November 29, 2012, 1:44 PM — The U.S. government should push for the United Nations' International Telecommunication Union to be dismantled in addition to playing defense against proposals for restrictive Internet regulations at an upcoming telecom conference, a former White House official said.
The ITU has outlived its purpose of coordinating international telecom regulations as the world's communications networks move to Internet Protocol, said Andrew McLaughlin, an entrepreneur-in-residence at startup funding firm Betaworks and former deputy CTO in U.S. President Barack Obama's administration. The ITU is set up to advocate for government intervention into communications networks, at the expense of users, and the organization lacks transparency, McLaughlin said Thursday at a Future Tense discussion of Internet governance.
McLaughlin's criticism of the ITU came as the organization gets ready to host the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT), a treaty-writing conference to set international telecom regulations. WCIT begins Monday in Dubai.
The U.S. delegation to WCIT is being "entirely too cautious and too timid" about the future of the ITU, McLaughlin said. "We should set a significantly bolder and more audacious goal. It is time to set, as United States policy, the objective of dismantling the International Telecommunication Union."
The ITU's structure, giving all countries one vote on some issues, allows tiny countries to have as big a voice on telecom and Internet issues as large countries such as the U.S. and China, McLaughlin added. And repressive regimes use the ITU and will use WCIT to push for censorship and repression on the Internet, he said.
"The ITU is the chosen vehicle for regimes for whom the free and open Internet is seen as an existential threat," he said.
The organization also fosters cozy relationships between regulators and large telecoms, he said. "The past and future role of the ITU has traditionally been to foster corruption, monopoly, to facilitate surveillance and censorship," he said.
Several proposals before WCIT are "horror shows" that would allow countries to conduct heavy surveillance on Internet users, McLaughlin added.
An ITU spokeswoman called McLaughlin's proposal "extreme."
McLaughlin's criticisms are off base, added Richard Hill, counsellor to the ITU. The ITU is not a top-down organization because "nothing happens at ITU unless there are inputs from the membership," he said by email. "It's one of the most bottom-up organizations that I've been involved with, and I've been around professionally since 1970."
Hill also disputed that the ITU helps repressive regimes. "I don't know of any agreed ITU output that has any repressive effect," he said. "Maybe somebody could point one out to me."