regulating the Internet. Instead, it says that the conference should only be about “updating a public telecommunications treaty to reflect today’s market-based realities.”

Do you agree with the White House? Should the Internet be kept out of the ITU negotiations? Let us know in the comments.

The administration then goes into what it hopes to get out of the conference, including an expansion of mobile device accessibility in developing countries:

From the start, the U.S. position has been clear: the WCIT should be about updating a public telecommunications treaty to reflect today’s market-based realities — not a new venue to create regulations on the Internet, private networks, or the data flowing across them.

Today, over 85 percent of the world has access to mobile phones because of modern, competitive marketplaces. And while much is left to be done connecting more to this digital future, the solution is not counterproductive regulation at the national or international level. By supporting principles that expand telecommunications infrastructure to underserved and developing populations, the WCIT can play a valuable role in ensuring technological innovation continues for the benefit of all.

But we should not confuse telecommunications infrastructure with the information that traverses it. The global consensus for a free and open Internet is overwhelming. Millions in the United States and around the world have already added their voices to this conversation, and their position is clear: they do not want the WCIT to govern the Internet or legitimize more state control over online content. Our Administration could not agree more – and will not support a treaty that sets that kind of precedent.

That position unites our Administration, industry, civil society, both parties and houses of Congress, and stakeholders around the world. Communications technologies and the Internet are essential to economic growth and global prosperity. The world deserves a WCIT outcome that delivers more connectivity without undue regulations. The United States will remain a fierce advocate for those principles at the Conference, and beyond.

The US government’s efforts to keep the Internet out of ITU negotiations may be in vain though. Early Thursday morning, a majority of nations cast a non-binding vote in favor of more Internet control. The vote was intended to get a “feel for the room,” but the results were clear – a majority of nations don’t exactly agree with the US when it comes to Internet sovereignty.

Do you think the US has a chance of maintaining its position at the ITU conference? Does the recent “non-vote” raise red flags? Let us know in the comments.

That being said, the US does have a powerful ally in the EU. On November 30, the European Parliament issued a resolution that similarly argued against letting the UN have control of the Internet. Here’s some of the more prominent arguments in the resolution:

Believes that the ITU, or any other single, centralised international institution, is not the appropriate body to assert regulatory authority over either internet governance or internet traffic flows;

Stresses that some of the ITR reform proposals would negatively impact the internet, its architecture, operations, content and security, business relations and governance, as well as the free flow of information online;

Believes that, as a consequence of some of the proposals presented, the ITU itself could become the ruling power over aspects of the internet, which could end the present bottom-up, multi-stakeholder model; expresses concern that, if adopted, these proposals may seriously affect the development of, and access to, online services for end users, as well as the digital economy as a whole; believes that internet governance and related regulatory issues should continue to be defined at a comprehensive and multi-stakeholder level;

Calls on the Member States to prevent any changes to the International Telecommunication Regulations which would be harmful to the openness of the internet, net neutrality, the end-to-end principle, universal service obligations, and the participatory governance entrusted to multiple actors such as governments, supranational institutions, non-governmental organisations, large and small businesses, the technological community and internet users and consumers at large;

Getting back to the US, It’s nice that the legislative and executive branch of our government can agree on something for once, but the White House’s opposition to any new ITU treaties is somewhat hypocritical. Take for instance the White House’s support of ACTA, an international treaty that would have rewritten the rules of what constitutes fair use on the Internet and regulated the Web to unhealthy degrees. The current administration is also heavily in favor of TPP, another multi-national treaty that would cause similar damage to the Internet.

That being said, those fights are more about the expanding the definition of copyright instead of free speech on the Internet. The two are clearly separate in the eyes of the US. Even copyright stalwarts like the MPAA agree that free speech on the Internet is important. The issue at hand then, however, is not so much free speech, but altering the Internet in such a way that it “breaks.” Whether it be the UN or legislation from lawmakers, the threat to how the very core of the Internet works is very real. Preserving free speech is definitely a priority, but it won’t matter if a bureaucratic body that doesn’t understand how the Internet works gets control of it.

Is it hypocritical for the US to support infrastructural changes to the Internet while opposing the ITU? Or is the ITU more of a threat than other proposed legislation and treaties? Let us know in the comments.

  • Frank Burns

    After all that read on the subject matter of regulation, I think that certain ‘keywords’ used online should be monitored.

    In the Debate towards ‘Protecting Our Borders’ if you live in the USA, or Australia or anywhere for that matter, we do
    need to remain open minded but vigilant in the war of terror on our home soil.

    It is a crucial step towards building better security for all nations, not to regulate but instead, keep a watchful eye
    On how users, use the Internet and of the transcripts they use.

    Merry Christmas from Western Australia.

    • http://www.bloketoys.co.uk BlokeToys

      The problem is (and this is something our governments rely on people not understanding) terrorists and criminals use the dark net, they use basic encryption no intel agency can crack (one novel shared between two people, messages formatted as “4, 32, 12, 65, 32, 13” referring to page, line and word)

      No amount of regulation, snooping, hacking, filing and monitoring of the masses will prevent any of this. The ONLY thing it will prevent is legal and free criticism of government and the right to organize protest.

