WASHINGTON – Secret negotiations involving dozens of countries preparing for a United Nations summit on international telecommunications could lead to changes in a global treaty that would diminish the Internet’s role in economic growth and restrict the free flow of information.
The U.S. delegation to the World Conference on International Telecommunications to be held in Dubai in December has vowed to block any proposals from Russia and other countries that they believe threaten the Internet’s current governing structure or give tacit approval to online censorship.
But those assurances have failed to ease fears that bureaucratic tinkering with the treaty could damage the world’s most powerful engine for exchanging information, creating jobs and even launching revolutions, according to legal experts and civil liberties advocates who have been tracking the discussions. Social networks played a key role in the Arab Spring uprisings that last year upended regimes in Egypt and Tunisia.
Russia, for example, has proposed language that requires member states to ensure the public has unrestricted access and use of international telecommunication services “except in cases where international telecommunication services are used for the purpose of interfering in the internal affairs or undermining the sovereignty, national security, territorial integrity and public safety of other states, or to divulge information of a sensitive nature,” according to a May 3 U.N. document that details the various proposals for amending the treaty.
The wording of this provision could allow a country to repress political opposition while citing a U.N. treaty as the basis for doing so. The provision also appears to contradict Article 19 of the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which says people shall have the right to access information “through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
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