Amendments to U.N. treaty could censor the Internet

Dozens of countries have had closed-door meetings in preparation for an upcoming worldwide debate over changes to a telecommunications treaty, which threaten to block Internet freedom.

While individual countries grapple with their own laws over limitations on the Internet, the United Nations is also looking at possible amendments to a telecommunications treaty that could amount to worldwide Internet censorship.

The World Conference on International Telecommunications is to be held in Dubai this December and more than 190 countries are expected to attend. One of the matters to be discussed at the conference is changes to a 24-year-old telecommunications treaty called the International Telecommunications Regulations, according to the Associated Press.

In preparation for the meeting, dozens of countries have been debating possible changes behind closed doors, according to the Associated Press. Some countries are adamant that the treaty must remain untouched, while others are looking to switch up the language.

In a U.N. document with proposed amendments to the treaty that came out last month, Russia said the public should have unrestricted access to international telecommunication services, "except in cases where international telecommunication services are used for the purpose of interfering in the internal affairs or undermining the sovereignty, national security, territorial integrity and public safety of other states, or to divulge information of a sensitive nature."

The ramifications of such changes to the International Telecommunications Regulations could be detrimental for citizens of countries that use the Internet to voice government opposition. For example, if Russia's suggested proposal goes through, events such as the Arab Spring could be silenced.

The U.S. delegation has promised to block any language that would allow for any censorship. Deputy assistant secretary of state and U.S. coordinator for international communications and information policy Philip Verveer told the Associated Press, "It is important that when we have values, as we do in the area of free speech and the free flow of information, that we do everything that we can to articulate and sustain those values."

Nothing will be decided until the conference in December and even then there must be a consensus agreement by all member states to make any amendments. Hamadoun Toure, secretary general of the U.N. agency that oversees the treaty, told the Associated Press that all proposals must be agreed upon to by all member states or else they would not be included in the final document.

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About the author

Dara Kerr is a staff writer for CNET focused on the sharing economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado where she developed an affinity for collecting fool's gold and spirit animals.

 

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