Why the U.S. Doesn't Like the New UN Internet Treaty

Rebecca Greenfield
Why the U.S. Doesn't Like the New UN Internet Treaty

The United States and a group of other countries, including Canada and the United Kingdom, have opted not to sign the Internet treaty ratified by the UN's International Telecommunication Union because of possible censorship concerns. The reforms represent an update to the 25-year-old International Telecommunication Regulations that needed refreshing for the Internet age. Although other countries effectively signed the regulations into effect, only those nations that actually signed the treaty have to play by its rules. So it's not like the U.S. has to play along with anything since the 1988 guidelines, but the pact does reveal how our government feels about Internet policy now. What about this update turned off the U.S. so much? 

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Censorship. The new treaty says that regulations apply to "operating agencies" versus "recognized operation agencies." That one word — "recognized" — gives power to a much larger number of groups, specifically "any individual, company, corporation or governmental agency which operates a telecommunication installation." That "recognized" part limits these powers from governments, leaving the decisions in the hands of organizations like AT&T and Telcom. The U.S. doesn't like that because it thinks the terminology could lead to more government censorship. 

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Internet Over-Regulation. The U.S. also didn't want the treaty to involve the word "Internet" at all, out of concerns that it would lead to too much regulation. In what Mashable's Alex Fitzpatrick calls a "surprise move" the chair on Wednesday night made it okay to discuss adding Internet-related provisions to the updates. The White House said it would reject anything that mentioned Internet regulation. "[The deal] should be about updating a public telecommunications treaty to reflect today's market-based realities — not a new venue to create regulations on the Internet, private networks, or the data flowing across them," administration officials wrote in a blog post. 

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Free speech. The document mentions regulating spam, something we all hate. And the U.S. saw that as a possible free-speech violation.

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Image via Shutterstock by pryzmat