On the international politics of ITU negotiations

Heading into the last week of the International Telecommunications Union Plenipotentiary in Busan, the fault lines on crucial Internet-related issues appears fairly clear. The ad hoc group on Internet governance, set up by the Working Group of the Plenary, has sought earnestly to churn out a final, agreed text of Resolutions 102, 103, 133 and 180 (see background here) but consensus has been far from elusive on substantive issues. At the time of writing, the Indian proposal on the ITU’s role in realising a secure information society is yet to be introduced (early indications are it will be moved tomorrow morning). For the most part of this week, India has carefully stayed away from some of the more contentious issues that have consumed the ADHG’s time. At the heart of this debate is the ITU’s role in Internet governance which the Plenipotentiary has the power to modify, if it so chooses. Russia has been at the forefront of a small, but vocal group of countries (the Arab states being an important constituent of this group) that want the Union to play a significant “policy-oriented” role in Internet governance. This includes, but is not limited to:

1. An enhanced role played by the ITU secretariat and the Council Working Group-Internet in submitting reports to the UN General Assembly on Internet-related public policy issues (Res 102)
2. Acknowledging at the ITU that the “management of the registration and allocation of domain names and IP addresses must fully reflect the international and multicultural nature of the Internet”. (Res 102)
3. Acknowledging at the ITU that all governments “should have an equal role and responsibility for international Internet governance” (Res 102)
4. Encouraging ITU member states to “protect their Internet Protocol-based networks from unlawful surveillance….through the development of international Internet-related public policy” (Res 101)
5. Getting the ITU to express concern about the “lack of international legal norms, elaborated under the auspices of the United Nations…with binding force for States and other stakeholders, for governance and use of the Internet” (Res 102)
6. Asking ITU member states to “refrain from using ICTs involving the extraterritorial interception and monitoring communications in a way which violates the privacy of communications and users’ personal data protection” (Res 130)

The response, or to be more precise, opposition to proposals of the sort mentioned above have come from an equally vocal group led by the United States (with UK, some EU states, Australia, Japan and Canada being constituent members). Broadly speaking, their response has followed these lines of argumentation.

1. The ITU does not have the regulatory capacity or mandate to take on substantive themes in Internet governance.
2. IG principles have already been agreed upon in avenues like the NETMundial and ICANN dialogue processes, and do not need rephrasing or articulation at the ITU.
3. Amendments mooted (on issues such as submission of reports to UNGA, regional and international cooperation on cybersecurity measures) already find place in ITU text in some version or the other.

The reason or motive behind each specific proposal (or rebuttal) may vary but the underlying narrative is the same. On one hand there are those who believe that the ITU must take on greater IG responsibilities, while on the other there are those who want no change to the Union’s mandate. In the larger debate on a “multistakeholder” model of Internet governance on issues including, but not limited to the IANA transition, this schism is important to take note of. Some countries are clearly comfortable with the ITU, whether on account of their principled opposition to multistakeholderism or concerns regarding accountability in the MSM model. Sample, for instance, this debate on Resolution 130 on Friday night regarding “regional and international cooperation” on cybersecurity measures. The original proposal by Cuba read:

…invites Member states

to strengthen regional and international cooperation, taking into account Resolution 45 (Rev. Dubai, 2014), through the conclusion of agreements and implementation of measures to facilitate the reduction of risks and threats to confidence and security in the use of ICTs;

In addition to the several objections it had on this specific proposal, the United States at the end of a long (and exhausting!) debate suggested that member states be invited to strengthen ….cooperation with “all stakeholders”, which the Russian and Iranian delegations took immediate exception to. Russia was of the opinion that issues concerning national security is a matter to be handled by States and not non-governmental entities, while the Iranians were more direct. “Who are these stakeholders?” asked the Iranian diplomat, “would any person on the street be considered a stakeholder?” Iran elaborated its point further, suggesting that domestic agencies that are in charge of cyber-issues should consult internally with stakeholders but that ITU member states cannot be held to a resolution that “invites” (and thus puts a legal-moral imperative on) them to cooperate regionally and internationally with them.

The merits of these proposals and counter-proposals aside, it is clear countries that are mooting Internet governance reform proposalsnat the ICANN-level are making careful interventions to ensure that the ITU and ICANN universes do not collide.

For instance during a discussion on Resolution 180 (Facilitating the transition from IPv4 to IPv6), Russia led a proposal asking the Plenipotentiary to facilitate the transition “considering that”

c)that many developing countries want the Telecommunication Standardization Sector (ITUT) to become a registry of IP addresses in order to give the developing countries the option of obtaining IP addresses direct from ITU, while other countries prefer to use the current system;

The United States raised its objections to this proposal, suggesting Res 180 is on transition from IPv4 to IPv6, and “has nothing to do with registries.”

On the other hand, states that have raised objections to the NETMundial/ICANN dialogue have made a concerted effort to voice their IG priorities at the Plenipot. India has not offered a hint as to where it stands on this debate, but more should become clear as the delegation moves its draft proposal tomorrow (post on that to follow).

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