What Really Happened in Dubai?

// Dr. Milton Mueller, Professor at Syracuse University School of Information Studies recently wrote a piece discussing his experiences at last week’s WCIT process in Dubai for the Internet Governance Project. Similar to CGCS, the IGP is “an alliance of academics that puts expertise into practical action in the fields of global governance, Internet policy, and information and communication technology. The Project both researches and publishes analysis of global Internet policy issues”. To read the article in full, please read through to the bottom, or click here.

When I stopped monitoring the WCIT process around 5:30 pm (CET) December 13, it appeared that the delegations were attempting to finalize something very close to a consensus document. The almost-final draft of the ITRs that I reviewed at that time did not mention the Internet by name at all – a victory for Internet defenders. The all-important Article 9, under which most international Internet interconnections are made, had not been significantly altered. There was no language about cybersecurity. There may have been a few subtleties here or there that were not perfect, but on the whole this was a set of ITRs that could have been passed.

The only downside was a plenary resolution entitled “To foster an enabling environment for the greater growth of the Internet.” This resolution, which (contrary to some inaccurate reporting) was not part of the ITR treaty and thus not a legally binding outcome, was a sop to the states that want the ITU to have a foothold in Internet governance. It reiterated some of the more statist aspects of the WSIS Tunis Agenda and resolved that the ITU SG should:

…continue to take the necessary steps for ITU to play an active and constructive role in the multi-stakeholder model of the Internet as expressed in § 35 of the Tunis Agenda;

…support the participation of Member States and all other stakeholders, as applicable, in the activities of the ITU in this regard.

While western delegations opposed this resolution and there were some legitimate concerns about the process by which it was or was not passed, it could be seen as a pretty clever, diplomatic way of resolving the basic conflict afflicting WCIT: keep the pro-ITU states happy with some minor concessions related to the ITU role in Internet governance, but couch it in vague terms about “fostering an enabling environment” and put it all in a nonbinding plenary resolution where it can’t do any real damage. It looked like the final outcome would rest on that bargain.

When I returned from a late dinner around 11:00 pm, however, I was greeted by several hundred tweets and dozens of news reports that the WCIT negotiations had “collapsed.” Not one of them that I examined really explained why. US delegation members, despite all the talk about openness and participation in Internet governance, were forced to remain mum.

So what happened?

It took some digging, but one possible reason for the “collapse” has emerged. A group of African nations attempted to insert words about the the rights of member states to access telecommunications networks (T09-WTSA 12-C-0064). Opposition was expressed. A vote was held. The amendment passed by a vote of vote 77 for, 33 against, 8 abstentions. Western media have presented this language as “an unambiguous attempt to open the ITRs up to governance and content regulation.”

But was it? This is a more troublesome and complex issue than it might appear. In essence, countries such as Sudan have been complaining about the ability of the US govt to impose sanctions on them that include denial of Internet services. ITU Resolution 69, first passed in 2008, invoked again at the 2010 Plenipot, and dusted off for the WCIT negotiations, invoked “human rights” to argue for “non-discriminatory access to modern telecommunication/ information and communication technology facilities, services and applications.” The real target of these resolutions are sanctions imposed by the U.S. on nations that are deemed bad actors. These sanctions mean that people in those countries – not just the government, mind you, but everyone, innocent and guilty alike – are denied access to Internet services such as Google, Sourceforge, domain name registrars such as GoDaddy, software and services from Oracle, Windows Live Messenger, etc. See this attached document for a catalogue of Sudan’s complaints: Res69incidentsSudan.

Click here to read the rest of the “What really happened in Dubai?” at the IGP

The original piece is protected under CC 3.0Creative Commons License

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