ITU is 143 years old and it has done a lot of good work. But it is so huge and powerful that it has been monopolizing (or mono-unionizing) Telecommunications for the last 143 years. ITU's hold over communications has been sweeping. But during the last ten years, ITU's member Telcos have seen several challenges from the open Internet architecture. Alternate telecommunication technologies such as email and Internet telephony have been formidable challenges to the ITU.
Despite Internet's dependence on phone lines, ITU hasn't been able to rule the Internet the way it has ruled traditional telecommunications. ITU hasn't been able to block the progress of Voice and Video Chat or Internet Telephony and the business models of those who provided these services online threatens the traditional business models of ITU's Telecom members.
Its program: a very attractively dubbed "Next Generation Networks" design that will pave way for a tiered, non-neutral internet, away from Internet's end to end principle, meant to optimize the Internet for exploitation by the Telcos and susceptible for interference by Governments. The Gameplan: Take over Internet Governance.
ITU and the Internet organizations did not quite get along for this and several other reasons Especially the ITU has had its share of differences with the ICANN. Dr. Hamadoun Toure, Secretary General of the ITU addressed the ICANN Annual Meeting at Cairo on 6 November 2008. Here are some excerpts from the Secretary General's speech with my comments. I have already posted it on the Internet Governance Caucus mailing list, In these comments, I have not included positive remarks that are due: It is positive as a gesture on the part of the ITU Secretary General to have extended an arm to work with ICANN and to pronounce a desire to be committed to the mutli-stakeholder approach. What I have done instead was to read between the lines of the Secretary General's speech transcript, just to raise some points for discussion.
I was not there at Cairo to "feel" the Secretary General's Speech, these comments are based on impressions from the transcript. And these comments are my own and do not represent the views of any organization.
Hammadoun Toure: since 1865, since the creation of the telegraph. And we are very proud of the way the organization has been able to adapt itself over the years and decades and centuries, from telegraph to telephone to teletypewriters, to radio and television. We are talking about digital broadcasting now. And very soon, 3D television. We are talking about the emergence of new technologies
My comment: # ITU adopts itself to own all inter-human communication in any form.
Toure: I was telling to many people from developing countries who were fighting for Internet governance: "Before you get the governance, get the Internet first."
# Yes that allows various interests to give shape to the internet in a manner that is most advantageous for commerce and government. After that any process of debate on Governance wouldn't be able to reverse the practices established.
Toure: ICANN is just ten years old but it's done a great job.
# Yes, ITU is older. We notice that the ITU has governed Communications around the world for over 143 years.
Toure: we had a very successful WSIS. For the first time, a UN body was organizing a summit, where you didn't have demonstrations outside.
# Business and Government kept the Civil Society locked out in several international conventions that were either in the Governments' Diplomatic Territory or Business' Commercial Territory. The Internet is Civil Sphere and the Governments were the latecomers. What ought to have been said here is that the Civil Society included Government and Business and not vice versa.
Toure: Every time a Web browser establishes a secure connection to a server, ITU's work on PKIs, public key infrastructures, and encryption keys, is used. Our pioneering work on electronic authentication enabled jurisdictions around the world to recognize e-mail as legal documents and to give legal studies to electronic signatures.
# I can't help notice that most of the work that the ITU has done relates to "authentication", "security" etc. to enable "jurisdiction". Isn't the ITU working on making the Internet what it is not?
We [ITU and ICANN] just have to learn to know each other better so that we can like each other and work together. And the main reason why I'm here is that is my motto: "
# This sounds dangerous. The DOC-supervised ICANN and the inter-governmental ITU aligned together !
Toure: IGF is just going around and around, avoiding the topics, and becomes sometimes a waste of time.
(In the words of someone, "Dr.Toure is a diplomat. Every word in his speech has a specific weight. Some of it is designed to trigger a reaction, some of it is designed to undermine, some of it is a smoke-screen, and some of it is designed to instill more confidence between the two organizations. Some of it is a specific warning, and some of it is an open hand to make peace." Why would he say something as bizarre as "IGF is just going around and around, avoiding the topics, and becomes sometimes a waste of time"?)
# For the Internet Community, the IGF process is in a sense a huge distraction away from the policy changes and new Internet legislations that get enacted in bits and pieces (leading to an untold comprehensive whole) in different parts of the world — e.g. the move by UK to direct ISPs to retain traffic records for two years. IGF perhaps requires a complete re-redesign.
