Free nations snub UN internet treaty

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Envoys from nearly 90 nations yesterday agreed the first new United Nations’ telecommunications treaty in the internet age, but the United States, Canada, Australia and Britain refused to sign up after claiming it endorses greater state control of cyberspace.

The head of the UN’s telecoms group, Hamadoun Touré, said the accord was necessary to help expand online services to poorer nations and add more voices to shape the direction of modern communications technology. The negotiations pitted the West’s desire to preserve the unregulated nature of the net against developing countries yearning for better access and strong-arm states such as Iran and China that already closely filter cyberspace.

More than 20 countries joined the UK and US in refusing to sign the protocols by the UN’s International Telecommunications Union, or ITU, claiming it opens the door to greater control of the net and could be used by authoritarian states to justify more crackdowns.

Other countries – including Iran, China and some African states – insist national governments should have a greater say. They also favour international aid to provide reliable online links to less developed nations.