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Sir Tim Berners-Lee joins criticism of UN Internet regulation talks

Sir Tim Berners-Lee has come out as the latest critic of proceedings at the World Conference of International Telecommunications (WCIT) currently taking place in Dubai.

Regulators from 193 countries are participating in the event, organised by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) (opens in new tab), which has been the source of recent controversy. Modifications to the International Telecommunications Regulations treaty (opens in new tab), which has not been amended since 1988, are being discussed.

According to Dr Hamadoun Toure, secretary-general of the ITU, "the Internet remains largely the rich world's privilege, ITU wants to change that."

Berners-Lee, on the other hand, is fearful that plans for a UN agency to run the Internet will be promoted, meaning that the independent bodies currently responsible for Internet standards, such as the Internet Engineering Task Force and ICANN, would have to surrender some of their powers.

He told the BBC (opens in new tab), "I think it's important that these existing structures continue to be used without any attempt to bypass them. These organisations have been around for a number of years and I think it would be a disruptive threat to the stability of the system for people to try to set up alternative organisations to do the standards."

He defended the rate of growth of the Internet, saying that this is at its highest in developing countries. In his opinion, alternate issues - for example, whether governments block or spy on the Internet - are more pressing.

"A lot of concerns I've heard from people have been that, in fact, countries that want to be able to block the Internet and give people within their country a 'secure' view of what's out there would use a treaty at the ITU as a mechanism to do that, and force other countries to fall into line with the blockages that they wanted to put in place," Berners-Lee commented.

In a recent blog post (opens in new tab), Google's chief Internet evangelist, Vint Cerf, expressed fears that the Internet's openness could be in danger, writing, "some proposals could allow governments to justify the censorship of legitimate speech, or even cut off Internet access in their own countries."

Russia's proposition that "Member states shall have equal rights to manage the internet, including in regard to the allotment, assignment and reclamation of internet numbering, naming, addressing and identification resources and to support for the operation and development of basic internet infrastructure," is one that has provoked strong reactions, with the US responding with confirmation that it would not hesitate to block such efforts.

WCIT talks conclude on 14 December.

Aatif is a freelance copywriter and journalist based in the UK. He’s written about technology, science and politics for publications including Gizmodo, The Independent, Trusted Reviews, Newsweek, and ITProPortal.