A U.N. conference that kicked off today in Dubai has sparked fear of Internet censorship in the U.S. — something U.S. Ambassador Terry Kramer said he is doing everything in his power to prevent.
“Nothing regarding the Internet do we want subject to U.N. review and regulation,” Kramer told FoxNews.com.
Monday marked the first day of an 11-day conference. Kramer, who leads the U.S. delegation at the conference, said that the first day had “gone well” and so far delegates are “still in the early stage, talking about what should be reviewed when.” No specific regulations have been debated yet. ‘[Proposals] … which would essentially tax the Internet … we are actively opposing. – Terry Kramer, U.S. chief envoy to the ITU
But regulations likely to come up soon are far reaching with signification ramifications, ranging from changes to the way web addresses like “.com” are distributed to charging websites for sending information (for example, a company like Google or Amazon could be required to pay cable companies a charge every time someone used their site.)
“[Proposals] on content review and on pricing the transfer of content, which would essentially tax the Internet… we are actively opposing those,” Kramer said.
While almost all of the U.N. meeting is secret, many documents have leaked, including one proposal from the Russian delegation declaring “the sovereign right … to regulate the national Internet segment.”
It echoes a call from Russian President Vladimir Putin last year calling for “global control over such [Internet] exchange. This is certainly a priority on the international agenda.”
Kramer said the Russian proposal worried him.
“Candidly, we were very concerned with the Russian proposal. I think it was the most stark in nature of all the proposals that have been put out, because it basically is proposing Internet governance managed either by the ITU or the national government. There are traffic routing proposals in there that would open the door to potential censorship, which obviously we don’t agree with,” Kramer said.
The Russian mission at the UN did not respond to questions on the subject. But Paul Conneally, the head of communications for the UN agency running the conference (known as the “International Telecommunication Union”, or ITU) argued that the Russian position does not call for global regulation.
“I can confirm that there is a Russia proposal that talks about assigning more control and oversight at the national level. It does not talk about handing it to the ITU,” he told Fox News Special Report on Friday.
He added that the U.N. itself is unlikely to regulate anything.
“The ITU is not an international regulatory body. Regulation in the telecom world happens at the national level.”
Ambassador Kramer confirmed that the ITU does not currently regulate the Internet – but said that other countries are proposing that it do so.
“The ITU, I think, is concerned about [the Russian proposal], because for all their good work in saying ‘we are not going to be talking about Internet governance,’ the Russian proposal that came in directly suggests it.”
Kramer discussed the U.S. delegation’s strategy in opposing any Internet regulation.
The U.S. does not have veto power over resolutions adopted at this U.N. conference, but it does have the right not to implement regulations that are adopted.
“We always have the sovereign right to implement as we need to, but we live in a global environment, so we want to make sure we’re influencing effectively so that we have a good global outcome here,” Kramer said.
Kramer said it was too early to tell how the conference as a whole would vote.
Internet law experts say that even if the U.N. were to vote to regulate the Internet, it may have trouble doing so due to the decentralized nature of the web.
“The funny thing about the Internet is that the U.N. can say ‘we are now running the Internet’ and they can promulgate rules — but they have to be implemented across the web. Software would have to be changed … Internet service providers would have to change,” Temple Law Prof. David Post told FoxNews.com.
The current rules that guide web traffic were set not by any government, but rather by programmers around the world who agreed on basic rules.
“The process was really quite an astonishing one — so important to our lives, but never centrally managed,” Post said.
He added that the creation of the Internet illustrates how behind the times the U.N. is.
“The development of the Internet itself shows a different model of international co-operation than the U.N. uses. The U.N. tried to help build the Internet. They had their own network standard in the 1980s and nobody used that, and it died. Instead engineers in the U.S., China, Brazil — around the world — reached consensus about the rules for the web.”
Ambassador Kramer said the U.S. delegation is opposing Internet regulation because the hands-off approach has worked so well.
“The Internet had thrived because it has been left in an open environment, and all the commercial opportunities that accrued, and the rights to free speech and democracy, are because it’s been left alone.”