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Beijing, Moscow support move to place authority under UN agency
When delegates gather in Dubai in December for an obscure UN agency meeting, intense debate is expected on proposals to rewrite global telecom rules to effectively give the United Nations control over the Internet.
Russia, China and other countries back a move to place the Internet under the authority of the International Telecommunications Union, a UN agency that sets technical standards for global phone calls.
US officials say placing the Internet under UN control will undermine the freewheeling nature of cyberspace, which promotes open commerce and free expression, and could give a green light for some countries to crack down on dissidents.
Analysts said an international Internet supervision mechanism will make all countries better prepared for a cyberattack, while nations should not let the supervision violate legal rights of Internet users.
Wen Weiping, a cybersecurity expert at Peking University, said an international Internet supervision mechanism will improve cybersecurity around the world because countries can better cooperate when being attacked by hackers.
Many cyberattacks are carried out in different countries, so an international supervision mechanism is very necessary, he added. And the mechanism will not only benefit China and Russia but also the United States, he said.
Due to conflicting opinions, analysts are not optimistic on the outcome of the meeting.
"The most likely outcome is a tie, and if that happens there won't be any dramatic changes, although that could change if the developing countries make a big push," said James Lewis, director of the Technology and Public Policy Program at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.
"But there is a lot of discontent with how the Internet is governed, and the US will have to deal with that at some point."
Lewis said there is still an overwhelming perception that the US owns and manages the Internet. Opponents have a powerful argument to create a global authority to manage the Internet, Lewis said, but "we need to find some way to accommodate national laws in a way that doesn't sacrifice human rights".
One reason for the US opposition to such a mechanism is that Washington fears it will lose the top position in the cyber sector, said Tang Lan, a researcher on cybersecurity with the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.
Wen said the US attempted to use its advantages on the Internet and cyber technologies to make the Internet environment develop in a direction that could maximize and guarantee its national interests.
Terry Kramer, the special US envoy to the talks, said Washington opposes proposals by Russia, China and others to expand the ITU's authority to regulate the Internet.
"The Internet has grown precisely because it has not been micro-managed or owned by any government or multinational organization," Kramer told a recent forum.
"There is no Internet central office. Its openness and decentralization are its strengths."
The head of the ITU, Hamadoun Toure, said his agency has "the depth of experience that comes from being the world's longest-established intergovernmental organization".
Toure wrote in the British newspaper The Guardian that any change in regulation should "express the common will of the ITU's major stakeholders" and "find win-win solutions that will act as a positive catalyst".