ITU’s Touré Urges Syria To Restore Internet Access

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By Monika Ermert for Intellectual Property Watch

UN International Telecommunication Union Secretary General Hamadoun Touré used a press conference on the eve of the much-anticipated World Conference on International Telecommunication (WCIT) which starts in Dubai next week to call on the Syrian government to investigate problems of access to the mobile network and internet in Syria and do “anything necessary to restore the access.”

Touré pointed to Article 33 of the ITU constitution, which recognises communication access rights by the public. Since Thursday internet access has been cut, according to reports by various technical providers like Akamai and Cloudflare. Touré also pointed to similar statements he had made on internet access blockages in Egypt last year and Myanmar some years ago.

By making the call to Syria, Touré implicitly seemed to reject the popular notion that WCIT is about more control and censorship of the net. Yet nobody seems to be interested in using WCIT to more strictly limit governments’ privileges to cut off private telecommunications – which in fact sits side-by-side with the right to communicate in the ITU constitution and the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITR). A change of the constitution would be necessary first, said ITU Counsellor Richard Hill during the press conference.

With regard to internet freedom, Touré said the ITU is focussed on bringing access to everyone. “Most people cannot even access the internet,” he said. “The internet remains a rich world’s privilege.” Touré also once more rejected the assertion that WCIT is aimed at assigning new regulatory powers to the ITU or for a debate on internet governance issues.

Asked about Google’s WCIT campaign, Touré said: “They are here and yet they are telling everyone that it is a closed society.”

He challenged them and other companies and organisations to bring their views to the table, but said that as the conference is not about internet governance they would find themselves in a different environment from what they had expected. Touré once more underlined the need for consensus and promised positive effects for broadband roll-out, and without being specific, how a failure of the conference would result in negative effects for internet growth.

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