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The Only Winning Game at the WCIT

With Russia flipping its far reaching Internet takeover proposals into the WCIT pile this morning, it became apparent to WCITeers heading to Dubai in a couple of weeks that the entire show was on a fast trajectory into the wild blue yonder. Indeed, the event may provide an opportunity for Hollywood to film a sequel to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Unfortunately, the Russian proposals are only one of many wake-up indicators that this event may not be the exercise in rational, intelligent discourse that some in the preparatory process apparently believed.

The World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT)—convened under the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) to produce an updated treaty instrument among 193 Nation States—is the kind of chimera that makes one want to believe that this is somehow good for the world. Rather significant resources within the U.S. delegation to develop all kinds of rational outcomes ensued over the past year—combined with substantial energies to sell those outcomes. When one listens to the public presentations on U.S. views, one really wants to believe the proposed outcomes will somehow prevail.

What is ignored, however, is the reality that the combination of a worthless treaty instrument for the networking world of 1850 and largely abandoned telecommunication sector activity of the ITU create the perfect storm for the Nation State paranoid who are adverse to the new media and Internet revolution that has ensued over the past twenty years. These adverse actors have also had the luxury of preparing for this event for the past ten years with all kinds of “gotchas” embedded in ITU preparatory texts.

So it is hardly surprising that Russia wants to define all things Internet for the purpose creating a new ITR treaty section that explicitly provides for massive global regulation of the Internet through expansive new ITU activities. One also doesn’t have to scratch the Russian texts very much to see that its long-standing U.N. based cyberwar strategies are being manifested here as well. Over the past several weeks, the Arabic bloc, the African block, India and Indonesia have all tossed similar proposals into the WCIT in-basket.

All of this is aided and abetted by ITU paid staff that goes to preparatory events worldwide whipping up the hostile fervor with nonsensical assertions that somehow the Internet owes its existence to this treaty instrument and that the ITU is the secret sauce for bringing about cybersecurity and eliminating cybercrime.

Perhaps not unexpectedly, European if not Western nations generally share the view that the ITRs should go away, and have largely removed themselves for some time from ITU telecommunication sector activities. However, as the delegations to the conference get announced, it is also becoming apparent that very large delegations of nations adverse to those Western views are being fielded. This means lots of “boots on the ground” to socialize the worst outcomes.

Inevitably, the typical standard of success at the State Department is for all the Nation States of the world to accede to views meticulously crafted at its Foggy Bottom headquarters. Perceptions of U.S. negativity are studiously avoided and industry is admonished not to “demonize the United Nations” to “ensure having a seat at the table.” However, in the case of a treaty and related international organization activity that has no rational basis to exist, that seat comes at an unacceptable price. Success needs to be redefined.

Invoking another Hollywood classic—War Games—is really the appropriate model here. After a harrowing set of scenarios get played out, everyone including the WOPER computer realizes that the only winning game is not to play at all. The WCITeers should come to the same conclusion by abrogating the International Telecommunication Regulations and recommending the elimination of its own continuing existence to the next ITU Plenipotentiary Conference. Anything less than that result poses an advanced persistent threat. The U.S. should demonstrate leadership toward that end.

By Anthony Rutkowski, Principal, Netmagic Associates LLC

The author is a leader in many international cybersecurity bodies developing global standards and legal norms over many years.

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Thanks for the historical perspective!! McTim  –  Nov 18, 2012 5:27 PM


I appreciate your posts and always learn a great deal from them.

One query, is it the case that an ITU Member (nation state) can opt out of provisions of the ITRs?



Thanks. Yes Member States can (and Anthony Rutkowski  –  Nov 18, 2012 5:52 PM

Thanks. Yes Member States can (and often do) opt out. This can be done by 1) not signing the resulting instrument, 2) entering a Declaration or Additional Declaration at the time of signing that explains what obligations are accepted or not, 3) for those States having ratification processes such as the U.S., giving notice of still further conditions associated with the obligations, and 4) at a subsequent ITU Plenipotentiary Conference, making subsequent declarations concerning the obligations. For this particular instrument, the U.S. for 110 years did not attend the conferences nor sign. It only attended the past two in 1973 and 1988, and in both instances, used all four of the above means of eliminating almost entirely its obligations. The almost complete rejection of the 1988 provisions was prescient, because the provisions subsequently became a disaster as the marketplace rejected virtually all ITU-T standards that were referenced. Those States that accepted the obligations, simply ignored the them almost immediately, and forgot the ITRs ever existed.

so Internet companies may have to abide by the new ITRs in some jurisdictions and not in others? McTim  –  Nov 21, 2012 6:29 PM

This sounds like a recipe for some Internet companies to abandon those Member States that opt for ITR provisions from the Russia/Arab/African bloc.

This in itself could sway some of these nation states (one would hope).

Yes. The ITU itself has no Anthony Rutkowski  –  Nov 21, 2012 6:46 PM

Yes.  The ITU itself has no authority to do much of anything except to run meetings and webservers.  It has zero enforcement authority or even role in mediating disputes.  It is left to Member States to make decisions.  There are no real ITU-T standards anymore except for codecs and a few layer 2 protocols.  It’s a shell organization with a big PR budget.  Few Member States are stupid enough to even attempt implementations, and as soon as they tried, they would hear screams from their service providers and their customers.  The only entities that sometimes get caught in the middle for a while are vendors who attempt to support equipment or services for Third World markets.

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