The UN takes up Internet regulation, privacy while IAPP discusses big data

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The United Nations began talks today in Dubai on rules that many worry will destroy the open Internet and eliminate privacy.

The body is discussing whether or not a communications treaty is necessary to ensure investment in infrastructure to help more people access the net.

Simultaneously, the industry--through groups like the International Association of Privacy Professionals--is dealing with privacy in the realm of business.193 countries and their government regulators are attending the World Conference on International Telecommunications.

Hamadoun Toure, secretary-general of the UN's International Telecommunications Union, called the Internet a rich world's privilege, and said the International Telecommunications Union wants that to change. More than 900 changes to the International Telecommunication regulations have been put forward and the body has 10 more days to agree on which proposals to adopt.

Although the resulting treaty will become part of international law, there is no legal mechanism to force countries to comply. Terry Kramer, the U.S. ambassador to WCIT, has called the proposals being put forward by some countries "alarming", saying they have suggested that the ITU should enter the Internet governance business.

"There have been active recommendations that there be an invasive approach of governments in managing the Internet, in managing the content that goes via the Internet, what people are looking at, what they're saying," Kramer said.

Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) has pointed out that only governments have a voice at the ITU, while the companies and people that build and use the Internet have none.

While UN regulators and the Internet industry grapple with protecting the Internet, privacy advocates and Internet companies are trying to find common ground on protecting the rights of those who use it, while enabling the business intelligence potential of big data.

Last month at the International Association of Privacy Professionals European Data Protection Congress, industry experts discussed digital privacy in the era of big data, finding some surprises about which countries took privacy more seriously.

Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin, head of France's data protection agency, said privacy is considered a fundamental right in Europe while in the U.S., "personal data are seen as raw material for business," according to the New York Times.

Brendon Lynch, Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT) chief privacy officer, said it is important to strike the right balance between data protection with business growth through interoperability between privacy regulation in the EU, U.S. and elsewhere.

In his keynote address to the conference, Lynch said that "some technology and Internet companies take the position that privacy is dead, or at least that privacy is an outdated concept that people need to get over so technology companies can help them reap the benefits of sharing as much information as possible. But we disagree that privacy is not relevant or desirable, in this sensor-driven, social everywhere, big data world that we are heading towards."

Ultimately, Lynch said that given the amount of data being generated, "there will need to be more focus on the use of information. It will be important to ease the burden on the individual for protecting their own privacy, and instead place more responsibility on organizations.

For more:
- see WCIT Congress 2012 site

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