Should the U.N. Really Be Starting a War on Spam?

United States Concerned About Free Speech

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The U.S. said it will block new proposals at a United Nations telecommunications conference that would give governments the ability to stop spammers on fears that power would lead to censorship.

"The world agrees that spam is a huge issue," Terry Kramer, the leader of the U.S. delegation, said in an interview today. "What we do not agree is how you deal with it. We don't want to put it in the body of a global treaty with governments involved."

The World Conference on International Telecommunications is debating whether to update regulations to advise member states to take "necessary measures to prevent the propagation of unsolicited bulk electronic messages." The Dubai gathering is organized by the International Telecommunication Union, a UN agency, and will update 24-year-old language governing networks.

Kramer said the U.S. is resisting any attempt to put regulation of the Internet under the rules of the ITU. These types of proposals would endanger free speech on the web and stymie the efforts of independent groups, he said, adding that once governments begin approving or rejecting e-mail, they may decide to prohibit certain kinds of speech, such as political messages.

In the same vein, the U.S. is also blocking attempts by China, Russia, the United Arab Emirates and others to give countries control over Internet addresses and language that would broaden the definition of agencies that the ITU's rules govern, Kramer said.

"The Internet does well with a multi-stakeholder governance model where you have dedicated organizations that have technical expertise," he said. "They include industry, they include governments, they include civil society, to address issues affecting the Internet."

To address these concerns, which have caused delays in the finalization of the new rules, WCIT President Mohammed Nasser Al-Ghanim proposed a wording that explicitly prevents the interpretation of any of the amendments to be used to regulate content.

The proposal caused its own delay today as delegates argued that the term "content" was too broad and questioned whether content could be separated from a telecom network. Al-Ghanim ultimately chose to leave discussion of the section relating to security and spam until last.

"How can a telecommunications network not deal with content?" the Sudan delegation said in a statement during the plenary. "Content cannot be avoided in telecommunications networks because it will always be in transit."

~Bloomberg News~

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