Pointing out that the United States Trade Representative (USTR) does not understand the concept of “transparency” hardly qualifies as news. It’s kinda like “Jerusalem Chief Rabbi Places Last In Pulled Pork Cook Off.” But every now and then, USTR’s generalized failure to understand why increasing public participation, sharing more information with the public, and generally bringing the standard of transparency up to what we would actually consider vaguely transparent actually threatens U.S. interests in other areas.
Case in point, the International Telecom Union] (ITU) meeting in Dubai for the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) this December. I’ve written before on why I worry a number of the proposals at made by various repressive regimes at WCIT may have long-term consequences for freedom of expression online. Many global civil society organizations, as well as many countries committed to freedom of expression and fundamental human rights, oppose these efforts to leverage WCIT for such ends. At the same time, however, many of these countries and organizations have long standing serious concerns around Internet governance. In particular, they resent what they see as the dominance of U.S. government and U.S. corporate interests in supposedly neutral “multistakeholder” forums like the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). ICANN is the current home for much of what people mean by “internet governance.” This makes expanding ITU jurisdiction to include Internet issues attractive to some of these countries and organizations, despite the danger to free expression, as one of the few possible counterweights to the U.S.
Persuading enough of these countries and other stakeholders that the downside of expanding ITU authority outweighs the potential benefit is therefore the chief challenge for the U.S. delegation. Unfortunately, the continued conduct of USTR in reenforcing the view that the U.S. Government is the tool of industry by doing things like pushing ACTA (which continues to be held up in Europe and elsewhere as a symbol of the U.S. shilling for Hollywood at the expense of free expression), and maintaining a cloud of secrecy around the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations, makes this much harder. While we are kind of stuck with ACTA, the USTR can do a heck of a lot more around transparency in TPP. Given that the ITU has made a number of conciliatory gestures to civil society on the transparency front in the last few weeks, It would be really helpful if USTR would at least stop pissing on its critics and generally making ITU look good.
More below . . . .