Interview: Richard Hill On “The New International Telecommunications And The Internet” 17/01/2014 by William New, Intellectual Property Watch 1 Comment Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Richard Hill, an independent consultant in Geneva who was formerly a senior staff member at the UN International Telecommunication Union (ITU), recently published, “The New International Telecommunication Regulations and the Internet: A Commentary and Legislative History.” In a set of questions with Intellectual Property Watch’s William New, Hill talked about his book, which explains the significance of the 1988 and 2012 International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs) and covers the preparatory process leading up to the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT). The book also discusses the events leading to the non-signature by the treaty of a significant number of states, outlines possible consequences of that split between states, and offers possible ways forward. Intellectual Property Watch (IPW): Could you please tell us about the book? Richard Hill (RH): Starting at the end of 2011, various specialised blogs and newsletters published alarmist articles to the effect that the United Nations was proposing to take over the internet so as to control it and establish censorship. Those articles referred to WCIT, convened by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) to revise the ITRs, the treaty that facilitates international telecommunications by establishing general principles related to its provision and operation. Needless to say, such articles were wildly exaggerated and the mainstream press published accounts which were closer to the reality, namely that neither the UN nor the ITU had any power to regulate or control the internet, much less to establish new censorship norms. My book presents the facts leading up to the conference, what happened at the conference itself, and a legal analysis of the approved treaty. It provides an account of facts that are not easily accessible elsewhere and thus it should be of value to all who are interested in what happened, and for future research, including on internet governance. IPW: How is the book related to internet governance? RH: The 1988 ITRs facilitated the growth of the internet, by opening the way for liberalisation of international connections. Certain proposals to revise the 1988 version were directly related to the internet. How could it be otherwise, given that the internet is a major telecommunications technology, second only to GSM in terms of number of users? Most of those proposals were related to financial matters, some were related to other matters. But, as explained in some detail in the book, the general issue of internet governance was brought into the conference, and in particular issues of free speech were raised. IPW: Why did freedom of speech become an issue at a technical conference? RH: Powerful economic interests, in particular the so-called Over-the-Top (OTT) internet companies such as Google, feared that some of the proposed revisions could be detrimental to them. And powerful nations – in particular the USA – feared that some proposed revisions could limit some of their actions, perhaps including pervasive surveillance. Of course it is easier to generate support for a “stop censorship” campaign than for a “save my profits” or “let me keep invading privacy” campaign, so that is what happened. IPW: Why did so many countries refuse the sign the treaty? RH: The treaty was signed in Dubai by 89 countries and was not signed by 55. The signatories are mostly developing countries (or emerging economies) and the non-signatories are mostly developed countries, in particular the USA, and the Europeans countries. Only two countries indicated formally that they could not envisage acceding to the treaty, while the 53 non-signatories indicated that they needed further time to consider certain specific provisions of the treaty, in particular the third paragraph of the Preamble. Most of the treaty is not controversial, only a few provisions were controversial. Since some of the controversial text was approved at the last minute, it is normal that some countries wished to have more time to study them before committing one way or the other. IPW: So the treaty is open for further signatures? RH: Not exactly. The signature process is closed, but any country can now accede to the treaty, that is, agree to be bound by it. My book contains a detailed analysis of the objections to the controversial provisions and shows how those objections are not justified from a legal point of view. There also are objections from a non-legal point of view, which have not been explicitly formulated, but are discussed in some detail in the book. Basically, they are related to the North-South split that is well known to readers of Intellectual Property Watch, and to differing views of the proper role of states regarding telecommunications, including issues such as privacy and surveillance. That’s a complex topic, so I will not attempt to summarise it here. It’s covered in the book. IPW: So what happens next? RH: I think that there is general agreement that WCIT succeeded in clarifying and putting on the table issues that had been creating tensions for many years. So the revision of the ITRs is unfinished business: more discussions need to take place, in particular regarding how to cooperate to improve security while protecting freedom of speech, privacy, and human rights in general. The book suggests one way forward: to recognise that the 2012 ITRs do not threaten human rights, and that they include important pro-consumer provisions regarding international mobile roaming, improving accessibility for the disabled, and reducing e-waste. So countries that agree to cooperate to further connect the world – as opposed to those who wish to dominate the interconnected world – should consider acceding to the ITRs. The matter will surely be discussed at the 2014 ITU Plenpotentiary Conference which might well decide to convene another WCIT, perhaps in 2016. END For more information about the book: In Switzerland: http://www.schulthess.com/buchshop/detail/ISBN-9783725569359 Elsewhere: http://www.springer.com/law/international/book/978-3-642-45415-8 Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window) Related William New may be reached at email@example.com."Interview: Richard Hill On “The New International Telecommunications And The Internet”" by Intellectual Property Watch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.