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Arab nations call for end to Internet anonymity at upcoming UN conference

A group of Arab nations will call for the universal identification of Internet users at a UN conference to be held next week in Dubai.

The International Telecommunications Union, a UN agency responsible for regulating the telecoms industry worldwide, is holding the conference on 3 December that will decide on how the Internet should be governed.

According to Reuters, a group of 17 Arab countries called for transmission recipients to receive "identity information" about the senders, leading to an outcry from human rights groups that the measure would endanger the anonymity of political dissidents.

The debate will feature representatives from most countries worldwide, with speculation of a bust up on regulatory ideas between powers like the US and countries keen to pursue alternative Internet policies such as China.

Russia is also seeking rules giving individual countries control over how to shape the content and structure of the Internet within their borders, while other nations are likely to suggest 'tolls' in which popular sites have to pay developing nations money if they send a lot of traffic through their data networks.

However, the rumoured proposals have faced a lot of opposition amid concerns over censorship. Last week, Google drew up a petition to boycott the conference with warnings that it threatens the "free and open internet".

"Some proposals could permit governments to censor legitimate speech - or even allow them to cut off internet access," the search giant wrote on its Take Action site.

Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt said earlier this month that the Internet is already fractured with governments in different countries filtering and censoring the web so citizens get different experiences from the services provided by Google, Skype and others.

Meanwhile, ITU secretary general Dr Hamadoun Touré has sought to play down the fears, saying that a new treaty will not be signed unless all countries are in agreement.

"Voting means winners and losers. We can't afford that in the ITU," said Touré.

He also rejected the claims made by some US policymakers and tech firms that the Internet does not need regulating; comparing the web to a transportation system.

"Because you own the roads, you don't own the cars and especially not the goods they are transporting. But when you buy a car you don't buy the road. You need to know the number of cars and their size and weight so you can build the bridges and set the right number of lanes. You need light-touch regulation to set down a few traffic lights," said Touré.

Despite the controversy, Touré insists that because the disagreements between nations are so vast, the conference will probably result with something resembling the ITU's earlier formula for trying to protect children online.

The ITU conference will be held in Dubai between 3 to 14 December.