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Internet's future debated next week

Internet governance on the agenda

Government officials will meet in Turkey for the next three weeks to discuss the future of the internet and take action on key issues such as cybercrime and web oversight.

The Plenipotentiary Conference of the ITU (International Telecommunication Union), an executive arm of the UN, will begin on Monday, bringing together government delegates from more than 190 countries to debate policy and vote on resolutions. The event directly follows the UN's Internet Governance Forum in Athens this week, which was an informal meeting with no decisions made.

The conference in Turkey has a jam-packed agenda that will address a wide range of topics such as the role of next-generation broadband networks, RFID (radio frequency identification) systems and network platforms and services based on IP technology.

In addition, delegates are expected to make decisions on a number of critical issues, including the ITU's role in implementing policies agreed at the two-phase WSIS (World Summit on the Information Society), which took place in Geneva in 2003 and in Tunis last year.

"Two critical areas that require follow-up action are cybercrime and the concept of 'enhanced cooperation', which involves discussion among governments on public policy issues such as internet oversight," said Robert Shaw, internet strategy and policy advisor at the ITU. "The enhanced cooperation process was to be installed by early 2006 but it has never really happened. So action is needed."

Internet governance was, arguably, the most controversial issue at WSIS, threatening to undermine the second summit. Countries including China, Brazil and Russia had lobbied intensively for changes to the current system. The EU (European Union), which had initially supported the status quo position of the US, later agreed with the need for more governmental participation.

At the start of last year's summit, the US government reiterated that it had absolutely no intention of relinquishing its unique position in managing the internet but, in the end, agreed to a document that calls for changes in the way the internet is governed.

The document states that all governments should have "an equal role and responsibility for internet governance and for ensuring the stability, security and continuity of the internet" and should have a say in the development of "globally applicable principles on public-policy issues associated with the co-ordination and management of critical internet resources". The document also speaks of "enhanced co-operation".

As the EU interprets the accord, the US – by agreeing to the wording "enhanced co-operation" – essentially consented to consider a new oversight body.

As for cybercrime, Shaw pointed to several initiatives calling on the ITU to play an active role in internet security.

"There are areas where plenty of debate is still necessary but there are also areas, such as cybercrime, where policy-makers recognise a need to move fast," Shaw said.

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