DUBAI: A Russia-led proposal calling for sweeping new governmental powers to regulate cyberspace could enable countries to block some Web locations and wrest control of allotting Internet addresses from a US-based body.
The proposal, co-signed by Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates, added to fears in some Western countries of a stalemate midway through a 12-day conference in Dubai to rewrite a longstanding treaty on international communications.
Russia and its supporters, which include many African and Arab states, seek to formally extend the remit of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) to govern many aspects of the Internet.
The United States, Europe and other allies including Australia and Japan insist the treaty should continue to apply only to traditional telecommunications such as international wireline and wireless calls.
Countries can opt out of parts of the revised treaty when it emerges or refuse to sign it altogether.
"If we have no agreement it will create political tension around the Internet," said Markus Kummer, vice president for public policy at industry think tank The Internet Society.
A leaked draft of the Russia-led proposals would give countries "equal rights to manage the Internet including in regard to the allotment, assignment and reclamation of Internet numbering."
This could allow governments to render websites within their borders inaccessible, even via proxy servers or other countries. It also could allow for multinational pacts in which countries could terminate access to websites at each others' request.
Such moves would undermine ICANN, a self-governing nonprofit organization under contract to the US Department of Commerce, which is ultimately responsible for making sure that people trying to reach a given website actually get there.
"Much of the Internet was developed from US research funding, and the US has kept a residual role, so many other governments say it's not right that one government 'controls' the Internet," said Kummer.
"The irony is the US has a very laid-back role and protects the Internet from political interference, but the fact it's the US makes it highly political."