DUBAI (AFP) – Internet freedom will not be curbed or controlled, the head of the UN telecommunications body, Hamadoun Toure, said as a meeting to review the 24-year-old telecom regulations kicked off Monday.
Such claims are “completely (unfounded),” Toure, secretary general of the International Telecommunication Union, told AFP.
“I find it a very cheap way of attacking” the conference, he said, as the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT-12) set off in Dubai to review regulations reached in 1988.
Earlier, Toure told participants at the conference that the Internet freedom of expression will not be touched during the discussions at the meeting.
“Nothing can stop the freedom of expression in the world today, and nothing in this conference will be about it,” he said.
“I have not mentioned anything about controlling the Internet.”
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon who addressed the forum’s opening by video underscored the importance of the meeting as a venue to enhance access to information and communication technology (ICT) across the globe.
“The overall objective is to ensure universal access to the benefits of information and communication technology, including the two thirds of the world’s population currently not online,” he said.
“We must continue to work together and find a consensus on how to most effectively keep cyberspace open, accessible, affordable and secure,” he said.
Google has been vocal in warning of serious repercussions on the Internet if proposals made by member states are approved at the WCIT-12 meeting, including permitting censorship over legitimate content.
“Some proposals could permit governments to censor legitimate speech — or even cut off Internet access,” said Bill Echikson, Google’s head of Free Expression in Europe, Middle East and Africa in a statement on Friday.
The Internet giant is also arguing that the ITU, which is the UN agency for information communication technologies, is not the right body to address Internet issues.
“Although the ITU has helped the world manage radio spectrum and telephone networks, it is the wrong place to make decisions about the future of the Internet,” Echikson said.
“Only governments have a vote at the ITU,” he pointed out.
But Toure, whose Geneva-based organisation has 193 member states and over 700 private-sector entities and academic institutions, said that “consensus” is the way to make decisions at the agency.
He also dismissed claims that the meetings in Dubai were secretive, telling reporters that the sessions are open.
Google claimed in a blog post Monday that preliminary talks saw some “frightening proposals” discussed, including an Arab states’ proposal to have the ITU take over the allocation of Internet Protocol (IP) addresses.
It warned such move “would cause duplication with the private sector ICANN,” Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.
However, ICANN’s chief Fadi Chehadi, a guest speaker at WCIT-12 opening, said his organisation and the ITU complement each other.
“The ITU and ICANN have complementary roles, and moving forward, we shall cooperate in good spirit,” he said.
Google said last week some proposed treaty changes “could increase censorship and threaten innovation” and others “would require services like YouTube, Facebook, and Skype to pay new tolls in order to reach people across borders. This could limit access to information — particularly in emerging markets.”
Google’s comments backed the US position, which is that the non-government “multi-stakeholder” system of the Internet should remain in place.
But Toure, referring to the suggested fees dubbed as tolls, insisted to AFP that the meeting “is not about that… we are not discussing it.”
The conference is hosted by the United Arab Emirates, one of the countries that censor Internet content, blocking political dissent and sexual material.