Toure: Next year, ITU will organize the World Policy Forum, which addresses a number of Internet-related public-policy issues, ranging from cyber security and data protection to multilingualism and the ongoing development of Internet.
# World Policy Forum? For the ITU to psychologically claim its stake as the ICT super-authority?
Toure: I hope you will not tell me here, "Don't talk about Internet." .... we need to talk about it. And you shouldn't see us as an enemy. I always said that I have enough on my plate in ITU and there is no need to add more.
# I don't get the feeling that ITU is content with its sphere of influence.
Toure: If you want an Internet connection for a business or a house, they will ask you first if you have a telephone line.
# Why do I need an ITU regulated and monitored phone line to qualify for Internet Access? Why isn't the Community doing enough to bring in alternate technologies?
I am reminded of the mythical "Breakages Limited of George Bernard Shaw's Apple Cart. Breakages Limited is a draconian monopoly that would suppress any new technology that would threaten its revenues. For instance it would suppress inventions such as unbreakable glass. If that is myth from English Literature, the War of Currents has been closer to home and is better understood: Edison did everything to malign and suppress alternate (pun intended) technologies in order not to lose revenues from his Direct Current architecture...
Toure: During the debates of the WSIS, when people were talking about Internet governance, I was telling them, "Get Internet first before you talk about getting the governance of it." I was giving simple example, comparing Internet and telecommunications to trucks or cars and highways. It's not because you own the highways that you're going to own all the trucks or cars running on them, and certainly not the goods that they are transporting, or vice versa. It's a simple analogy.
# Great. The road analogy isn't all that perfect as an analogy for the Internet. I will let it go to say that those who own the roads get to decide who rides and who doesn't and gets to decide what to charge as toll fee.
Toure: … the relationship between the Internet and the telecommunication world… And they are condemned to work together. It's a condemned marriage. So better enjoy it. If you know that you're not going to get divorced in any case because you're condemned to live together, you better find a way to enjoy each other, and have kids in the process.
# The Internet CAN technically divorce the telecoms or even scale up to include telecoms services as part of the internet. It is a condemned marriage alright, but if one partner is too difficult and drives the other to the wall, a divorce isn't technically infeasible.
Toure: It has been alleged in some corners of the ITU that ITU wishes to govern the Internet. And I have specifically said that I categorically deny that.
# When someone in government or someone connected to government "denies" something, it is always true.
Toure: And I say today again to you, it is not the case. My intention as Secretary-General of ITU is not to govern the Internet. But we need to work together, because there are developing countries that are in need of access. At the end of this year, we'll have four billion mobile telephones in the world. While we try to bridge the gap in telephony, we have to ensure that no new gap is created in Internet and no new gap is created in broadband for us to help other sectors to meet the Millennium Development Goals. Therefore, there is a need for these two societies to work together. Almost half of the people in this room are very active participants in the ITU. And, therefore, I think there is room for us to know each other and to understand.
ITU's role as a multilateral forum for debate is to serve as a source of impartial expert information and guidance, just as we have done for nearly 145 years. We strive to help all parties work together to clarify the issues and build consensus on the most effective ways of promoting the evolution and uptake of this powerful resource. And we have that capability. We are proud of that culture. It's the only organization where you will have countries that are at war on other fronts, are supporting each other with common resolutions, without the people supporting those resolutions being fired. I'm proud to say that we are the only organization where you have Iran supporting "his friends", I quote, of the United States, or vice versa and the people who have supported that are still alive. It happens on a daily basis. We never had any Palestinian-Israeli crisis inside the ITU. They share spectrums. So we are in a position to work with everyone, because we have a technical approach to issues.
# Impressive. But aren't you bidding to take over the internet by saying all this?
Toure: ITU is also actively encouraging the industry-wide move to IPv6. Again, looking on the Web all of last week, I've seen numerous attacks on the ITU for having pronounced the world IPv6.This is a concern for all of us. Every mobile phone will have an IP address, every fridge, every car, it's an inevitable thing.
