Mr Mohamed Al Ghanim, Director General, Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA), UAE, Mr. Richard Hill, Mrs Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Chief of the Strategic Planning and Membership Department. Photo: ITU.
After threatening to walk out and simply not participate in a highly flawed Internernational Telecommunications Union (ITU) Internet agreement produced by tyrants, the US ended up losing the manipulated vote at the recent World Conference on International Telecommunications.
When I read it, it reminds me exactly of the World Conference Against Racism at Durban -- the same Cuban machinations with the false flag of human rights; the same active measures by Russia, pretending to remove more draconian drafts and "softening" so that the press lowers their guard, then participating in a bad-faith process.
Everything about it is awful, but the lessons are that the US just hasn't figured out -- like Google -- how to participate in these international processes better. They work it out in some arenas where they have had more skilled negotiators -- like the UN Human Rights Council with Resolution 16/18 on hate speech or the UN General Assembly Third Committee with the Iran resolution.
So they could have done it here, but this would have required many months of work in capitals first; much, much more heavy lifting and calling in of chits to dilute the Cuban poisoned chalice and all the usual UN things. Yes, I realize that they did some of this, but it wasn't enough.
NGOs should make up their minds -- they hate it when Sen. Kyl prevents the Senate from signing the treaty on Disability Rights. They love it when the ITU is foiled and the US is outvoted and a bad treaty is signed. Well, which is it, guys?
Either you are for making all these multilateral processes much, much better, or you are for opting out and invoking sovereignty.
The fact is, China and Russia and Iran already invoke sovereignty and already hobble the Internet on their territories without having even to resort to the ITU as a stalking horse.
So when these bad actors tried to internationalize their bad practices at home, the US simply announced at a certain point that it was walking out -- as they did with the World Conference Against Racism Final Declaration in Durban, which they didn't sign (and there was indeed objectionable language in that declaration that unfairly singled out Israel, and there were other problems).
But I submit that even in Durban, they could have done more to fix what was ultimately a placement problem more than a language problem, and even with this very flawed ITU document, they could have gotten in much, much earlier with the attitude that they would participate and fix, instead of disrupt, grandstand, and then not fix at the last minute because the Europeans would wimp out on them. This happens over and over again, but it's fixable when the US decides to do the following:
o send the A-team to all these UN meetings and permanent positions. They don't do that. Sometimes they do (Susan Rice) but other times they don't.
o get involved a year before the meeting or more and show up at all the little subcommittees in Geneva or other venues and keep hammering at all the little phrases
o insist on process, process, process -- this is how the Cubans and Russians get defeated -- they play the process game and you simply have to get up much earlier in the morning
o show up relentlessly -- no interns in the chair -- competent diplomats who know how to hold up their card in a heartbeat when things start going wrong in the room
o break up the blocs -- the UN is always run by blocs -- the G77, the OIC, and so on. Well, the West has its blocs too -WEOG, JUSCANZ and so on. This work involves both strategy in one's own bloc and bolstering the weak (old Europe and socialist Latin Americans) but it also means reaching out to existing blocs and trying to break them up -- trying to pry out the Botswanas and the South Koreas and the Slovenias that find themselves sometimes voting with bad blocks just because maybe there's a Soviet-era hold-over ambassador still in place, or because they don't have instructions or because nobody has made the arguments to them.
o press -- constantly talk about the bad-faith process -- when the Cubans pull their crap, out it; when the Russians do the fakeroo with the press which they ALWAYS do, be one media cycle ahead of them
o leak to NGOs, they are your best friends
o but hold your cards close sometimes because NGOs have stupid utopian ideas about how to do things and can be unhelpful.
o see anybody -- talk to anybody, talk about anything, you never know
All of this hard work has to be resourced properly, and that's the last thing that is being done now with UN things, but all that happens is that we fall behind, get isolated, and can't influence outcomes.
Here's the thing about the NGOs. They are going to have to give up EFF, NAF, etc. etc. Silicon Valley-driven business models based on piracy and aversion to governance, and face the facts that the Internets are going to be governed on these issues:
o piracy -- and yes, you don't have to put a chill on speech to stop theft and ensure livelihoods online, the rule of law and the courts will ensure this; it's absence of law that enables ICE abuses;
o child pornography -- this is pretty obvious content to spot and it can be eradicated without everyone having a cow about their privacy or their free expression
o guns and illegal drugs -- hey, these should not be sold over the Internet, just like they can't be sold in many localities at all, or at least without regulation.
Well, back to the drawing board. In one sense, sure, it matters not one wit. The US will defy any effort to control its own Internet. But it has aspirations for using the Internet to promote democracy abroad, and this really messes things up.
And let me tack on here in order to recall the role of Awful McLaughlin in this meeting, which consisted of swaggering around and telling everyone he was going to "kneecap" the ITU (!) -- and wound up with the US on its knees in confusion.
McLaughlin is a hypocrite. As Google's chief lobbyist, and then as an Obama appointee within the White House (Obama broke his pledge not to hire lobbyists and hired McLaughlin as a favor to big campaign contributor Google), McLaughlin lobbed for government regulation of the Internet. The difference: the regulation was to be by the FCC, and was to be written by, and favor, his employer.
Those regulations, which the FCC approved two years ago on the winter solstice with Congress in recess, were written by Google in secret meetings with the FCC's staff. They imposed so-called "network neutrality" rules which, in fact, were not neutral at all; among other things, they prohibited Internet service providers from charging Google for valuable services which, in all fairness, Google should be paying for.
Google (and McLaughlin, who no longer works directly for Google but owns lots of Google stock and has jobs which are funded indirectly by Google) opposes the ITU because it advocates that ISPs specifically be allowed to charge large content providers, such as Google, for the resources they use. Despite the PR, Google's stance -- and McLaughlin's -- have nothing to do with individual rights or freedoms. They have to do with maximizing Google's bottom line.
I could note that Sen. Wyden is busy slipping in more winter-solstice "net neutrality" stuff again right now.
The informal deployment of the ex-Googler and ex-White House official still in the Google/WH ambit in other hats, was not a good idea for this meeting. Google leaves itself vulnerable to attack not only because it didn't join the ITU like other companies; McLaughlin and his cronies have just been too nasty and arrogant in this meeting which is not how you can be at the UN if you want to "make friends and influence people".