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U.N. confab puts focus on control of the Internet

Starting today in Dubai, a U.N. conference will become the battleground for opposing sides to argue over new Internet regulation proposals. Meanwhile, Google joins the fray.

Googles free open internet campaign un conference dubai

Today in Dubai, an 11-day meeting begins that may result in an Internet-regulation proposal standstill.

The U.N. conference will be centered on updating telecommunications codes, including global communications cooperation, but concerns are growing within a U.S. delegation that plans to oppose U.N. proposals which may impose further controls on Internet commerce and communication.

However, the 123-member strong U.S. group joins envoys from tech firms including Google and Microsoft, who express concern that potential security oversights could also be exploited by nations -- including Russia and China -- to justify the next step on the Internet control slippery slope. This, in turn, could result in Web site blocking and increased Internet monitoring powers. 

A message on Google's home page relays this worry, stating "Love the free and open Internet? Tell the world's governments to keep it that way," complete with a link to Google's Free and Open Internet campaign. The page includes the Twitter hashtag #freeandopen, a link to an "Add your voice" section -- which has over 1 million sign-ups at the time of writing -- and the mission statement:

"A free and open world depends on a free and open Internet. Governments alone, working behind closed doors, should not direct its future. The billions of people around the globe who use the Internet should have a voice."

Google vice president Vint Cerf, regarded as a father of the Internet, drove home the point in a Google blog post titled "Keep the Internet free and open":

[S]tarting in a few hours, a closed-door meeting of the world's governments is taking place in Dubai, and regulation of the Internet is on the agenda. The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is convening a conference from December 3-14 to revise a decades-old treaty, in which only governments have a vote. Some proposals could allow governments to justify the censorship of legitimate speech, or even cut off Internet access in their countries.

The AP reports that the U.N.'s ITU has tried to soothe these worries, saying that the "primary goal" of the meeting will be centered on cybersecurity and expanding the Internet in developing countries, rather than imposing new sets of rules and regulations on Internet content.

The news agency says that over 900 new regulation changes have been proposed by 193 nations, covering topics including the Internet as a general concept, payment structures, fixed communications and mobile roaming charges.

For a change to be adopted, there has to be broad agreement between U.N. states, but the group is rendered powerless in forcing individual nations to change their Internet policies -- examples including prevention of the "Great firewall of China" and recent blackouts in Arab states. Last week, Syria was taken offline for several days, although the state denies that it was responsible, instead blaming "terrorists" for cutting a cable.

This story originally appeared at ZDNet's Between the Lines under the headline "UN conference overwhelmed by Internet regulations battle."