* Proposal would wrest control of Web addresses from US body
* Egypt says included on multi-country proposal by mistake
* Talks on new telco treaty appear deadlocked
* U.S., allies oppose extension of treaty to Internet
By Matt Smith and Joseph Menn
DUBAI, Dec 9 A Russia-led proposal calling for
sweeping new governmental powers to regulate cyberspace could
enable countries to block some Web locations and wrest control
of allotting Internet addresses from a U.S.-based body.
The proposal, co-signed by Russia, China, Saudi Arabia,
Algeria, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates, added to fears in
some Western countries of a stalemate midway through a 12-day
conference in Dubai to rewrite a longstanding treaty on
Russia and its supporters, which include many African and
Arab states, seek to formally extend the remit of the
International Telecommunication Union (ITU) to govern many
aspects of the Internet.
The United States, Europe and other allies including
Australia and Japan insist the treaty should continue to apply
only to traditional telecommunications such as international
wireline and wireless calls.
Countries can opt out of parts of the revised treaty when it
emerges or refuse to sign it altogether.
"If we have no agreement it will create political tension
around the Internet," said Markus Kummer, vice president for
public policy at industry think tank The Internet Society.
A leaked draft of the Russia-led proposals would give
countries "equal rights to manage the Internet including in
regard to the allotment, assignment and reclamation of Internet
This could allow governments to render websites within their
borders inaccessible, even via proxy servers or other countries.
It also could allow for multinational pacts in which countries
could terminate access to websites at each others' request.
Such moves would undermine ICANN, a self-governing nonprofit
organization under contract to the U.S. Department of Commerce,
which is ultimately responsible for making sure that people
trying to reach a given website actually get there.
"Much of the Internet was developed from U.S. research
funding, and the U.S. has kept a residual role, so many other
governments say it's not right that one government 'controls'
the Internet," said Kummer.
"The irony is the U.S. has a very laid-back role and
protects the Internet from political interference, but the fact
it's the U.S. makes it highly political."
'ANOTHER POINT OF CONTROL'
"The reason some countries want to create national control
over addresses is so they can have another point of control,"
said Rod Beckstrom, until recently chief executive of ICANN,
which currently sits atop the addressing system.
Decentralizing the process could prove chaotic if many
countries demand that companies use only their national system,
he told Reuters.
Beyond web locations and addresses, the Russia-led coalition
document says ITU member states should be able to control other
elements of the Internet's infrastructure within their borders,
as Russia has sought for months.
The revision would give nations the explicit right to
"implement policy" on net governance and "regulate the national
Internet segment," the draft says.
"If you throw in addressing and naming, that puts the entire
ecosystem in play, which is what the U.S. and E.U. said they
would never agree to," said a Western participant at the
conference who asked not to be named to maintain his ability to
"You're almost guaranteeing lock-up in certain areas that
might prevent the other areas from easily going forward," he
The coalition wants the new treaty to include measures to
combat spam email, but its definition of spam is so broad that
it could be applied to almost any emailed message.
That would provide a pretext for authoritarian regimes to
suppress opponents, critics warn, while also doing little to
solve what is a technical problem.
Another clause states any country should have the right to
know the route of telecom traffic "where technically feasible,"
which differs from an earlier submission and appears to
acknowledge tracing Internet traffic is impractical.
"Internet networks don't follow national borders and a lot
of governments are not happy with that notion, that they don't
have control over their territory," said Kummer. "Some
governments feel threatened, which they see as undermining their
SIGN OF CRACKS?
Egypt was named as a co-author of the Russia-led submission,
but on Sunday it disavowed the document in what may be a sign of
cracks emerging in the loose anti-U.S. coalition.
"Our name was associated to this proposal by mere
misunderstanding," Nashwa Gad, a department manager at Egypt's
Ministry of Communications & Information Technology (MCIT), said
in an emailed statement to Reuters.
"Egypt has always been supporting the basic Internet
principles that ... the Internet should remain free, open,
liberal. We do not see that the ITU mandate deals with the
The United States has made a counterproposal co-signed by
Canada that would stop the treaty being applied to Internet
companies such as Google or government and business
It say increasing the treaty's scope could provide a
platform for governments to stifle free speech, reduce online
anonymity and censor Internet content.
But Russia and its supporters argue they need new powers to
able to fight cyber crime and protect networks.
After six days of largely private talks, very little seems
to have been agreed, with the main plenary committee meeting on
Monday to again consider the U.S.-Canada proposal among others.
The ITU usually agrees decisions by consensus, but the
intransigence of both sides means it could come down to a vote,
which may leave the United States and its allies in the
"The U.S. is not considering walking out of the conference
and is still participating as normal," a U.S. spokesman said in
an emailed statement, denying an earlier report that the United
States could quit the summit, which ends on Friday.