UN Agency’s Playbook Leaked: Panic, Chaos over Anti-Internet Treaty

The International Telecommunications Union, the UN agency at the center of a firestorm over new efforts to regulate the Internet, is preparing a social media campaign to target what it expects will be fierce opposition to a revised telephone treaty being decided next month at a secret conference in Dubai.

That’s according to a key ITU internal planning document that appeared Saturday on the website WCITLeaks, which has been posting a steady stream of documents leading up to the conference.  Even as ITU officials accelerate increasingly clumsy efforts to deflect the wrath of Internet users over next month’s World Conference on International Telecommunications, more documents leaking out ahead of the meeting continue to expose the agency’s misstatements.

The WCIT conference will consider revisions to a 1988 treaty known as the International Telecommunications Regulations.  At the meeting, 193 member nations consider dozens of proposed amendments, including several that would bring the Internet under ITU jurisdiction and substantially change the architecture and governance of the Internet.  Other proposals would, if adopted, give countries including Russia, China, and Iran UN sanctioned-authority to monitor and censor incoming and outgoing Internet traffic under the guise of improving “security.”

The newly-leaked document is the agenda for an “ITU Senior Management Retreat” held in Geneva in September.  It includes a detailed report on resistance to WCIT and the agency’s plans to counter criticism of its secretive processes. It also includes links and passwords for presentations given by outside public relations and advertising executives from leading global agencies.  (The passwords were still active as of Nov. 24th.)

The document, marked “confidential,” suggests senior ITU officials have become both paranoid and panicked over growing outrage over both the form and substance of the upcoming negotiations.  Material included with the agenda paints a pathetic picture of the150 year-old UN agency struggling to defend itself from attacks by what the agency believes is a “well-financed and well-organized campaign originating in the USA” whose goal is to “discredit the ITU and WCIT.”

The two-day meeting also featured leading media consultants invited to help the agency formulate a strategy to avoid the kind of global outrage that mortally wounded a secret Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement treaty earlier this year, and which did in copyright legislation known as SOPA and PIPA in the U.S. in January.

Both ACTA and the US copyright bills were widely expected to pass with little opposition until Internet users organized physical and virtual protests that caught lawmakers by surprise.

According to the internal ITU document, the agency had already launched what it calls a “counter-campaign”–a media blitz the agency plans to expand in light of what the ITU sees as the likely event of significant hostility to the revised treaty after the conference.

Following the WCIT meeting, the ITU says, the counter-campaign will focus on ways to “mitigate the risk” of an “intensive anti-ratification campaign in [the US and Western Europe], based on the so-called lack of openness of the WCIT process, resulting in a significant number of countries refusing to ratify the new ITRs.”

The “so-called lack of openness” has little to do with growing outrage over WCIT.  The real objections to the conference have more to do with substance than the secrecy of the negotiations.  First and foremost, there is strong opposition within the US and EU delegations to expanding the UN’s jurisdiction over IP networks in any form.  (The current ITRs do not extend to the Internet.)

Globally, concern is also growing over increasingly direct efforts by some national governments to hijack the conference into mandating changes to the engineering-driven, multi-stakeholder model of Internet governance that relies on non-governmental international organizations such as the Internet Society, ICANN, and the W3C.  These changes are seen as preludes to future restrictions on content and users implemented through the reengineering of key resources.

In response to early proposals along these lines, Congress unanimously passed a joint resolution over the summer urging the US delegation, led by Ambassador Terry Kramer, to reject any extension of the ITU’s authority to Internet matters, or to allow ITU member states to use the conference to advance longstanding anti-Internet agendas.  Last week, the EU debated a sternly-worded proposal urging its members likewise to resist Internet-related proposals.

Also last week, Google launched its own campaign, urging users to take direct action against the WCIT.  “Some governments want to use a closed-door meeting in December to increase censorship and regulate the Internet,” the company said.  “Some proposals could permit governments to censor legitimate speech — or even allow them to cut off Internet access.”

( via forbes.com )