Published December 13, 2012
UPDATE: Envoys from nearly 90 nations signed the first new U.N. telecommunications treaty since the Internet age on Friday, but the U.S. and other Western nations refused to join after claiming it endorses greater government control over cyberspace. Read more
The United States will refuse to sign a U.N. resolution calling for regulation of the Internet despite the measure winning the support of other countries participating in a summit on the issue, the American ambassador to the summit said Thursday.
“The U.S. today has announced that it cannot sign the revised regulations in their current form,” Ambassador Terry Kramer said in a conference call, adding that support for the resolution from other countries “looks strong enough that it looks unlikely that it will materially change.”
He added that the resolution will not force the U.S. to abide by the regulations.
“The resolution doesn't have teeth to it. ... At the end of the day, these (agreements) are not legally binding. ... They are much more normative and values-oriented.”
Online search giant Google, which started an Internet petition against the U.N. Internet regulation that got over 3 million signatures, said the expected vote is ominous.
“What is clear ... is that many governments want to increase regulation and censorship of the Internet,” a Google spokesperson told FoxNews.com. “We stand with the countries who refuse to sign this treaty.”
Kramer said he was hopeful that the conference outcome would not prompt other countries to form a separate Internet that operates on different rules.
“We obviously hope that doesn't happen here. If a county says, 'Listen, I want to have a different standard' ... they can proceed with that. Candidly, they could still do that under national sovereignty (before the conference).”
A document said to be the current version of the U.N. resolution has been leaked online. It states: “All governments should have an equal role and responsibility for international Internet governance and for ensuring the stability, security and continuity of the existing Internet.”
Kramer said the U.S. opposed any regulation and pointed to the success of the unregulated Internet.
“All of the benefits and growth of the Internet have come as a result not of government action or of inter-governmental treaty. They are an organic expression of consumer demand and societal needs," he said.
During the debate at the U.N. conference, countries such as Russia argued for Internet regulation.
“At the moment each (government) on its territory governs (Internet) resources. ... (Regulation) already exists. We can't stick our hands in the sand like an ostrich and say we don't know what the Internet is,” a Russian representative said at the conference Wednesday, defending the idea that the resolution should cover Internet regulation.
Thursday's resolution contains several provisions that the U.S. specifically objects to. For instance, it calls on governments to regulate email that is viewed as spam.
“Member States should endeavour to take necessary measures to prevent the propagation of unsolicited bulk electronic communications,” it reads.
Kramer says he worries that could provide an excuse for censorship: “The U.S. position remains that 'spam' is a form of content and that regulating it inevitably opens the door to other forms of content, including political and cultural speech.”
The U.N. resolution also calls for governments to ensure the security of the Internet.
“Member States shall individually and collectively endeavour to ensure the security and robustness of international telecommunication networks ... as well as the harmonious development of international telecommunication services offered to the public,” it reads.
Kramer criticized the security provisions.
“The U.S. cannot accede to vague commitments that would have significant implications but few practical improvements," he said.
A provision that Kramer had previously called a “tax” on the Internet, which would have charged companies like Google to display content, was removed from the resolution after negotiation.
“We are obviously very pleased about that,” Kramer said.
Ultimately, the resolution isn't binding, but many worry about the precedent that the conference sets.
“Obviously, we don't want to have agreements globally that set a tone (in favor of Internet regulation). So we’re going to have to continue to advocate the importance of the global nature of the Internet,” Kramer said.