# What concerns me is the possibility that everything that I ever say on the Internet could be linked to my IPv6 address. My computer will have an IPv6 address. My refrigerator and my MP4 player will have traceable IPv6 addresses. Where is my privacy? (Unless I have the good fortune of being connected to technical experts who would point me to RFC 4941 "Privacy Extensions or Stateless Address Autoconfiguration in IPv6 " and other resources and manage to enhance my computer for privacy). Perhaps I will be able to borrow my refrigerator's IPv6 address to send an email to my top secret girl friend and in case my wife gets hold of that message I could blame it on the refrigerator?
Toure: In 2005, WSIS mandated ITU to take a lead role in building confidence and security in the use of ICTs. I put in place a high-level expert group last year to study the issue and report to the council, with the final report this year. We are gaining a momentum as we move steadily towards agreements on an international set of principles and best-practice approaches that countries around the world can follow to promote cybersecurity.
# Security concerns are center stage on the ITU agenda, pushing the need to build (user) Confidence out of view. What has ITU done on the privacy front, to protest against legislations such as directives by UK to ISPs to retain email logs for two years or directives by governments to facilitate recording of mobile phone conversations?
Toure: Estonian network was down for two days… And during the uprising between Georgia and Russia, we have noticed a large number of botnets or cyber attacks between the two countries. That is scary.
# Thank you for drawing attention to the fact that it is sometimes Governments that cause or engineer some of the major cyber incidents?
Toure: Our children, who spend most of their time in cyberspace, are not taught the basic behaviours in the cyberspace. When they go out in the street, we tell them, "Be careful. Don't talk to strangers, don't accept candy from someone you don't know. It could be a drug that could kill you." But they're out there in cyberspace without telling them what to do or how to behave.
# Yes, in such a way that they don't become paranoid in the process.
Toure: The potential of the Internet to accelerate social and economic development in the world's poorest regions is perhaps its greatest asset. I hope you will support ITU in our ongoing effort to see that everyone everywhere has a chance to benefit from that potential for the betterment of our planet, and for humankind, for all humankind.
# Sounds rhetorical.
Toure: We will never counter terrorism if we don't have a harmonized way of tracing back the IP address. ...
# How would I trust the Law and Order agencies to restrict use of these technologies only against terrorists and criminals and not against the unsuspecting citizens?
Question from Zahid Jamil, DNS Resolution Center Pakistan:
Q: I am a lawyer from Pakistan. Your Excellency, I heard you talk about the important role that ITU can play in everything from IPv6, the coordination of the IP-based networks, cybersecurity, privacy, data protection, cybersecurity, cyberterrorism, multilingualism, IDNs, a whole bunch of things. My only question is, to what extent do you think ITU would have any restrictions, because it seems it would probably become the regulator in convergence of everything. So is there a limitation you can see as far as the ITU's scope?
Question from WOLFGANG KLEINWÄCHTER, University of Aarhus:
Q: what is the future of civil society in the ITU? ITU has nearly 200 member states and more than 700 private sector members. When civil society becomes an equal partner in this setting?
# Is it really possible to believe that the Civil Society would be represented at the ITU so broadly as to balance the 191 member states and 700 private sector companies? ITU is ITU. It could come to the IGF to represent business and government. If Civil Society focuses its effort on getting better represented at the ITU, some day the IGF could become a part of the ITU.
Dr. Toure: Government is in an advisory role. Advisory role! You advise me and I am free to take your advice?
# Advice from Government always comes with the subtle posture of "it is just an advice or a suggestion — but remember where it comes from."
Dr. Toure: During the WSIS process, we had a problem that some member states have genuinely raised. We have countries like China. During a PrepCom in Japan we spent three days out of four not working because there were some so-called civil society, NGO that were government officials from Taiwan. The Chinese delegation came with their photos and information on them from the Web that they are government officials, and they registered as NGOs. It's a problem.
# Thank you for bringing that up. This is really an issue about how the Civil Society is constituted at least in parts. We need to clean up a little bit.
Dr.Toure : Now, let's be clear. Government cannot get into individual people's privacy.
# Please, don't.
Dr.Toure: I'm telling you my intention is not, from ITU, to try and take over Internet.
# When someone in government or someone from an inter-governmental organization talks of an absence of an intention, there is always an intention.
By Sivasubramanian M, CEO, Turiya and President, Internet Society India Chennai. Views expressed here are those of the author's only. Sivasubramanian Muthusamy also contributes to the Wealthy World weblog located here.
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