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In UN Internet Treaty Talks, It's the West vs. the World

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By Deanne Katz, Esq. on December 14, 2012 1:38 PM

It now appears that the UN's proposed Internet treaty will fail, given opposition by many delegates from Western nations including the United States, the UK, and Canada.

The treaty was proposed at the World Conference on International Telecommunications, a summit being held in Dubai. It deals with telecommunications and the Internet, and has been a topic of hot debate over the past two weeks.

Negotiations hit a rough patch over the potential inclusion of language about "human rights obligations." Then Wednesday night, the United States and other countries announced that they could not support the treaty, citing some serious concerns.

In general, the U.S. delegation has said it's against international Internet regulation, CNN reports. It also urged member counties to take a more hands-off approach to regulating online behavior.

Other countries, including China and Russia, disagreed with that approach. They urged members to accept proposals to purportedly help governments fight cyberattacks and spam.

But the United States is wary of those proposals. American delegates and other open Internet advocates see those measures as a way to censor Internet users. It's feared they could potentially be used to disrupt open Internet access in countries with repressive governments.

It doesn't help that the proponents of this treaty are countries that don't have a good track record regarding Internet freedom.

Countries like China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Algeria and Sudan were in favor of the UN Internet treaty. It would admittedly have taken some control over Internet administration away from the United States, reports the BBC. But that issue was largely drowned out by concerns over freedom.

The fact that so many other counties followed the United States in refusing to sign the treaty also indicates that Internet governance wasn't the main concern for many countries.

That doesn't mean international discussions on Internet policy won't come up again in different contexts. But this specific proposal probably won't be going forward.

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