Leaked documents at WCIT expose secret design; India steers clear of the proposal

A leaked document from the UN’s World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) being held in Dubai, shows that the UAE accompanied by Russia, China, Sudan, Algeria and Brazil had placed a proposal to fundamentally restructure the Web and place it under government control, with authorisation for extensive state surveillance and content regulation. Brazilians later tweeted, denying their involvement with this draft. This proposal followed an attempt by Russia last week to include the Internet under the ambit of UN control.

The secretly drafted proposal, which was orally introduced by the UAE, received immediate support from the floor from Bahrain, Russia, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Sudan and Burkina Faso in the presence of ITU Secretary-General Dr. Touré. It came as a surprise to nearly all remaining countries, especially as advance copies of the proposal were not made available to delegates — as per procedure.

The U.S. delegation objected, citing Rule 40 which requires an advance notice of 4 months. The plenary session of the 12-day conference, seeking to draft a new treaty to update International Telecom Regulations (ITRs), established 24 years ago, for the first time, saw itself debating a proposal that no delegate had seen before.

The secret proposal was leaked over the weekend by WCITLeaks.

The UAE-led proposal seems to have backfired. Several countries, which were originally opposed to including the Internet under ITU, but remained on the fence on discussing conditional language, and ICTs and cyber security, have now been forced to rethink, since the proposal makes it clear that its authors want the Internet, ICTs and cyber security to be intrinsically linked, leading to content regulation.

Members of the Indian delegation in Dubai confirmed to The Hindu that India has strategically distanced itself from this proposal. This is consistent with Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal’s public statement that he did not want ITU to enter into areas of “Internet governance including traffic and content.” The leaked, secret proposal, an aggressive last minute move by Arab States, specifically included language that would allow governments to establish and implement public and international policy relating to “matters of Internet governance and to regulate national Internet segment as well as activities within their territories, of operating agencies providing Internet access or carrying Internet traffic.”

Tariq Al Awadhi, head of the Arab States delegation, defended expanding ITU’s mandate to include Internet, as a move not aimed at censorship and control.

Given the wide gap in views, it is possible that this proposal will either be diluted severely or not be presented on Monday at all. The debate on including the Internet under ITU had originally split countries into two camps. Since consensus may be elusive, a vote may be taken.