Global Election Blunts Russia's Internet Plans

John Lister's picture

A US official has beaten a Russian opponent to become head of a major Internet body. The result could make a big difference to online technology, particularly on the issue of blocks and censorship.

Doreen Bogdan-Martin beat out Rashid Ismailov to lead the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). She prevailed 139-25 in an election where every country had one vote. (Source:

The ITU is a United Nations agency that started in 1865 as a way to make sure telegraph systems in different countries could use a compatible system. It now oversees many cross-border tech issues, including some of the infrastructure that makes up the Internet.

Historically the US has had a mixed relationship with the ITU, partly because it didn't want the agency encroaching on the powers of ICANN, the US-based organization that oversees website addresses. Analysts say it would previously have been highly unlikely the US would put up a candidate for the ITU leadership role. (Source:

Russia Pro-Censorship

That apparently changed when Russia put up its own candidate. It appeared the country wanted the ITU to formally acknowledge the concept of "information sovereignty", effectively giving more endorsement to countries who wanted to censor content.

Russia and China both want to change the current rules on international treaties where countries must work together to tackle online crime. At the moment, that generally covers cyber security.

The two countries want to expand that to "information security" which would cover anything a government considered unlawful. That could mean other countries would have to respect and even help enforce Russia and China's rules that restrict political criticism online.

Secret Vote Raised Fears

While Russia is not exactly globally popular these days, the results of ITU elections are often unpredictable as the votes are cast in secret. In previous elections, it became clear many countries that had publicly pledged to support a candidate had not done so. Some feared that could happen this time with less democratic countries secretly supporting the Russian approach to online governance.

Rather than help strengthen censorship, Bogdan-Martin says her priority will be expanding Internet access around the world.

What's Your Opinion?

Should the US play a major role in the ITU? Can international agreements really govern how the Internet operates? Should one country have any say or interest in Internet laws in another country?

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gkahne_11300's picture

Vladimir Putin, Making America great again.