The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is meeting December 3-14 in Dubai for the World Conference on International Telecommunications 2012 (WCIT) in what is being dubbed by some as the “conference to claim control of the internet” due a new internet privacy standard that has been approved. While this claim may be a little extreme, the ITU has adopted controversial changes in the restrictions that would allow internet service providers to examine internet users’ traffic.
The ITU, an agency of the United Nations, is responsible for information and communication technologies for all 193 member states. The ITU’s mission is to enable the growth and sustained development of telecom and information networks worldwide so that all people can benefit from the emerging information society and global economy. It does so by investing in the development of global broadband networks and also provides a framework for the international rules for telecommunications. The ITU does not regulate how technologies are used, but it does coordinate technical standards to be used based on current technology.
This new standard, yet to be implemented, would allow internet service providers (some government owned) to engage in “deep packet inspection” and sift through an internet user’s traffic, including emails, bank transactions and more without proper safeguards. The technology is used in firewalls and antivirus products, as well as for censorship and surveillance purposes. The new measure is drawing criticism by some, including Google and the European Union, due to possible restrictions on civil liberties, especially by governments that are known to crack down on internet freedom. Others are saying that increased monitoring is necessary to provide internet safety and manage exponentially rising levels of internet volume.
The ITU has played a key role in moving towards a knowledge society in which people everywhere can access, use and create data in an affordable and secure manner. This is often much overlooked, as only one third of the world currently has access to the internet. But the amount of power that the ITU has is widely debated, especially recently. What do you think? Should the ITU have an increased responsibility to monitor the internet, or does this restrict personal rights beyond a reasonable level?