New York: Attempts by Russia, China and Iran to put rules on the table at a UN telecoms conference in Dubai to control how the Internet works, was met with energetic opposition on Thursday by a bloc led by the US, India and Canada who stressed that the proposed treaty would hand countries too much power to control online content and free speech.
US search giant Google, which has been campaigning against the UN Internet regulation, said the expected vote this week is ominous.
“What is clear … is that many governments want to increase regulation and censorship of the Internet,” a Google spokesperson told FoxNews.com. “We stand with the countries who refuse to sign this treaty.”
The US and at least 10 other countries announced in Dubai that they would not sign the treaty.
“India feels there should not be a regulation of the Internet,” Rabindra Jha, the deputy director general (international relations) of India’s telecommunications department, told Bloomberg.
“It should be self regulating. It remains self regulating, like the solar system. Nobody regulates day and night, nobody regulates the year and months. It comes automatically,” added Jha.
The conference has drawn 193 countries and is being organized by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a UN agency, to update global international telecom regulations for the first time since 1988.
Proposals at the conference in Dubai range from combating spam and improving network security to mandating identification of communications’ origins.
Discussions between countries participating in the Dubai conference shifted into high-stakes showdowns on Thursday on a proposal for greater government oversight. The final document at the UN’s International Telecommunications Union will reach delegates Friday.
China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Russia and several Middle Eastern countries, apparently have the upper hand in efforts to get UN backing for government rights over Internet affairs. These countries say some regulations are needed to protect networks from spam and to give countries more power over Web address systems.
Hamadoun Toure, the Secretary-General of the ITU, says the treaty will not limit freedom of expression and will mostly seek ways to broaden Internet services to developing countries.
The outcome in Dubai is unlikely to have any immediate impact on how people use the Internet because countries are already able to regulate online activities within their borders.
India’s stand at the Dubai conference is commendable, but ironic given that police have arrested a number of people in cases which seriously test India’s wavering commitment to freedom of speech. Only last month, medical student Shaheen Dhada and her friend Renu Srinivasan were arrested over a harmless Bal Thackeray comment on Facebook.
In 2011, India’s Department of Information Technology issued new regulations restricting web content.
The rules allow officials to demand that Internet sites and service providers remove content they consider objectionable on the basis of a long list of amorphous criteria. The list of objectionable content is sweeping and includes anything that “threatens the unity, integrity, defense, security or sovereignty of India, friendly relations with foreign states or public order.”