Official: US won’t surrender Internet control to UN agency

U.S. Ambassador Terry Kramer vowed that the United States will not compromise its principles on human rights, free speech and other issues during negotiations of an international telecommunications treaty in December.

"If there are things that are completely objectionable, that violate our fundamental views about human rights, about free speech, about economic opportunities--if they fundamentally violate it--then we will just say no and absolutely we won't proceed," said Kramer, who is leading the U.S. delegation during the negotiations, at a press conference at law firm Wiley Rein on Friday.

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The International Telecommunications Regulations (ITRs) treaty will be reviewed for the first time since 1988 at the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) in Dubai this December. American companies and lawmakers have sounded alarm over the treaty after reports surfaced that countries like Russia and China plan to submit proposals that would expand a United Nations agency's control over the Internet and issues like cybersecurity and data privacy.

Kramer has met with various officials, most recently in Dubai and El Salvador, to discuss the U.S. position on the treaty and called these conversations "encouraging," while noting that "we have a long road to travel" before WCIT. He will later travel to Beijing to meet with Chinese officials, then head to Tokyo, Europe and Russia.

"We are establishing an environment of mutual respect that will serve as a foundation for negotiations culminating in the WCIT,” he said.

The U.S. has stated that it will advocate for various organizations to oversee the management of the Internet, signaling that it would push back against attempts to hand additional control over to the U.N.'s International Telecommunications Union (ITU). Kramer told reporters that "decentralized management of the Internet is the best approach not only for the U.S., but worldwide."

For example, Kramer argued that cybersecurity issues should not be addressed in the treaty, which will set principles that govern how voice, video and data traffic will be managed globally.

"Ask yourself, 'Who's going to be able to best solve that problem?' Our view is multi-stakeholder organizations that have technical expertise, they're distributed throughout the world and they're at the end of the day agile organizations," he said.

"Our argument is the ITU is a great organization, we work with them on a lot of areas, but any one organization isn't going to be effective in this. There are too many different types of issues and expertise that are out there," he said.

Kramer criticized potential proposals that would suggest deep packet inspection--a method where Web traffic and content is monitored over Internet networks--as cybersecurity solutions. He called it a "completely worrisome, alarming technology capability."

He also spoke out against a recent proposal submitted by the European Telecommunications Network Operators Association (ETNO) and said the U.S. would be keeping an eye on whether European governments’ contributions to the treaty included any of the group's suggestions. ETNO counts Telefonica, Deutsche Telekom and Orange as members.

"We remain unconvinced by ETNO's arguments," he said. "We continue to believe their proposal for transfer pricing is impractical to implement …and very likely detrimental to developing countries."

The U.S. sent its first set of proposals to WCIT on the treaty at the beginning of August. Kramer said the U.S. will submit another set of proposals sometime in the next six weeks.

He said governments have not called for more regulation over the Internet after an anti-Islam video produced in the U.S. incited protests across Libya, Egypt and other countries, adding that the clip was "completely reprehensible."

"I mean everything we believe in the U.S. regarding religious tolerance was violated with a video clip like that, and our view is on religious tolerance the best way you advance people's understanding of one another, of different views, et cetera, is by having an actual dialogue," he said. "Shutting down sites is exactly orthogonal to that effort."

Congress has taken a keen interest into the upcoming Dubai conference.

The House unanimously cleared a resolution in August that opposed international efforts to increase the ITU's governance over the Internet.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed a similar measure this week. Both Republicans and Democrats included language opposing any proposals to give the ITU more authority over the Internet in their 2012 party platforms.

Kramer said these congressional resolutions are "very helpful" going into the Dubai conference because it shows other countries that the U.S. is united on issue, even during an election year.

"As we go into an environment where there's 193 nations and, candidly, on many of these issues we're in the minority, it is absolutely imperative and critical that the U.S. is aligned," Kramer said. "And I have to say coming into this role, it's been one of the most positive aspects I've seen. It hasn't been a partisan issue in any way."

"All of that sends a message to the rest of the world [that] they're not going to divide and conquer us."