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Over the Top Services at the ITU PP-2018: Considering the Pittsburgh Massacre

This past Saturday, a self-professed neo-Nazi massacred eleven worshipers at synagogue services in Pittsburgh. The killer was reported to have lived on and was incented by an “Over the Top (OTT)” service purposely established to facilitate extremist activities known as Gab. Within hours, the cloud service providers hosting their services announced they would no longer provide hosting services. Presumably, the threat of both potential civil litigation liability among other penalties, as well as adverse publicity, provided the motivation.

Meanwhile, a third of a world way in Dubai, representatives of the world’s nations began assembling for the ITU 2018 Plenipotentiary Conference and considering a proposed treaty instrument resolution on OTT services from four country blocs (Africa, Arab, Europe, and Russian) plus Brazil and the U.S. The proposals contain a spectrum of views on OTT services—ranging from unbounded exuberance to cautious concern about economic effects. None raised any explicit treatment of the potential adverse societal consequences such as those that manifested themselves in Pittsburgh, in addition to patent adverse national security impacts. None gave any recognition to long-established international treaty instruments proscribing the promotion of religious hatred, racism and xenophobia and inciting related violence over internets.

Somehow over the past two decades, nations, transnational service providers, and international institutions have lost sight in pursuing new network and OTT virtualizations as part of political-economic agendas, that these are not necessarily wonderful “transformative opportunities” for everyone. Indeed, the collateral harms can be grievous and benefit not even “good” or sustainable in any kind of meaningful societal or economic sense. OTTs are inherently subject to profound misuse and exploitations—amplified by transnational use. Indeed, they were used by foreign intelligence services to attack the U.S. electoral process.

None of this is new. More than twenty years ago, the UNHCR held a seminal workshop in Geneva to which the ITU and country missions were invited, and where concern was voiced over the growing use of the DARPA internet platforms by neo-Nazis and other extremists.

What an OTT treaty instrument resolution should contain

PP-2018 participants should minimally consider including in their OTT resolution two significant provisions. One is a specific recognition of the multiple human rights treaty provisions that proscribe the promotion of religious hatred, racism and xenophobia and inciting related violence via internets and requesting Member States take appropriate action. A second is to better balance the OTT benefits with the potential detriments and harmful exploitations of OTT use, and explicitly taking steps to mitigate them such as transnational notice and takedown capabilities, and controls on the use of ephemeral encryption platforms. In general, the concept of “Red Teaming” the introduction of new technologies and services is long overdue in the ITU.

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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Simultaneously inane and libelous The Famous Brett Watson  –  Oct 30, 2018 2:15 PM

The killer was reported to have lived on and was incented by an “Over the Top (OTT)” service purposely established to facilitate extremist activities known as Gab.

A. What doesn’t qualify as an “OTT service” by that definition, or was over-reach to the point of near-universality the intention?

B. If that statement isn’t actionable as libel, the weasel-word passive voice of “was reported” notwithstanding, then libel is a dead concept.

Your citations don't make it less libelous The Famous Brett Watson  –  Nov 1, 2018 12:14 PM

Ugh. A pox on you for making me read three sanctimonious New York Times opinion pieces. However, none of these articles are so foolish as to include something defamatory like your statement that Gab was “purposely established to facilitate extremist activities”—an accusation for which you have presented no supporting evidence whatsoever. Those folks know how to phrase their innuendoes and frame their coverage so that they inculcate the proper negative connotations in the non-player classes without stepping across the boundary into libel themselves.

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