      The idea that people think all these new planned measures are to prevent terrorism is insane to me. Why now? Why not after 9/11, or 7/7, or Mumbai? Why, after a period of calm in our countries, after the death of Bin Laden, after repeated capturing and killing of terrorists do they suddenly decide they need all of this monitoring and restriction?

      It couldn’t possibly be the coming collapse of the € could it? It couldn’t be the $16 trillion of debt the US is in could it? It couldn’t be that our governments are terrified of opening up their curtains one morning and seeing Tahrir Square outside their window?

      This is about the collapse and government needing to stop you from communicating and organizing protest. It has nothing at all to do with preventing terrorism or crime.

      • cj

        The Internet – the last bastion of Liberty.

  • http://damescribe.hubpages.com Gin

    I would think if these nations that want ‘regulation and control’ – should remove the service from their nation altogether. They are not feeling well due to their own inhumane actions upon their own citizens, that the world gets to see, and they only want to hide from the public. Unfortunately, we will always find out whether they like it or not. I’d rather have Nations that don’t enforce ‘Copyright’ laws, be removed. Too much thievery goes on with theft of Intellectual property.

  • http://www.bloketoys.co.uk BlokeToys

    Is anyone naive enough to believe the BS the US government (or any other) spouts about the internet? These are the same countries that have – and still are – actively seeking to restrict, control and monitor the internet at home.

    Why is anyone believing a single world these people say? It’s as if they think the world just miraculously forgets the other infringements on freedom our governments are actively planning on!

  • David

    Maybe we should get to the root of the problem rather than the giving some government that created these terrorist Control over us . I dont want any form of government monitoring my private browsing habits such they can use that information for their own monetary gain. Be careful what you wish for Frank. If it wasn’t for some government handing out guns like it’s candy on Halloween and practicing hate themselves then we may never have terrorist in the first place. So let’s get to the root of the problem why don’t we? Then we can keep the freedom of speech and privacy o the the world wide Web. Don’t ever let anyone full you, people want control for two reasons: monetary gain and Controlling the people.

  • Gnat

    You poor liberal buffoons. It’s the Democrats that want to tax the internet as their way of controlling it. Who do you think Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, and Cuba supported in the last election? Yup, your boy Obama. Figure it out libtards, shave off your goatees and realize your only true freedom comes from having financial freedom.

    • http://www.captaincyberzone.com Cap’n Cyberzone

      It’s not the “Democrats” it’s the Liberals/Progressives [or whatever cover-name they’re using] who have commandeered the Democrat Party.

  • cj

    This is not about governments wanting to control the Internet (which they obviously do), it is about OTHER governments wanting to control the Internet :)

    Controlling the threads of communication between people wields enormous power – which is why no-one should control the threads!

  • Donald Bracco

    They have trouble running their own countries let alone controlling the internet!!!!

  • http://www.captaincyberzone.com Cap’n Cyberzone

    …”In a post on the White House blog, the Obama administration stated clearly that it does not support any new rules that pertain to regulating the Internet” …
    Except for when it does (Remember: 0bama’s FCC chairman Julius Genachowski and SOPA & PIPA?).
    Lying bastards, the 0bama regime would love nothing better then to limit “freedom of speech” on the internet and else where.

  • http://Mabuzi.com Kevin

    Governments represent stake holders and investors but not the people, this has always been the case throughout history, like one conservative idiot suggested that is one party, both parties dont represent the voter.

    The governments want to control descent and they want to tax.
    They will also need to do the bidding of large business interests and political stakeholders. So Republican and Democrat funders will be calling in favours for those Billions paid to campaign’s and you yes the you the voter will pay for it.

    The net might be free but your posts and FB rants are monitored, the browser you are on is probably sharing your information to a 3rd party already.
    Interesting to see the US big ally, the Saudis, been the most repressive.

  • Bob

    You can’t believe a single word out of the White House. For the last four years they’ve said one thing and did the opposite, with barely a squeak from the media. The President is out offering our tax money and control of our country to the U.N. They’ve already offered us up on criminal charges for being a repressive country. Be attentive, vote against world power, they are more corrupt than our own government.

  • http://ebook-site.com Bryan Quinn

    It would be a tragedy if the internet was regulated. But, it may be only a matter of time. Control is a powerful tool.

  • http://ebook-site.com Bryan Quinn

    It would be a tragedy if the internet was regulated but control is a powerful tool.

  • http://www.tiptonglobal.com William Tipton

    I agree in principle with The White House and some of our legislators that the issue should NOT be controlling the internet. The issue should be keeping it as a place where FREE SPEECH can be practiced and opinions expressed. The internet in my opinion is the greatest tool we, and all freedom loving people, on this planet to have the ability to keep ourselves FREE.