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UN internet treaty could imperil online freedom

Proposed changes to a United Nations telecommunications treaty could allow some countries to clamp down on free internet, experts fear.

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Experts fear that proposed changes to a United Nations telecommunications treaty could impact internet freedom in some countries. (Justin Sullivan/AFP/Getty Images)

Changes proposed to a United Nations telecommunications treaty could stifle internet freedom in some countries, reported the Associated Press.

The proposed changes to the treaty, which is nearly 24 years old, have been debated for months behind closed doors, and the United States has vowed to block any proposals that would allow online censorship, said the AP.

However, legal experts and civil liberties advocates have expressed concern that changes, such as Russia's proposal, which would allow unrestricted access "except in cases where international telecommunication services are used for the purpose of interfering in the internal affairs or undermining the sovereignty, national security, territorial integrity and public safety of other states, or to divulge information of a sensitive nature" could suppress political opposition and lead to online censorship, said the AP.

Hamadoun Toure, secretary general of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the UN agency overseeing the treaty, said any proposals not approved by all member states would not be included in the final draft. The treaty is formally known as International Telecommunications Regulations.

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Tech blog Ars Technica said that Toure denied on Wednesday that the ITU was interested in taking over the internet. The blog said that the UN agency's interest seems to be in helping telecommunications operators make money by controlling the flow of content to countries.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee unanimously approved a resolution on Wednesday, telling the Obama administration to oppose efforts to regulate the internet at the World Conference on International Telecommunications to be held in Dubai in December, according to The Hill.

"I do not see how WCIT could set barriers to the free flow of information," Toure said, speaking in Switzerland, according to Ars Technica.

According to The Hill, proposals for the UN treaty would give the UN more control over cybersecurity, privacy and the internet's address system as well as allowing government owned internet service providers to charge more for international traffic.

The resolution the House committee approved would encourage the US delegation to "promote a global internet free from government control and preserve and advance the successful multi-stakeholder model that governs the internet today," said The Hill.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/business/technology/120622/un-internet-treaty-could-imperil-online-freedom