Earlier this week, three House subcommittees announced a joint hearing on February 5 to discuss the importance of keeping the Internet free from U.N. governance, which threatens U.S. economic interests and global Internet freedom.
The U.N.’s International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has sought for years to expand its authority over the Internet as its traditional role overseeing international telecommunications faded with the growth of the Internet and wireless technologies. This aspiration was at the center of the latest ITU conference in Dubai this past December, where a treaty granting the ITU new authority over the Internet was finalized.
However, fewer than half of all nations have signed onto this controversial treaty. The U.S., the U.K., and 53 other nations rejected the treaty due in part to a provision that authorized member states “to take necessary measures to prevent the propagation of unsolicited bulk electronic communications.” Though on its surface it is a spam prevention tool, this article sets a dangerous precedent by authorizing nations to monitor and ban unwanted communications.
Also concerning were the tactics employed in Dubai. A resolution that reinforced the ITU’s role in Internet governance was offered without prior notification and presented as an attempt to ascertain a “sense of the room.” The resolution was then declared to be adopted despite the lack of a formal vote. Such disingenuous efforts are not the way to hold a serious discussion on Internet governance.
The House joint hearing should discuss these shenanigans and the impact of the Dubai treaty. Importantly, this hearing should also focus on the even more unacceptable provisions that never made it into the treaty. The U.S. will likely see these proposals again and must stand ready to oppose them. This hearing is also an opportunity to shine a spotlight on repressive governments who seek to quash dissent on the Internet with the blessing of the ITU.
The U.S. must continue to stand for Internet freedom and oppose those nations who oppress their peoples’ right to expression on the Internet. The Internet has brought amazing advances in trade, expression, and freedom, and though not perfect, the current system is superior to the prospect of ITU governance, which would open the door to censorship and regulatory impediments to future growth and innovation.