Leaked document confirms fears of UN Internet powergrab

A leaked document has confirmed fears that a world conference held by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) will be used by some countries to expand government control over the Internet.

A draft of a document to be provided to the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) on Monday morning and provided to website WCITleaks includes a number of proposals that have prompted fierce disagreement during the first week of the two-week conference in Dubai. The draft also includes a number of previously unseen additions.

In particular, the document proposes:

  • That governments be given a "right to know" what route has been taken by information over data networks - something that civil society groups have warned would enable widespread online monitoring.
  • A new article dealing specifically with the Internet and Internet governance be added that would give governments the right to devise their own policies for the Internet within their borders - potentially bypassing the current global addressing system.
  • The ITU be given a lead role in cybersecurity, and
  • The current international telecommunication regulations (ITRs) be extended beyond traditional telecoms to all providers of Internet and voice services.

Read our rundown of the most problematic clauses


The modifications, if they make it through to the final document, are explosive and could throw the entire conference into disarray.

Suspicion was already high when ITU Secretary-General Hamadoun Toure announced late on Friday that a "compromise text" would be provided to the conference plenary on Monday morning. "This will provide the big global picture that everyone can see," Toure told reporters at 6pm local time, noting that it would come from the host country, the United Arab Emirates.

Less than fully truthful

The leaked draft tells a different story, however. Just a few hours before Toure announced the introduction a new text, the document was being edited by Orozobek Kaiykov, head of the ITU's office in Moscow. Edits are also visible from two staff within the Secretary's General own office.

The draft borrows heavily from a controversial Russian contribution, including a new article covering the Internet that has been introduced verbatim. That contribution has already been the target of fierce criticism and has been held in "informal discussions" since the conference began, with chair of the conference, Mohamed Nasser Al-Ghanim, refusing to allow discussion of it either in working groups or the main plenary.

On top of concerns that a whole new text introduced at the start of the second week could leave insufficient time to discuss implications fully, the signatories to the document will also set off alarm bells for Western nations. They are, in order: Russia, UAE, China, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Sudan, and Egypt.

Early warning system

In the lead-up to the conference, the United States governments as well as some Internet companies, notably Google, warned strongly that the conference would be used by those same countries to give the United Nations more control over the Internet.

However after the restricted documents were published on the Internet and following the first few days of discussions, many of those fears appeared to dissipate and Google in particular started receiving criticism for what some saw as a self-serving position.

With the release of this document, and the apparent backing of the ITU's Secretary General despite its explosive contents, it would appear that the efforts at greater government control were not scared off but merely pushed back to the last possible moment.

Next week in Dubai looks like it will become a torrid affair.

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The leaked draft document472.1 KB