Keeping Governments from Controlling the Internet: Why Geneva Matters

BY Ali Sternburg
February 15, 2011

Geneva is the epicenter of intergovernmental processes that have a key impact on the future of the Internet.  As the only ICT sector trade association in Geneva, CCIA Geneva is in a great position to help ensure that governments like China, Russia, South Africa, and India which use these processes to push for an Internet managed by governments aren’t successful.

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) is a key battleground: long known as a place where essential standards for telecommunications are developed, in recent years it has moved aggressively to expand its remit into Internet governance, using hot-button issues like cybercrime and Internet porn in a cynical game to scare member-states into deciding that the ITU is the institution most capable of addressing their security needs.

Russia, with the help of China, North Korea, Iran and other notably un-free countries, has been suggesting a ‘cyber arms control’ treaty. The objective, though, is not just to reduce cyber warfare by states, but as a way for states to have international legal ‘cover’ to declare information they don’t like as a danger to the state and therefore the equivalent of ‘cyber warfare’ so they can censor it. The World Affairs Journal has a great article on this here.

This is part of a larger struggle for control of the management of the Internet. The Economist has an excellent article “A Plaything of Powerful Nations” on why governance by all stakeholders, not just governments, is essential.  Also by the Economist, “In Praise of Chaos” outlines why the Internet Governance Forum, a key venue for international discussion on Internet policy and governance, is so important.

The process of planning the 10-year anniversary of the World Summit for the Information Society (WSIS) begins in 2012 in Geneva, and the head of the ITU has said privately that he wants the outcome of that conference to be a ‘Code of Conduct’ for the Internet similar to what China and Russia proposed in 2011 at the UN General Assembly. This ArsTechnica article gives you a good overview of that proposal and its dangers.

2012 is also the year a major ITU conference will be held, the World Conference On International Telecommunications (WCIT) will be held and again all the planning is in Geneva. WCIT is being used by countries (again including China and Russia) to try to “significantly expand the jurisdiction and legal authority of the ITU, even potentially giving this United Nations agency greater influence over … major telecoms issues such as accounting rates and termination charges for next-generation networks, data privacy, cybersecurity, international mobile roaming, and equipment specifications” according to former US Ambassador David Gross. He and a colleague have written an excellent introduction to WCIT and why it is so important to the ICT sector which you can find here.

The Internet is the key to our sector’s future. We cannot leave it to other stakeholders to defend our interests: we have to do that ourselves. Geneva-based activities must be a key part of that effort.

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