Saying no to ITU authority over the Internet

by Anja Kovacs

The Internet Democracy Project has joined civil society organisations and academics from across the world in expressing concern over proposals currently in the ITU that will affect the Internet if accepted. Our joint letter expresses to member states and government delegates our concerns about the closed nature of the ITU process as well as about specific proposals that would threaten Internet openness and the exercise of human rights online.

Civil society organisations and academics are welcome to join the list of signatories. If you would like to add your name, please write to [email protected].

To Member States and Government Delegations of the International Telecommunication Union:

In the interests of promoting and protecting global Internet openness and the exercise of human rights online, we write to urge International Telecommunication Union (ITU) member states and their delegates to the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) to refrain from expanding the scope of the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs) treaty to include the Internet.

At the WCIT, governments will consider proposals that would expand the scope of the ITRs to include the Internet. Such expansion could have a significant negative impact on the Internet’s openness, its positive effects on economic growth, and the human rights of citizens.

As recently reaffirmed by the UN Human Rights Council, governments have a duty to protect human rights when making policy decisions for the Internet. However, while the ITU has extensive expertise in telecommunications policy and regulation, we do not believe that it is the appropriate forum to develop policies and standards that could affect the exercise of human rights on the Internet.

Further, the ITU maintains a relatively closed, non-transparent decision-making process in which only governments are allowed full participation. In contrast, the Internet has flourished under an open, decentralized model of governance, where groups representing business, the technical community, and Internet users as well as governments focus on different issues in a variety of forums. In keeping with the World Summit on Information Society commitments, we believe that such open, inclusive processes are necessary to ensure that policies and technical standards for the global Internet preserve the medium’s decentralized and open nature and protect the human rights of its users.

In recent months, many civil society groups have urged the ITU to reform its process so that it is fully transparent and open to participation by all relevant stakeholders. Advocates have pushed for these changes not only because we believe that transparency and participation are the best approach, even with respect to telephony, but also because we feared that certain countries’ proposals would pose grave threats to human rights on the Internet. Leaked documents detailing proposals for the WCIT have confirmed these fears. Thus, we both continue to call on member states to provide full transparency and open participation to all relevant stakeholders as they prepare for the WCIT, and urge all delegates to reject proposals that would threaten openness and human rights online.

We call on member states to:

Hold a transparent, inclusive preparatory process for the WCIT that is open to all relevant stakeholders. We ask that governments:

  • Publicly release WCIT proposals and position papers, documents from regional meetings they have participated in, and documents issued by other member states.
  • Hold open, public consultations on the WCIT so that delegates may fully consider the interests of citizens as well as those of business and government.
  • Inform citizens of the positions member states intend to take at the WCIT on key proposals made by other governments.

Oppose expansion of the International Telecommunication Regulations to the Internet. We ask that delegates:

  • Rigorously examine proposals for their impact on human rights, Internet openness, innovation, and ICT access and development.
  • Oppose proposals that would diminish the rights of users or limit Internet openness



Article 19

Association of Digital Culture,Taiwan

Asociación por los Derechos Civiles, Argentina

Association for Progressive Communications

Bytes For All, Pakistan

Cambodian Center for Human Rights, Cambodia

Center for Democracy & Technology, US

Center for Technology and Society — FGV, Brasil

Committee to Protect Journalists

Consumers International

Derechos Digitales, Chile

Eduardo Bertoni, Centro de Estudios en Libertad de Expresión y Acceso à la Información (CELE), Universidad de Palermo, Argentina

European Digital Rights

Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, Pakistan

Fundación Karisma, Colombia

Human Rights in China, US

Human Rights Watch

Index on Censorship

Internet Democracy Project, India

Internet Society — Bulgaria

Kictanet, Kenya

La Quadrature du Net, France

Nawaat, Tunisia

Open Rights Group, UK

Open Technology Institute, US

Panoptykon, Poland

Public Knowledge, US

Reporters Without Borders

Thai Netizen Network

For the most recent list of signatories, please check the website of the Center for Democracy and Technology.