Civil Liberties

U.N. Out of My Inbox!: New Spam Rules May Limit Internet Freedom


Don't worry—the UN's already checked=

Internet users, beware—a little-known United Nations body may soon give the government the right to poke around your inbox.

As Senior Editor Peter Suderman recently reported, nations in the U.N.'s International Telecommunications Union (ITU) are scheduled to meet in December at the World Conference on International Communications (WCIT) to discuss proposals and finalize negotiations over Internet regulation rules. These proposals have been kept under wraps—that is, until the watchdog website released official documents on Friday, revealing plans to control the Internet on an international level. Sounds scary? Well, it is.

Leaked proposals from nations like Russia, China, and the Arab States uncover plans that may give the U.N. power to intervene on issues of Web content filtering and cybersecurity, while legitimizing government censorship. One such proposal, supported by Russia, Egypt, Rwanda, and Algeria, aims to add an international legal definition of spam to the ITU's existing treaty. The establishment of such a definition would provide governments a legal excuse to inspect personal emails in the name of fighting the spam menace. And while the document notes that the United States does not support the inclusion of a spam definition, delegates from the U.S. have made little attempt to prevent authoritarian nations from pushing legislation that may greatly limit online freedom.

Other provisions listed in the 212-page document include a provision from China that "encourages Member States…to take appropriate measures for ensuring network security"—a mildly-phrased addition that the Internet Society calls "a very active and inappropriate role in patrolling and enforcing newly defined standards of behaviour on telecommunication and Internet networks."

Internet regulation is frightening, no doubt, but internationally recognized justification for governmental snooping? Now that just bytes.

The folks at Tech Liberation Front parse the implications of WCIT preparations here.