WCIT12 — The UK stood up for internet freedom

I’ve just returned home after two weeks at the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT). I will be writing a longer piece in Index on Censorship magazine in the New Year, but my initial thoughts are as follows.

First, we worked hard and compromised. This is important to take note of because I expect there to be claims that the UK and US never intended to sign the treaty. In my experience, this was not the case at all: Every single delegation both large and small worked hard to discuss, compromise, put forward ideas, and discuss further the treaty. I spent very long days covering my remit of the treaty and so did others. The Chairs of the working groups worked hard despite facing complete disagreement on texts. Delegates did try to find accord.

Second, we all understand what other countries need and want. If there was one thing to take away from this conference, it was that myself and others now have a greater of understanding of what other countries were trying to achieve through this treaty. Developing countries need skills and capacity building. Some want to see direct income from internet infrastructure while others seek only to suppress the communication and freedom of their citizens. It is clear to me now how this is playing out on an international stage and I will touch upon this more in my longer article for Index

Third, and most importantly, the UK stood up for freedom online. Going into this treaty the UK and allies said that they could not accept a treaty in which the internet was regulated. The Chair of the conference, by forcing through a “non-vote” on an internet resolution, made it all about the internet. The resolution passed and suddenly the treaty negotiations changed by the middle of last week. The final treaty was, after this and many days of negotiation, a bad deal for the UK and so the UK decided not to sign. It needs to be said that the UK stood up for freedom in spite of everything happening at home including the Comms Data Bill and press regulation issues.

What I take away from this conference is that the fundamental divide is not the internet itself but those that believe that humans achieve their best when they are free and those that do not. We have a lot of work to do  spreading this idea and demonstrating that freedom online means prosperity and stability to all citizens. But we should not see this as a negative outcome out of the WCIT, but as an opportunity to spread what we believe in thanks, in a very small part, to the fact that the UK stood up for its fundamental ideals.

Dominique Lazanski is the head of digital policy at the TaxPayers’ Alliance and a member of the UK delegation to WCIT-12