US threatens to walk out of WCIT

Posted on: Monday, 10th December 2012

Head of the American delegation to the World Conference on International Telecommunications, Ambassador Terry Kramer, has promised to veto revised international telecommunications regulations if they go anywhere near content. He told a Dow Jones reporter that the US delegation could walk away from the conference.

The threats came as revelations emerged that the preceding World Telecommunications Standards Assembly—held in Dubai immediately prior to WCIT— approved a 66 page standard for how to track and block Internet communications.

The Requirements for Deep Packet Inspection in Next Generation Networks standard includes a section titled “Inspection of encrypted traffic.” It offers protocols to connect telco DPI units to external systems, including real-time monitoring by national security systems.

The new standard provides examples including how to identify and block SIP voice and video communications, set policy rules for individual applications such as slowing down OTT video, detect specific transferred files from a particular user, and even determine the brand of game consoles used by customers. Ambassador Kramer previously told CommsDay “We are troubled by the implications of traffic routing proposals which could open the door to deep packet inspection or content censorship.  This violates our and the UN’s fundamental belief in free speech and human rights.”

The full text of the standard only became public under a bizarre set of circumstances.

“Asher Wolf,” a pseudonym for an Australian, revealed the text after an ITU staffer responded to her public call for it by inadvertently sending her the secret document. Five hours later, the ITU wrote her to please keep it under wraps, but she sent it to US website BoingBoing, which posted it. CommsDay has confirmed the legitimacy of the document with the ITU.

“Wolf” described herself in an email to CommsDay as “A punk from Melbourne who had a baby, got bored of daytime television and joined Twitter.”

She’s a principal of CryptoParty and an international privacy rights advocate. Most recently, she has been fighting a US subpoena for Twitter records relating to political advocacy.

The ITU says that DPI is already commonplace, a response some observers found disingenuous. DPI equipment from Sandvine, Cisco and others is commonly deployed to create traffic statistics or block malware. More aggressive uses of DPI, including blocking specific types of content, are rarely or never used in the US or Europe. Revelations of the new standard have added fuel to claims that the ITU has an agenda to enable content censorship.

However, questions remain as to why the US acquiesced to the WTSA deep packet standard, the latest of several ratified at the ITU that deeply affect the Internet.

Nevertheless, the US has still threatened to walk from the event—at least in a comment Kramer made to reporter Rory Jones of Dow Jones. Kramer said the US is prepared to walk out of the event and refuse to sign the treaty if ITU member governments try to seize Internet control. However the US is remaining active on the floor and in bilateral meetings as we went to press.

About two thirds of the countries at WCIT want to loosen the US grip on the Internet. The status quo position would easily be defeated in a simple vote. Kramer says that the US holds “non-negotiable positions” and might refuse to ratify as he faces domestic political pressures.

Last week the U.S. House of Representatives passed unanimously a third resolution to protect “our Internet” and Kramer answers to Federal Communications Commissioner Rob McDowell, a Republican, who is on the delegation and warns that Russia is using WCIT to usurp control of the Internet.

Dave Burstein and Grahame Lynch