The International Telecommunications Union (ITU), a specialized agency of the UN system, opened its quadrennial Plenipotentiary Conference this week in Busan, Korea. This is the highest forum for the international body and establishes the leadership, policies, and plans for the organization’s next four years.
While much of the ITU’s work regarding international accords and standards for traditional phone communications is generally accepted, the efforts of some states and some in the ITU’s leadership to gain greater control over the internet is quite controversial. The Internet Society listed several internet considerations:
The mandate of the ITU is clearly focused on international telecommunications and the specific scope of the ITU’s activities is specifically stated in Article 1 of the ITU Constitution. In recent years, however, there has been considerable discussion among ITU Members about the proper role, scope and activities of the ITU in Internet public policy. These issues emerge at the technical level within study groups and at the policy and regulatory level in meetings like the WCIT, Plenipotentiary Conferences and other ITU conferences and meetings like the 2013 World Telecom Policy Forum(WTPF).
At the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference, Internet-related issues could emerge in a number of ways:
- Within the overall mandate and scope of the ITU activities as found in the CS/CV
- Within the terminology of the ITU – how phrases like “ICTs” are defined and used throughout the ITU documents
- Within the strategic plan of the ITU – setting out the focus and work plan of the ITU for 2014-2018
- Within the revision or addition of new Plenipot Resolutions related to Internet topics
Topics of specific interest to the Internet community may include (but are not limited to):
- Definitions of “ICT” emerging from WTDC
- Outputs of the ITU Council Working Group on International Internet Public Policy Issues
- Revisions to a host of ITU Plenipot Resolutions including (but not limited to):
Resolution 101: Internet Protocol-based networks
Resolution 102: ITU’s role with regard to international public policy issues pertaining to the Internet and the management of Internet resources, including domain names and addresses
Resolution 130: Strengthening role of ITU in building confidence and security in the use of information and communication technologies
Resolution 133: Role of administrations of Member States in the management of internationalized (multilingual) domain names
- Implementation of WSIS outcomes and possible new WSIS-related activities
- Issue from WTPF about the role of government in Internet governance
- WCIT Resolution 3 on the ITUs role in fostering greater growth of the Internet
While some of the issues like “definitions” of terms may seem trivial, they are extremely important in international negotiations. The U.S position is that the ITU does not have control over the internet since the ITU’s charter is limited to telecommunications. Fundamental to the debate is the definition of ICT. As discussed in a previous post the information security vs. cybersecurity debate is another area where definitions matter. The U.S., many of its international partners, and civil society groups such as the Internet Society prefer the multistakeholder governance structure for the internet. In the ITU nation states are the voting members whereas in the multistakeholder approach private sector and civil society organizations are more empowered.
The next three weeks should be interesting for watching the next phase of the internet governance debate unfold. The U.S. will certainly push against a treaty modification that places more control with the ITU. Several states are pushing for the opposite. While the direct impacts on cybersecurity policy remain unknown, we do know that international cooperation is a fundamental aspect of cybersecurity and key to continued internet driven growth and innovation