International Telecommunications Union (ITU) Plenipotentiary Conference 2014, Busan, South Korea
The ITU Plenipotentiary, a meeting that is held every four years, is one of the highest decision making bodies of the United Nations organ. It is a platform that enables ITU members states to participate in a collaborative effort to guide current and future developments within the global ICT sector. The 2014 meeting began on the 20th of October and concluded its work on the 7th of November 2014 in Busan, South Korea, and was attended by representatives from 169 countries and territories.
I had the pleasure of being part of the South African delegation to the Plenipotentiary Conference and spent the first 10 days thereof involved in the debates and discussions of which I would like to share my thoughts on.
In the first week alone, the conference was marked by a number of activities and key debates which included:
The position of ITU secretary general passed from Dr Hamadoun Toure (Mali) to Mr Houlin Zhou (China). The position was uncontested and Mr Zhou represented the consensus candidate with him standing unopposed for this position. The sense I got from the meeting was that his election was based on competence and continuity of the work of the ITU. See http://newslog.itu.int/archives/662
Deputy secretary general was the most contested position and Africa had two candidates with the highest number of votes being received by the UK and Polish candidates in the first round of voting. An African in the highest decision making levels of the ITU would be important and needs to be supported following on the sterling work undertaken by the outgoing Secretary General Hamadoun Toure. After a record four rounds of voting, the position of deputy secretary general went to Mr Malcolm Johnson (United Kingdom) and who previously held the position of Director of the ITU Standardisation Bureau. It is reassuring to know that Africa remains represented through in the executive of the ITU through Mr Brahima Sanou (Burkina Faso) who continues to serve as the Director of Telecommunications Development Bureau.
The other major election was for the members of the ITU Council, which is the decision-making forum between Plenipotentiary conferences, occupied by representatives from elected member states. Africa has 13 Council seats for which 17 countries were competing. The outcome of the final vote meant that Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, South Africa, and Zambia lost out on a seat on the Council.
The final results of the elections can be found at: itu.int/en/plenipotentiary/
2. The Internet
Internet matters are increasingly on the agenda of the ITU and reflected in the proposed work plan set out the Plenipotentiary conferences and resolutions of the ITU.
The following Internet governance related resolutions were addressed as a package:
- 101 (Internet Protocol-based networks) proposals included requests to give the ITU the responsibility for maintaining the database/registry of all IP addresses in completion to/or at the expense of the existing regional Internet registries. This proposal did not receive widespread support;
- 102 (ITU’s role with regard to international public policy issues pertaining to the Internet and the management of Internet resources, including domain names and addresses). As was the case with most of the Internet related proposals, the parties involved were often at polar opposites with some governments wanting to place this function within the ambit of the ITU and others calling for it to remain within the multi-stakeholder processes that currently exist outside of the ITU;
- 133 (Role of administrations of Member States in the management of internationalised (multilingual) domain names). This point was being revised due to the significant advances made in the development of internationalised domain names and that this no longer needed the same level of focus as in the previous Plenipotentiary meeting; and
- 180 (Facilitating the transition from IPv4 to IPv6). Concerns were raised in terms of the ability of developing countries to support and facilitate the migration from IPv4 to IPv6 addressing systems. It was agreed that this required significant attention by the ITU.
3. Cyber Security
There were a number of proposals that were aimed at providing wording to strengthen the role of the ITU in the cyber security space (received from Cuba, Brazil and Indonesia). The US called for no change to the current wording of resolution 130 that deals with cyber security and consensus in terms of appropriate wording was to be submitted to the ITU plenary from the working group involved in the drafting.
Cyber security is a hotly contested issue especially with regard to international interception and privacy. The issue that was debated and needs further thought is what should the role of the ITU be? A tricky matter as this is not only a technical and standards issue but also critical inter-governmental concern. The issue of cyber security and interception of communications is an important theme that is not unique to ITU but requires attention of all stakeholders and interested organisations – reflected in the Internet governance and cooperation work undertaken to date that looks to address this issue as part of a broader Internet governance and cooperation structure.
In conclusion, the ITU Plenipotentiary takes places at a time when the governance of the Internet is under increased scrutiny and issues of cyber-security, privacy and its future is being debated. The ITU and some of its member states have at this conference looked at asserting its role in the Internet governance debate. It is clear from the lack of consensus on the Internet related maters and the many global debates taking place in multi-stakeholder forums that it will be difficult for the ITU to take sole ownership of this role. In fact, the general consensus at the conference and at other international forums is that the ITU is not best placed to represent the views and interests of all stakeholders in formulating policy without negatively impacting the growth and continued development of the Internet. The reason being that the ITU represents mostly governments and not the many technical and non-governmental organisations critical to the effective operation of the Internet. As per the report of the Global Panel on Internet Governance and Mechanisms, the key elements of Internet governance should support the development of a collaborative Internet governance system that is decentralised, and supports a distributed, The 2014 ITU Plenipotentiary Conference, a platform that enables ITU members states to participate in a collaborative effort to guide current and future developments within the global ICT sector, began early this week on the 20th of October.