An agreement to update 24-year-old United Nations telecommunications rules was approved against the opposition of countries including the U.S. and the U.K., reports Bloomberg. US officials walked out on the talks on concerns about Internet regulation and censorship.
“The United States today announced it cannot sign the revised international telecommunication regulation in their current form,” said Ambassador Terry Kramer. “The decision to do a no-sign, there wasn’t a lot of consternation on it. There were too many issues here that were problematic for us.”
The United States announcement was seconded by Canada and several European countries after nearly two weeks of talks that had often pitted Western governments against Russia, China and developing countries.
The goal of the talks, which were led by Mohamed Nasser al-Ghanim, director general of the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of the United Arab Emirates, was to revise a document that was last updated in 1988, when the Internet was in its early stages of development.
The new pact (pdf) includes measures that would give countries a right to access international telecommunications services and the ability to block spam, which delegations declining to sign the amended text argued would pave the way for government censorship and control over the Web.
Canada, Denmark, Australia, Norway, Costa Rica, Serbia, Greece, Finland and others followed the U.S. in refusing to sign on these grounds. The countries who won’t sign the new treaty will continue to be bound by the 1988 version, said Sarah Parkes, a spokeswoman for the International Telecommunication Union.
“What is clear from the ITU meeting in Dubai is that many governments want to increase regulation and censorship of the Internet,” Google said in a statement. “We stand with the countries who refuse to sign this treaty and also with the millions of voices who have joined us to support a free and open web.”
Although the U.S. fought hard to exclude Internet-related provisions from the treaty, Kramer said it wouldn’t have teeth because it’s not a legally binding document, according to The Hill.
The US delegation, some 95 strong, appeared long on communicating the US position, but may have been little short on selling the benefits of a “free and open internet” to the majority of the 150 ITU voting delegates.
Kramer said he didn’t see many near-term risks posed by other countries signing the revised treaty. He added that other countries can already enact Internet regulations within their own borders because of national sovereignty.
“If someone wants to, that’s their prerogative, but we’re hoping that’s not an easy task,” Kramer said.
The ITU held daily media briefing, and US Ambassador Terry Kramer, head of the U.S. delegation, held press briefings on Dec. 6 and Friday, Dec. 14. The WCIT meeting wrapped up today. Here’s the closing press conference.
About 150 countries gathered in Dubai to renegotiate an ITU treaty which was last updated in 1988 before the internet and mobile phones transformed communications. The ITU is holding a signing ceremony on Friday for the countries that agreed to support the treaty. It is set to go into effect in January 2015.
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