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International Telecommunication Union

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is a United Nations specialised agency for issues concerning information and communication technologies (ICTs). The ITU primarily deals with practical and technical questions within three main sectors: (1) allocating radio frequencies and managing satellite orbit and access technologies (ITU-R); (2) developing technical telecommunication standards (ITU-T); and (3) supporting development efforts to improve global access to ICT (ITU-D).

The ITU’s membership includes 193 Member States of the UN and over 700 Sector Members, representing various categories of players from the telecommunications industry. Despite the large number of non-state actors involved, the fundamental legal instruments of the ITU are still under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Member States.1

The ITU Constitution and Convention establishes the binding and global framework for international telecommunications and sets out the structure of the Union. The Constitution and Convention are complemented by the legally binding Administrative Regulations, which are divided into International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs) and Radio Regulations. Various bodies of the ITU also adopt non-binding instruments such as recommendations, resolutions and decisions. The general principles set out in the Administrative Regulations are detailed in the recommendations, which therefore amount to most of the rules set by the ITU.

The supreme organ of the Union is the quadrennial Plenipotentiary Conference, where the Member States decide on the future role of the organisation.2 The Council3 of the ITU acts as the governing body in the interval period between the Plenipotentiary Conferences.

To discuss issues concerning the development sector (ITU-D), the ITU hosts the World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC) every four years.4 For the standardisation (ITU-T) and radiocommunication (ITU-R) sectors, the respective forums are the World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly5 (WTSA) and the World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC).6

The role of a global facilitator of cybersecurity cooperation was entrusted to the ITU at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) held in 2003 and 2005. In response, the ITU launched an international cyber security forum in 2007 – the Global Cybersecurity Agenda (GCA) – that strives to be a framework for international cooperation aimed at enhancing confidence and security in the information society. GCA builds upon five pillars: legal measures, technical and procedural measures, organisational structures, capacity building, and international cooperation. To further develop the GCA and advise the ITU Secretary-General on the strategies for the five pillars, a High-Level Experts Group (HLEG), comprising over 100 cyber security specialists, policy-makers and practitioners from all over the world, was convened. The HLEG has had three official meetings and the results were drawn together in the ITU GCA HLEG Report. In 2014, an extended version of the WSIS Forum (WSIS +10) was held to review progress made in the previous 10 years and develop proposals for the future.7

The GCA collaborates with the International Multilateral Partnership against Cyber Threats (IMPACT) which is the largest international public-private cyber security alliance,8 focusing, inter alia, on early warning systems and developing a global secure electronic collaboration platform for incident response and threat mitigation. In addition to the GCA, the WSIS launched the Internet Governance Forum, for which a separate INCYDER page is available here.

Perhaps the most noteworthy recent development in the ITU concerns the renewal of the ITRs which were originally adopted in 1988 at the Melbourne World Administrative Telegraph and Telephone Conference. Taking into account the major developments in ICT and telecommunications markets globally, it was decided that the ITRs should be updated at the 2012 World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT), convened by the ITU. Due to disagreements over proposals regarding internet governance and content control, the revised treaty was not adopted by a consensus as initially intended.9 The final text was signed by 89 out of the 144 Member States, the non-signatories being mostly ‘Western’ nations such as the US and EU Member States.10 Therefore, the new ITRs, that came into force on 1 January 2015, are not implemented by all of the Member States.

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